Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent
Lent began with Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22 – marking the start of the Church's 40-day season of repentance with prayer, fasting and
abstinence, good works, and confession. During the Lenten season, Catholics prepare for the Passion and death of Christ on Good Friday and His Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Through prayer, the faithful deepen their commitment to God, seeking to be closer to Him and expressing sorrow for their sins. By fasting, Catholics exercise discipline and place their spiritual hunger above physical needs. With almsgiving and good works (such as participating in Operation Rice Bowl), the faithful place others before themselves, living in solidarity with the poor and following Jesus' call to care for the least of our brothers and sisters.
Pictured above: Students attend Mass at St. Mark Church in Huntersville. (David Hains, Catholic News Herald)
Catholics' penitential actions began with Mass on Ash Wednesday, when they were marked with ashes in the form of a crosson their foreheads – an ancient penitential practice which symbolizes one's dependence on God's mercy and forgiveness.
They continue with fasting and abstinence throughout Lent. Catholics aged 18 to 59 who are physically able are obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In addition, all Catholics 14 years old and older who are able must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all the Fridays of Lent.
Fasting means eating only one full meal. Some food (not equaling another full meal) is permitted at breakfast and around midday or in the evening. Abstinence forbids the use of meat, but not of eggs, milk products or condiments made of animal fat.
Abstinence does not include meat juices and liquid foods made from meat. Thus, such foods as chicken broth, consomme, soups cooked or flavored with meat, gravy or sauces, as well as seasonings or condiments made from animal fat are not forbidden. It is OK to use margarine and lard.
But it is important not to be scrupulous. Observing these regulations is not the point of Lent – they are a means to an end: striving to deepen one's relationship with the Lord and seeking penance for one's sins.
In his 1966 "Apostolic Constitution on Penance," Pope Paul VI did more than simply reorganize Church law concerning fast and abstinence. He reminded the faithful of the divine law that each of them in their own way do penance. Catholics must all turn from sin and make reparation to God for their sins. The faithful must forgive and show love for one another just as they ask for God's love and forgiveness.
The Code of Canon Law and Catholic bishops remind the faithful of other works and means of doing penance: prayer, acts of self-denial, almsgiving and works of personal charity. Attending Mass daily or several times a week, praying the rosary, making the Way of the Cross, attending a parish's evening prayer service, helping at a food pantry, visiting the sick and shut-ins – all of these can be meaningful and sometimes more demanding than simply abstaining from meat on Friday.
As the U.S. bishops explain in their annual guidelines for Lent, "The key to fruitful observance of these practices is to recognize their link to baptismal renewal. We are called not just to abstain from sin during Lent, but to true conversion of our hearts and minds as followers of Christ."
View a slideshow of images from Ash Wednesday on the Diocese of Charotte's YouTube Channel. The slideshow is embedded below.
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FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy