46 days before Easter Sunday
A day of fasting
One of two days in the Catholic Calendar:
Ash Wednesday & Good Friday
Ash Wednesday is one of the most popular and important holy days in the liturgical calendar. Ash Wednesday opens Lent, a season of fasting and prayer.
Ash Wednesday takes place 46 days before Easter Sunday, and is chiefly observed by Catholics, although many other Christians observe it too.
Ash Wednesday comes from the ancient Jewish tradition of penance and fasting.
The practice includes the wearing of ashes on the head.
The ashes symbolize the dust from which God made us.
As the priest applies the ashes to a person's forehead, he speaks the words:
"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
Alternatively, the priest may speak the words, "Repent and believe in the Gospel."
Ashes also symbolize grief, in this case, grief that we have sinned and caused division from God.
Writings from the Second-century Church refer to the wearing of ashes as a sign of penance.
Priests administer ashes during Mass and all are invited to accept the ashes as a visible symbol of penance. Even non-Christians and the excommunicated are welcome to receive the ashes.
The ashes are made from blessed palm branches, taken from the previous year's palm Sunday Mass.
It is important to remember that Ash Wednesday is a day of penitential prayer and fasting.
Some faithful take the rest of the day off work and remain home. It is generally inappropriate to dine out, to shop, or to go about in public after receiving the ashes.
Feasting is highly inappropriate.
Small children, the elderly and sick are exempt from this observance.
It is not required that a person wear the ashes for the rest of the day, and they may be washed off after Mass. However, many people keep the ashes as a reminder until the evening.
Recently, movements have developed that involve pastors distributing ashes to passersby in public places. This isn't considered taboo, but Catholics should know this practice is distinctly Protestant. Catholics should still receive ashes within the context of Mass.
In some cases, ashes may be delivered by a priest or a family member to those who are sick or shut-in.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent.
It is a season of penance, reflection, and fasting which prepares us for Christ's Resurrection on Easter Sunday, through which we attain redemption.
Why we receive the ashes
Following the example of the Ninevites, who did penance in sackcloth and ashes, our foreheads are marked with ashes to humble our hearts and reminds us that life passes away on Earth.
We remember this when we are told
"Remember, Man is dust, and unto dust you shall return."
Ashes are a symbol of penance made sacramental by the blessing of the Church, and they help us develop a spirit of humility and sacrifice.
The distribution of ashes comes from a ceremony of ages past. Christians who had committed grave faults performed public penance. On Ash Wednesday, the Bishop blessed the hair shirts which they were to wear during the forty days of penance, and sprinkled over them ashes made from the palms from the previous year. Then, while the faithful recited the Seven Penitential Psalms, the penitents were turned out of the church because of their sins -- just as Adam, the first man, was turned out of Paradise because of his disobedience. The penitents did not enter the church again until Maundy Thursday after having won reconciliation by the toil of forty days' penance and sacramental absolution. Later, all Christians, whether public or secret penitents, came to receive ashes out of devotion. In earlier times, the distribution of ashes was followed by a penitential procession.
The ashes are made from the blessed palms used in the Palm Sunday celebration of the previous year. The ashes are christened with Holy Water and are scented by exposure to incense. While the ashes symbolize penance and contrition, they are also a reminder that God is gracious and merciful to those who call on Him with repentant hearts. His Divine mercy is of utmost importance during the season of Lent, and the Church calls on us to seek that mercy during the entire Lenten season with reflection, prayer and penance.
Ash is used because it is a symbol of death,
because all bodies turn to ash or dust in the end.
It helps Christians to remember that Lent is about
preparing for the time that Jesus died.
Take the time to go to church no matter where god places you.
We found time even in Japan.
Abstinence laws consider that meat comes only from warm-blooded animals such as chickens, cows, sheep, pigs, birds -- all of which live on land. The law excludes meat juices and liquid foods made from meat. So, foods like 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. (So, you can eat butter.) Fish are cold-blooded. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles and shellfish are permitted.
Another theory is that a fish is a symbol for Jesus Christ and thus the fish represents the Body of Christ. The fish has plenty of theological overtones as the fish symbol was used by the Greeks, Romans and many others before Christians adopted its use. A fish symbol, unlike the cross, attracted little suspicion, making it a perfect secret symbol for persecuted believers. When threatened by Romans in the first centuries after Christ, Christians used the fish to mark meeting places and tombs and to distinguish friends from foe. This theory, too, seems to complicate what is an old Church tradition.
Older Catholics will remember that before Vatican II, Catholics were required to abstain from meat every Friday, not just during Lent. Many Catholics don’t realize that the Church recommends abstinence on all Fridays of the year. If we do not abstain from meat on non-Lenten Fridays, we are required to substitute some other form of penance. So Catholics who are vegetarian can still perform a penitential act every Friday and be within the rules.
We fast for three reasons: to prevent future sin, to atone for past sin, and to turn our minds and hearts to spiritual realities. We fast to remember the sacrifice of Jesus, and to offer a small sacrifice, in union with Christ’s, for our salvation and the salvation of the world. On Fridays in Lent the Church asks us to abstain from meat, and to abstain from meat or do some other penance during all Fridays of the year. But fish is permitted on Fridays, and is commonly eaten at fish fries, and in Catholic homes everywhere.
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that, “Wherefore the Church forbade those who fast to partake of those foods which both afford most pleasure to the palate…. Such are the flesh of animals that take their rest on the earth, and of those that breathe the air... For, since such like animals are more like man in body, they afford greater pleasure as food, and greater nourishment to the human body.” In part, St. Thomas’ point was that a rule of fasting from the foods many people enjoy the most is a way to ensure a sacrifice for the greatest number of people— and a way to deny the concupiscence that comes from satisfying every physical desire we have. When we fast from things that give us pleasure, we’re strengthened to avoid every kind of sinful pleasure.
There is an additional theological symbol that comes through fasting from meat. Christ was a man—a living, breathing, walking man—a warm-blooded mammal. By fasting from animals who are also warm-blooded, we honor the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in a very visceral way. Michael P. Foley, a historian who has written on the subject, says that a warm-blooded animal is one that “in a sense, sacrificed its life for us, if you will.” By avoiding such animals, we remember the sacrifice of Christ.
Fasting from certain foods, and not others, is a tradition in the Church, one that is a part of our customs and laws because of its symbolic and spiritual value. We should abstain from meat as the Church directs. But even as we abstain from meat, we should remember the broader sacrifice to which we’re called in Lent. Putting away meat doesn’t mean that Lenten Fridays are the right time for butter-poached lobster, or rich and extravagant foods. But abstaining from meat, and eating simple meals, turns us toward Christ, and towards his life-giving sacrifice.