Gingrich told reporters that he had missed Mass at 8 a.m. MST Wednesday and would not have time to attend later in the day.

That the Republican presidential debate and Ash Wednesday coincided this year prompted many to wonder whether Gingrich or Santorum would wear ashes to the contest. Santorums campaign did not say whether the candidate would continue to wear the ashes through the evening; Catholic doctorine does not dictate how long a worshipper must wear the symbol.

Vice President Biden — also Catholic — notably has appeared in public with the ash cross.

Gingrich did say he will abide by the tradition of giving up a vice for Lent, promising to forgo dessert until Easter Sunday.

— This post was updated at 2:25 p.m.