Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, an important season in the Catholic Church of preparation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. Ash Wednesday falls 46 days before Easter, which changes each year. This year, Ash Wednesday starts today, February 10!
Catholics are encouraged to attend Mass on this day to mark the beginning of the Lenten season.
The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are made by the burning of palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. They are administered on the forehead in the sign of a cross, and receiving them with humility is a sign of penance.
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence.
For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59.
Fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday means we can have only one full, meatless meal. Some food can be taken at the other regular meal times if necessary, but combined they should be less than a full meal. Liquids are allowed at any time, but no solid food should be consumed between meals. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards.
Regarding what is classified as “meat” – here is what the United States Conference for Catholic Bishops site says:
Abstinence laws consider that meat comes only from animals such as chickens, cows, sheep or pigs — all of which live on land. Birds are also considered meat. Abstinence does not include meat juices and liquid foods made from meat. Thus, such foods as chicken broth, consomme, soups cooked or flavored with meat, meat gravies or sauces, as well as seasonings or condiments made from animal fat are technically not forbidden. However, moral theologians have traditionally taught that we should abstain from all animal-derived products (except foods such as gelatin, butter, cheese and eggs, which do not have any meat taste). Fish are a different category of animal. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, (cold-blooded animals) and shellfish are permitted.
Beginning with Ash Wednesday and all through Lent, we are invited to live with a greater commitment to prayer, sacrifice and charity to prepare our souls for the holiest Feast of the year, Easter Sunday.
Wishing you all a beautiful Lenten season!