Ash Wednesday falls on Feb. 14 this year, and with it, the start of our lenten journey. St. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, tells us to, “put away the old self of your former way of life…and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth” (Eph 4:22-24).
Everyone aged 14 and older is to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday, all Fridays of Lent and Good Friday. Meat has always been considered a food of banquets and celebrations. Additionally, for many centuries it was a luxury to have access to and consume meat. Since Fridays, particularly during Lent, observe the Passion and Death of our Lord, these are clearly days in which we should abstain from the food of banquets and celebrations.
Fasting is an ancient practice whose importance can be seen time and again throughout the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Everyone aged 18 and up to their 59th birthday is obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Only one full meal is allowed on days of fasting. Two other meals, often called collations, may be taken to maintain strength according to one’s needs. When combined, these collations should not equal another full meal. Eating between meals and collations is not permitted, but liquids are allowed. The obligation does not apply to those whose health or ability to work would be seriously affected. People in doubt about fasting or abstinence should consult their priest.
For Christians, the practice of fasting mirrors the 40 days Jesus fasted in the desert before he was tempted by the Devil. Jesus’ example shows us how denying the body of indulgence detaches us from worldly desires and elevates us in holiness so that we are more disposed to respond to God’s grace to resist temptation and sin.
It is popular for Catholics to “give something up” for Lent. This is not required by the Church, but it is often encouraged as a way to detach from the things of the world and focus our attention on God and heaven. This helps a soul prepare for Easter and grow in holiness at the same time.