Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. It was established hundreds of years ago, though the exact date this practice started has been lost. It goes back at least to the 10th Century. It began as the Catholic Church realized that many people were not going to confession. They wanted to change that. The reasons why they wanted people to go to confession is debatable. Some say it was for money, while others say it was out of concern for the welfare of souls.
Either way, the Catholic Church decided the first day of Lent would be the one day a year that everyone would be required to go to confession. After confession, parishioners receive an ash cross on their forehead; this mark on your forehead was a way to distinguish a believer who had gone to confession and a believer that had not. It acted as a reminder to go to confession and would sometimes become a point of persecution for those without the cross.
Lent comprises the forty days leading up to Easter Sunday. A common practice is “giving something up for Lent.” Often times it is something that is a vice or a sin. Sometimes it is something that they personally want to give up to be a better or healthier person. My Catholic co-worker once gave up sugar and sweets. Many Catholics give up meat for the forty days of Lent.
Lent ends with the Holy Week, which honors the acts of the last week of Christ’s life, including Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. They reenact those events including the carrying of a cross; in some areas it is even the tradition to crucify someone. We believe these events happened. But we don’t believe in reacting them as many people do during Lent.
So, why don’t Mormons observe Ash Wednesday and Lent? Find out at Jeremy Goff’s blog.