Wednesday, February 10, 2016

366 Project - Day 41 - "Ash Wednesday"


February 10, 2016 - "Ash Wednesday"

"Remember that you are dust... and unto dust you shall return."

Today marks the beginning of Lent - a season of penance, fasting and prayer within the Catholic Church, which leads up to the Easter Season. You'll often hear of Lent as lasting for forty days, however there are actually 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Why the discrepancy? Because, in addition to the "Forty Days of Lent" - there are the "Five Sundays of Lent" and "Palm Sunday" before we arrive at Easter Sunday. Every Sunday of the year is a celebration of the Resurrection of Christ... and therefore those six Sundays - though they occur during the Lenten Season - are considered separate from the days of Lent itself.

Today is one of the two required days of fasting within the Catholic Church... the other being Good Friday. On those two days all Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are required to fast, unless unable to do so for medical reasons. What does "fasting" mean? It doesn't mean that you are not allowed to eat at all... it does, however, mean that you are only to eat "one full meal" during the course of the day, and that meal cannot include meat. You are also permitted to have two small snacks to help sustain you through the day, but these two snacks together must not equal a full meal - and again, they cannot include meat of any sort.

You'll also hear it said that Catholics are not permitted to eat meat on Fridays during Lent. This is true, as the Fridays during the Lenten Season are "Days of Abstinence" for all Catholics ages 14 and older. On these days, Catholics are permitted to eat several full meals throughout the day - but none of those meals can contain meat of any sort.

What many Catholics do not know, however, is that the "No Meat of Fridays" rule does not only apply to Fridays during Lent... it applies to ALL Fridays of the year. Fridays during Ordinary Time, the Easter Season, and the Seasons of Advent and The Nativity are ALL "Days of Penance". This means that on ALL Fridays of the year, Catholics ages 14 and older are required to abstain from eating meat of any sort. The only exception to this rule is if a Solemnity happens to fall on a Friday (which happened earlier this year, when January 1st - "The Solemnity of Mary, Holy Mother of God" - fell on a Friday).

This rule comes directly from the Vatican's "Code of Canon Law" - and can be found online at: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P4O.HTM

In the United States, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has declared that on Fridays outside of the Lenten season, Catholics may choose to eat meat "only if the faithful substitute some other penitential behavior in its place".  Unfortunately most American Catholics heard this declaration as "you can eat meat on Fridays" - and tend to ignore the "only if you substitute some other penitential behavior in its place" part. This explains why so many people - both Catholic and non-Catholic alike - give me a look of confusion when it isn't Lent and I tell them that I cannot eat meat on a Friday.

I'll end with the words of my pastor, Fr. Shawn W. Cutler:

"May we have a blessed Lent during these 40 days as we spiritually walk the stations of the Cross with Jesus. May our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving change us for the better not only during Lent, but also throughout every season of our life. May we always remember that we are, indeed, dust, but not destined only to remain dust. As we progress along our Lenten pilgrimage, may we trust that God's work in us remains steadfast while we carry not only our own cross, but help to alleviate the weight of the crosses of our brothers and sisters traveling beside us from Calvary to the glory of the Resurrection in heaven."

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