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Daily News and Prayer for Catholics

Updated on February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

WHAT IS ASH WEDNESDAY?

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, the season of preparation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday.

We, as Catholics, are strongly encouraged to attend Mass on this day in order to mark the beginning of the Lenten season.

The ashes are made by burning the blessed palms that were distributed the previous year on Palm Sunday. After the priest blesses the ashes and sprinkles them with Holy Water parishioners come to the altar to receive them. The priest dips his right thumb in the ashes and, making the Sign of the Cross on each person's forehead, says, "Remember man, that though art dust, and to dust thou shalt return."

The distribution of ashes reminds us of our own mortality and calls us to repentance. In the early Church, Ash Wednesday was the day on which those who had sinned, and who wished to be readmitted to the Church, would begin their public penance. The ashes that we receive are a reminder of our own sinfulness; we leave them on our foreheads all day as a sign of humility.

Fasting and Abstinence are required.

The Church emphasizes the penitential nature of Ash Wednesday by calling us to fast and abstain from meat.

Catholics over the age of 18 and under the age of 60 are required to fast, which means that we can eat only one complete meal and two smaller ones during the day, with no food in-between.

Catholics over the age of 15 are required to abstain from eating any meat, or any food made with meat, on Ash Wednesday.

This fasting and abstinence is not simply a form of penance; it's also a call for us to examine our spiritual lives. As Lent begins, we should set out specific spiritual goals we would like to reach before Easter and decide how we will pursue them--for instance, by going to daily Mass when we can and receiving the Sacrament of Confession more often.

Please check your church mass schedule for Ash Wednesday, as times will differ from the normal mass schedule.

God bless you!

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