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Questions and answers about holy season

Published: February 5, 2013   
Malea Hargett
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor prays during an Ash Wednesday service for diocesan employees in 2012.

Q. Is Ash Wednesday a holy day of obligation?

A. Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation. The days of obligation all celebrate an event in the life of Jesus or Mary or a person (or persons as in the case of All Saints Day). Ash Wednesday does not, but it marks the beginning of a season. The day is chosen based on the fact that it’s 40 days before Good Friday. It is, however, a day of fast and abstinence.

Q. Why do we receive ashes on Ash Wednesday?

A. The prayer that is said as ashes are given explains it very well. The words are a reminder of our origins, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The ashes and the whole season of Lent are a time to refocus on our relationship with God and that relationship starts with a dependence on God for our very existence.

Q. When we abstain from meat, what does that include?

A. All Catholics 14 years of age and older are to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and each Friday of Lent. This is an act of penance in keeping with the Lenten season and Fridays are given special attention because it is the day of our Lord’s death. In fact each Friday of the year retains a penitential character according to Church rules and some form of penance, such as abstaining from meat, should be practiced year round.

The rule of abstinence from meat includes all flesh and organs from mammals and fowl, including soups and gravies made from those animals.

Q. What are the rules about fasting and abstinence?

A. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fast and abstinence. The law of fasting allows one full meal and two smaller ones. The law of abstinence prohibits the eating of meat.

Fridays of Lent are days of abstinence in the United States. The obligation of abstinence begins at age 14. The law of fasting obliges all between the ages of 18-59.

Pastors and parents are to see to it that minors, though not bound by the law of fast and abstinence, are educated in the authentic sense of penance and encouraged to do acts of penance suitable to their age.

All members of the Christian faithful are encouraged to do acts of penance and charity beyond what is prescribed by the law.

Father Erik Pohlmeier is the pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock and theological consultant to Arkansas Catholic.

 


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