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Lent is the 40 day period (excluding Sundays) in preparation for the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. It goes back to the 3rd century and was added officially to the Christian Calendar by the time of the Council of Nicaea. Western Catholic Christians begin Lent on a day called Ash Wednesday. On that day, the faithful are marked with ash made from the palms of the previous Palm Sunday. When imposing the ashes the priest says, "Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" (Genesis 3:19). It is a reminder of our mortality and need of repentance. It is NOT a sign of fasting or piety. Lent consists of a period of 40 days recalling the 40 days of our Lord Jesus fasting in the wilderness. (St. Matthew 4:1-11)

The Eastern Orthodox tradition has no Ash Wednesday but rather begins on the First Sunday in Lent and counts those Sundays as part of the 40 days. Both traditions are valid and thus Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation.

There are many cultural traditions of the Lenten season, such as in England the Fourth Sunday in Lent being known as "Mothering Sunday," with a posy of flowers brought by children to their mothers.

Attached are some documents which will describe further the traditional disciplines and devotions of keeping a holy lent.