February 06, 2008

Ash Wednesday: What Is It?

Besides being the only day of the year that Terry invites me to dinner....

This is a day of mandatory abstinence and fasting (Can. 1251). All Catholics aged 14 or older must abstain from meat on this day (Can. 1252). Meat is considered to be the flesh and organs of mammals and fowl. Also forbidden are soups or gravies made from them. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles and shellfish are not considered meat for this purpose.

However, those between 18 and 59 years of age (Can. 1252), are also bound to fast on Ash Wednesday. On this day one, normal-sized meal and two smaller meals that do not equal the normal meal are allowed. Eating between meals, however, is prohibited although fruit juices and milk are allowed.


Today is NOT a Holy Day of Obligation-meaning you are not required to go to Mass. However, I think it is a good practice to do so. Receive your ashes and start the penitential season of Lent with an outward sign of your intentions. I find it curious that Ash Wednesday is one of the most heavily attended services all year, yet, it’s not required that you do so. I’m happy that there are so many in attendance but I wonder where they are the rest of the year? Why am I THE line for Confession on Saturday? Maybe, I am truly the only sinner in town. Only God knows. I'm certainly the worst sinner I know.

Just because you go to Church on Ash Wednesday and receive your ashes and act penitent for 24 hours does NOT replace any requirements you may have for the necessity of Sacramental Confession. Most parishes have expanded hours for Confession during Lent-check it out. If you can make any of the hours, call your priest, he’ll probably be delighted to hear from you. The receipt of ashes does NOT mean your Easter obligation is fulfilled either. Back in the days, when people knew they were not entitled to receive Communion every time they went to Mass, you had to at least receive at Easter. That meant, you had to go to Confession first. If you only ever go to Mass at Easter, then you need to go to Confession before you receive Communion because you have clearly not attended Mass on the Holy Days of Obligation (one of which is SUNDAY) the rest of the year. Kind of a serious sin, that.

Why am I mentioning any of this since most of the folks reading this blog probably know all this? Well, not necessarily, and some Catholic parishes around here insert the adverb “invited” for “instructed”. I.e. “You are invited to observe the traditional Catholic fast and abstinence”

I can invite someone for dinner and then I can instruct them why I'm not serving anything today.

Class with Cathy: *Cathy writes on blackboard*

Fast means: no food.

Abstinence means: no meat.

Ash Wednesday: Fast AND abstinence!!!

We are really limp Catholics these days. In my Grandparents day, now those were tough rules. Good grief, today, you are INSTRUCTED to fast and abstain only 2 whole days of the church year: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. You are encouraged to keep every Friday as a penitential day but you are not required to do so (every Friday during Lent you are to abstain from meat). You are only required to fast for one hour before receiving communion-as opposed to old days when it was after midnight. No one is telling you, you can’t ramp it up, but for crying out loud is the bare minimum so dang tough?

There was a time when it's not that I thought it was tough. I either did not know what was expected or I was told “we don’t have to do that anymore” or I was encouraged to think that those rules are ridiculous.

I have come to accept these requirements because I’ve come to realize that:

The requirements are not intended to be rules for the sake of rules. They are not intended to be in place just to make your self-centered life impossible. They are intended as a tool to help you grow in personal holiness. They are intended to help you meditate upon what Christ sacrificed for us. They are intended to help you feel like you are carrying the cross.

My priest recommended that in order to fight certain sins that I constantly grapple with, I should strive to fast from something each DAY! By that he meant give up something. Not necessarily food. Can you not give at least TWO DAYS this Lent?

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few years ago, I attended a Mass at a Romanian Orthodox Church. A friend who had been Episcopalian had converted to Catholicism, then reverted to Orthodoxy. She was having a memorial service for one of her daughters who had died some years previously.

[Comment: I still wonder if I should have counseled her not to revert, but did nothing].

Anyway, I enjoyed the service and noted that the only people who received Communion were young pre-teen children.

The priest who later joined us at the parish's community room/cash bar (!!!!, my kind of folks) explained that he does not give Communion to people unless he KNOWS that they have recently been to Confession.

As a part of my genealogical research, I discovered that in the 1890s in Duluth, at St Mary Star of the Sea Polish Parish, the pastor handed out cards at the beginning of Lent with the names of all the parishioners (adults and children who had made their First Communion) and they were instructed to hand the cards over to the pastor when they made their annual confession.

In those days, the time for making one's "Easter Duty" Holy Communion was between Ash Wednesday and Trinity Sunday, which in those days was the Sunday after Pentecost Sunday.

After Easter Sunday, Father would start sorting his "confession cards" and then begin to make the rounds of his flock to get them to make their annual Confession so they could make their Easter Duty. There must of been some interesting conversations with some of the parish reprobates, some of whom were related to me.

As Cathy has pointed out, times have indeed changed.

I did note, though, that the rules regarding Fasting and Abstainence for men who worked 12 hour days six days a week were loosened so that they could maintain their strength, and their jobs.

Well, I still don't know how to sign in on Cathy's blog. They want my Blogger/Google user name. But it doesn't tell you what to do if you don't know what it is, so I will continue to post anonymously.

February 06, 2008 9:13 PM  
Anonymous helpful hint said...

@ anon: Under the blogger/google drop down menu is a button that says "nickname." Click that button and type in the name you would like to post as. :)

February 06, 2008 9:33 PM  
Blogger Adrienne said...

Good post!!

When I was growing up you couldn't eat after midnight before going to communion. We went to 10:00 pm Mass so that was a long time. Now it's an hour.

I can also remember sitting at the White Castle timing our order to arrive at 12:01 AM Sat. 'cause you couldn't eat meat on Friday. We were very serious about these things. It's no wonder the kids today don't have a Catholic identity. There is NOTHING to remind them of who they are.

February 06, 2008 10:23 PM  
Blogger swissmiss said...

Adrienne:
Didn't you give up White Castles for Lent :)

My mother always said that they had to fast from the end of their dinner on Saturday night until Mass on Sunday morning. Then on Sunday it was a big day when all the family came over for a big meal. Fridays they always had to eat meat. Since they lived on a farm, they traded some crop for fish. A gentleman would bring the fish every Friday and it was my mother's job to clean the fish each week. Nowadays, people don't even know they are still expected to fast on Fridays or substitute something else in its place.

February 07, 2008 1:43 PM  

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