What is Ash Wednesday?
Okay, I was sorely tempted to put up a post about Mardi Gras today. But, I don’t know if I’ll have time to post about Ash Wednesday tomorrow. So, I had a decision to make: Mardi Gras, or Ash Wednesday?
Considering that Mardi Gras – while an important part of our Cajun heritage – is not exactly an event of the Church, I guess I’ll go with the Ash Wednesday post. For those interested in information about Mardi Gras, let me leave a few good links:
Mardi Gras-Carnival-Shrovetide connection: from the Catholic Encyclopedia – great, great, great info, as usual
Cajun Mardi Gras: from LSU-E, taken from Dr. Barry Ancelet – you can’t get better than this to find out about rural Mardi Gras in Cajun Country
New Orleans Mardi Gras: Most people know about this already, though
Now, about Ash Wednesday and Lent:
Ash Wednesday is the first day of the 40-day Lenten Fast. Lent is a word that comes to us in English from the Anglo-Saxon word for Spring. In Cajun French, we use the word, careme. Careme comes to us from the Latin word quadragesima. The Latin and French words for this season of the Church both mean “the 40th day”.
The Lenten (or 40-day) Fast is period of fasting and penance preceding the Easter Festival; it occurs 40 days before Good Friday. Tomorrow, on Ash Wednesday, Catholics begin this period by attending Mass, where they will receive ashes on their foreheads in the shape of a cross.
This ceremony serves several purposes, among which are 1) to remind all of us that we belong to Jesus Christ, who died on a cross for our salvation; 2) that ashes are a biblical symbol of repentance and mourning; 3) and that, by this visible display of our faith, we are a visible sign to the world of the Body of Christ, His Holy Catholic Church.
(As a sidenote: it is true that Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation; however, the Church strongly urges us to attend Mass and receive the ashes.)
On Ash Wednesday, Catholics are to fast and abstain. Fasting is when we limit our intake of food. Specifically, Catholics between the ages of 18 and 60 must limit themselves to only one, single, normal meal during the course of the day. We may have two much smaller “snacks”; however, these “snacks” together may not equal a normal-sized meal.
Abstinence, on the other hand, is completely giving up of something. For Ash Wednesday (and Fridays during Lent), Catholics 14-years-old and older are to abstain from meat. (Actually, we should be abstaining from meat on Fridays outside of Lent, too; or we may perform some other voluntary penance instead of abstaining on those Fridays.)
Kansas City Catholic has a funny dialogue between a Catholic Church sign and a couple of Protestant church signs about Ash Wednesday. (Yes, you read correctly – between church SIGNS!)