Ash Wednesday: Sacred Liturgy
Today’s Mass embodies the spirit of Lent. All are reminded to be sorry for sin and to do penance, but not in a spirit of showy sadness or of inward despair. Rather, let the sincere and humble prepare with inner joy to celebrate their baptism in Christ. By living their baptismal promises, they enter more deeply into Christ’s suffering. Knowing God’s desire to forgive, to heal, and to share with all men His own divine life, we discipline our passions gladly and with confidence in victory. God gives grace for every Lenten restraint. Therefore everyone should receive the blessed ashes, both as a means of grace and as a reminder to do penance unobtrusively, for personal sins and for the sins of all mankind.
Before the Mass, the celebrant vested in alb, purple stole, and cope, goes up to the altar for the blessing of the ashes.
This is a day of mandatory abstinence and fasting. All Catholics aged 14 or older must abstain from meat on this day, as per the current 1983 Code of Canon Law. In the 1917 Code of Canon Law, the law of abstinence began at age 7. Since it is worthwhile to teach children the importance of this law, we should have our children begin to observe this even before the law explicitly commands it.
Abstinence and Fasting
What is forbidden by the law of abstinence? All meat. Meat is considered to be the flesh and organs of mammals and fowl. Also forbidden are soups or gravies made from them. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, and shellfish are permitted. Eggs are presently allowed.
Additionally, as per the 1983 Code of Canon Law, anyone between 18 and up until 60 years of age is also bound to fast on Ash Wednesday. In the earlier 1917 Code, the fast began at age 21 and continued until a person turned 60. On this day one, normal-sized meal and two smaller snacks (called collations) that do not equal the normal meal are allowed. No indulging at a buffet at night to make up for the meals you could not eat during the day.
Eating between meals, however, is prohibited although fruit juices and milk are allowed. Milk was added only in the recent centuries and the Church had asked that those who do consume milk on fasting days offer some additional prayers for the intentions of the Holy Father for doing so.
These rules are much more lenient than in centuries past. If you can, truly make your fasting a sacrifice. In times past, the faithful would try to eat nothing at all on Ash Wednesday.
Remember, man, that you are dust, and into dust you shall return.