Today is Ash Wednesday for Christians and Catholics the world over as the start of Lent begins. Lent marks 40 days before Easter and is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. Ash Wednesday happens 46 days – 40 fasting days, not counting Sundays – before Easter Sunday.
The day changes year on year, Ash Wednesday can fall as early as February 4 and as late as March 10.
The day is one day after Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday (the end of Carnival or Mardi Gras season).
The Catholic law of abstinence dictates that Catholics aged 14 and older refrain from meat on Fridays altogether during this 40-day period, as well as Ash Wednesday.
Under the current rules for fasting and abstinence found in the Code of Canon Law (the governing rules for the Roman Catholic Church), Catholics bus abstain from all meat and all foods with meat over the age of 14.
The law states: “Canon 1251 Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Ash Wednesday is also a day for strict fasting, for all Catholics from age 18 to age 59, as is Good Friday.
Fasting is defined by the Roman Catholic Church as consuming only one full meal, or two smaller meals.
Every Friday is a day of abstinence from meat, but not a day of fasting.
The same rules for abstinence apply, all Catholics over the age of 14 must abstain from eating meat and all foods with meat on all Fridays of Lent unless they have health reason preventing them from doing so.
The reason Catholics do not eat meat on Ash Wednesday and on the Fridays of Lent is because abstaining from meat or fasting from food in general is a form of sacrifice.
This reminds Catholics of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross on Good Friday.
Chicken is considered a meat, so Catholics will abstain from it on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays during Lent.
Meat is singled out, as it is associated with celebrations and feasts.
The fasting and abstinence during Lent is meant to mirror the experience of Jesus Christ and his experience of fasting in the desert and to “replicate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ’s journey into the desert for 40 days.”
Lent is also a time for penance and solemnity in the days leading up to Holy Week, the period which marks the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday.
Christians and Catholics choose to abstain from something in particular during Lent.
This might range from a favourite food, a habit they want to kick or something pleasurable.