Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a season in which the faithful are called to reflect on the Paschal Mystery more intentionally. It is a time of spiritual renewal and to examine one’s relationship with God and others more carefully. It is also a time in which catechumens prepare to receive the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil. The Church calls everyone, therefore, to a spirit of penance through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
FASTING AND ABSTINENCE
In order to foster a spirit of repentance and unite ourselves more closely to Christ, Church law requires the observance of Abstinence and Fasting during Lent.1 (For further study, see Pope Paul VI’s apostolic constitution on the subject.2)
All persons, 14 years and older, are obliged to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent. Other forms of abstinence, for example abstinence from alcoholic beverages, television, video games, the internet, and social media, are also beneficial.
Everyone from ages 18 to 59 is obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Voluntary fasting on other weekdays of Lent, especially on Wednesdays and Fridays, is highly recommended. Fasting is understood to mean that one full meal may be eaten. Two other small meals may be eaten, but together they should not equal a full meal. Eating between meals is not permitted.
When health or ability to work would be seriously affected, neither the law of fasting nor the law of abstinence obliges. If in doubt, one’s parish priest or confessor should be consulted. Airport workers, travelers, and others while on board ships or airplanes are dispensed from the laws of fast and abstinence for the duration of their journey (except on Good Friday). It is desirable that they perform some other pious act instead.
Catholics are urged to read and pray with sacred Scripture more intently during Lent, and to deepen their faith by reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The faithful are encouraged to participate in special devotions offered by the parish, especially Eucharistic adoration. Other devotions such as the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, and praying for vocations to the priesthood and religious life are also encouraged.
From earliest times giving to the poor, or almsgiving, has been an invaluable spiritual practice, a religious duty, a form of penance, an expression of Christian charity, and an aid to interior conversion. Therefore, all Catholics are urged to give generously to assist the poor and support the charitable works of the Church, especially through their local parish and the Annual Catholic Appeal.
The faithful are also encouraged to visit the sick, the homebound, the aged, and those in prison, remembering the words of our Lord Jesus Christ who said, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). Fasting and abstinence together with almsgiving and charitable works unite us to the crucified Christ reflected in the image of our brothers and sisters who suffer.