Ash Wednesday Meaning 2020 History: In the Western Christendom, Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, on which people observe a fast. It is observed by most of the Western Christians which include the Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans and Anglicans.
Excluding the Sundays falling in the period of lent, Ash Wednesday occurs for 46 days, hence occurs 46 days prior to the Easter Day.
The canonic doctrines of Mark, Luke and Matthew mention that Jesus Christ had spent 40 days fasting in the deserts, before commencing his public ministry, which further originated as preparations for Easter.
Each Sunday was observed commemorating the revival of Jesus Christ on Sunday from inactivity and disuse. Fasting on this day was considered as inappropriate.
Ash Wednesday Meaning
Ash Wednesday comes from the ancient Jewish tradition of penance and fasting. The name finds its origin from practice of blessing ashes made from palm branches.
The practice includes the wearing of ashes on the head. The ashes symbolize the dust from which God made us. As the priest applies the ashes to a person’s forehead, he says the words: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The blessed palms used in the previous year’s Palm Sunday are used to make the ashes, which are baptized using the Holy water. These ashes are then exposed to incense in order to give them a sweet fragrance.
The ashes stand for penitence and sorrow for sin arising from fear of damnation. It also reminds of the thing that God is courteous towards the people who call on Him with repentant hearts.
On Ash Wednesday, ashes are placed ritually on the heads of the Christians; either sprinkled over their crown of one’s head or marked on foreheads as a cross (especially in the English-speaking countries).
The words accompanying this gesture are ‘Memento, homo, quia palvis es, et in pulverem reverteris’, which means ‘Remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.’
Church services on Ash Wednesday:
The church services of the Ash Wednesday include Psalm 51 (the Miserere), prayers of confession and repentance, and sign of ashes. The traditions followed in the Anglican Churches include only Psalm 51 and confession prayers.
The Catholic Churches follow a tradition in which recitation of Psalm 51 and prayers of confessions are a general part of it. At some of the Low Churches, a tradition is followed wherein confession about you sins or penance is performed in a very different manner.
In this, small cards are distributed to people who take part in the assemblage held at the church. They write about the sins on the card for which they wish to confess and then these cards are burned on the communion table in the church itself.
Fasting and Abstinence:
On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, fasting and abstinence are mandatory for every Catholic without any exemption. In the Catholic religion, all Fridays of a year are observed for penance and Church services.
The ones aged 14 and above are bound to follow the law of abstinence and the people of ages 6 and above need to follow the law of fasting.
Observances regarding fasting and assistance:
Abstinence includes refraining from meat that comes from animals such as chickens, cows, sheep, pigs and even birds.
The foods prepared from meat, such as meat soup, chicken broth, meat gravies or sauces, meat seasonings or condiments made from animal fat are not at all forbidden at the time of abstinence. Thus one cannot consume meat juices and other liquid foods made from meat.
In some regions of the Catholic countries, animal products that do not have any taste of meat; the ones like milk, cheese, eggs, and gelatin are not allowed to be consumed. Some countries permit the consuming of fish, which fall in other category of animals.
Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles and shellfish are all allowed to be eaten on the days of abstinence.
Objectives of fasting and assistance:
The objectives behind fasting are to gain a spiritual focus, self-discipline, imitation of Christ, repentance and the most important of all is sacrifice.
The Catholics observe fasting and abstinence on all the Friday of a year and even on; some people observe abstinence on all non-Lenten Fridays but consume meat and other animal products on Lenten Fridays. The members of the Eastern Catholic Churches can follow their own rules made by the Churches.
Fasting practices in the Western countries:
The trends related to fasting and abstinence in the Eastern regions differ as compared to the ones followed by other Catholic countries. In Canada, Ash Wednesday and God Friday and all the Fridays of whole year are followed for fasting and abstinence.
The Europeans and the people in Wales observe fasts on all Fridays of a year and also refrain consuming from meat. The people in Ireland abstain from meat and alcohol and for penance; they visit the Blessed Sacrament and help the poor, sick and lonely people.
In the US, the age for fasting is from 14 years and above, and that for abstinence is 16 years and above.
These norms were decided by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and have even allowed substituting abstinence by some other form of penance on all Fridays of the year, the Lenten Fridays and Ash Wednesday being an exception.
Fasting practices in the Eastern countries:
The Eastern Christians observe two major times of fasting; the ‘Great Feast’ before Easter and ‘Phillip’s Fast’ that comes before the Nativity. At the time of Great Fast, meat, fish, eggs, dairy products and oil are strictly avoided.
Phillip’s Fast is come before Christmas starts and it got its name as it begins after the feast day of St. Phillip. Every year, the Catholic Churches observe fasting and abstinence at various occasions and depending on the type of occasion, the disciplines of fasting may differ.
Fasting means reducing the food intake either by having it only once in whole day time or just by having the meals before starting the fast. Abstinence is to avoid having meat products like fish or meat of various animals; some even avoid animal products such as milk and milk products.