... Above all, Lent is a spiritual journey and its destination is Easter, “the Feast of Feasts.” It is the preparation for the “fulfillment of Pascha, the true Revelation.” We must begin, therefore, by trying to understand this connection between Lent and Easter, for it reveals something very essential, very crucial about our Christian faith and life.
Such is that faith of the Church, affirmed and made evident by her countless Saints. Is it not our daily experience, however, that this faith is very seldom ours, that all the time we lose and betray the “new life” which we received as a gift, and that in fact we live as if Christ did not rise from the dead, as if that unique event had no meaning whatsoever for us? We simply forget all this — so busy are we, so immersed in our daily preoccupations — and because we forget, we fail. And through this forgetfulness, failure, and sin, our life becomes “old” again — petty, dark, and ultimately meaningless — a meaningless journey toward a meaningless end. We may from time to time acknowledge and confess our various “sins,” yet we cease to refer our life to that new life which Christ revealed and gave to us. Indeed, we live as if He never came. This is the only real sin, the sin of all sins, the bottomless sadness and tragedy of our nominal Christianity.
On a semi-related note, I see that the "Catholics Aren't the Only Ones Who Have Ash Wednesday/Lent/Good Friday/Etc." articles are starting to appear. Such pieces used to annoy me. Then they amused me. But, more and more, they interest me as I try to take up a more patient and really Catholic attitude toward the bewildering, swirling denominational chaos of Protestantism (which, as many readers know, I left fifteen years ago this Easter). Here is an example, from The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, California):
Don’t assume every ash-marked forehead you see today belongs to a Catholic.
Ash Wednesday, long associated with Catholicism, is increasingly observed in Protestant churches.
The Rev. Joe DeRoulhac became senior minister of Redlands’ First Baptist Church in 1989 but didn’t preside over Ash Wednesday services there until 2003. The idea came from an interfaith Ash Wednesday event he participated in a year or two before.
DeRoulhac said there’s an increasing desire among Protestants to look anew at ancient Christian practices that previously were identified with Catholics.
Any movement toward recognizing that material things—from ashes to oil to bread and wine—can be used by God to either indicate or even transmit his grace is a good thing, and a step toward comprehending the reality of the sacramental order.
Another point, however: there are some Catholics, such as myself, who won't have an ash-marked forehead today, because Ash Wednesday is not part of the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox observation of the Great Fast, which begins on Clean Monday, two days ago (following Cheese-fare Sunday, the last day dairy products can be eaten). For more about the structure of Lent in most Eastern churches, see this overview by Schmemann. Finally, for more about Eastern Catholicism, especially in the United States, order a copy of this helpful, introductory booklet from the USCCB, or read the contents online.