Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, so named because of the Church’s tradition of marking the foreheads of each member of the faith community with consecrated ashes on this day. Catholics receive ashes as a tangible reminder that Lent is a time for prayer, fasting and charitable works (almsgiving) in preparation for Easter, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
According to Catholic tradition, Lent provides us with a yearly opportunity to renew and deepen our relationship with Christ. It is a time during which penitential practices and good works are stressed equally by the Church. Acts of sacrifice and self-denial alongside actions directed toward love of God and neighbor combine to powerfully fulfill our baptismal commitment to be like Christ.
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fast and abstinence. Fasting means limiting yourself to a single full meal for the day. All Catholics who have reached their 18th birthday and have not as yet reached their 60th birthday are obligated to fast. Abstinence from meat begins on Ash Wednesday and continues each Friday of Lent through Good Friday for all Catholics who have reached their 14th birthday.