Ash Wednesday not only marks the beginning of the season of Lent, it is also a time when Catholic new media takes center stage, albeit not in the most obvious ways. This is because Ash Wednesday masses are some of the most attended all year, and most of those mass goers rely upon church websites to inform them of the scheduled times to receive their ashes.
This is also the most noticeable day of faith in the secular culture. It is common to suddenly realize you are surrounded by more Catholics that you realized once you see the ashy marks on people’s foreheads.
This is a beautiful day drenched in profound realities and a very public call to repentance. I recommend you read 9 Things You Need to know About Ash Wednesday. Even though it is a well known day, there are some confused ideas floating around concerning this day and season of Lent.
5 Misconceptions About Ash Wednesday
1. Ash Wednesday is a Holy Day of Obligation
Ash Wednesday is not a Holy day of Obligation. It is an important day however because it is a spiritual sign of our repentance and call for conversion. This is our entrance into the spiritual desert, and we take this time to focus on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
2. The Ashes are more important than Holy Communion
While this one is not verbally said often, it’s proclaimed by the actions of many Catholics that choose to prioritize the reception of ashes while ignoring the need for the Eucharist.
The church states that we are obliged to receive the Eucharist (True body and blood of our Lord) at least once a year (Canon 920), but there is no requirement to receive the ashes (a spiritual symbol).
3. Chicken is allowed on days of abstinence because it is a white meat
Chicken is considered a meat because it is still muscle fibers and blood like red meat. Our Lord sacrificed His flesh, so we abstain from eating flesh on Ash Wednesday and Fridays as a sign of self-denial. Eggs and milk products are allowed.
4. We are able to eat fish on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent because it helps the fish market
While this may seem like a very practical reason as to why fish is allowed, none of these decisions were made with profit in mind. They all serve to improve our spirituality.
Taylor Marshall has an explanation and more reasoning behind why fish is allowed.
5. You are forced to give up something for Lent
It is common practice and a great idea to offer sacrifices for lent as forms of self-denial and practice of self-control. They help to remind us of the sacrifice that Our Lord made for us.
The only sacrifices required by canon law are abstinence from meat on Fridays (or some other sacrifice on Fridays outside of Lent) and fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (Canon 1250-3).
With that said, even though it’s not required, I highly recommend you consider it. Another alternative is adding spiritual exercises, corporal works of mercy, and other practices to intentionally focus this penitential season. Read 40 Days of Awesome: Giving Up More Than Beer, Cookies & Candy and 5 Tips for an Intentional Lent.
I pray you have a blessed Lent.
Here are two newer posts worth reading.