Catholics familiar only with the Latin Church may be surprised to learn that Ash Wednesday and its customs exist only in the Western church. The Eastern churches have other ways of counting the days of Lent, and of beginning this Great Fast.
The RC Church counts Holy Week as part of the Lenten Fast, but not the Sundays during the Lenten season. Therefore, in about the 8th Century, it was necessary to add four days to the beginning of Lent to bring the number of days up to the traditional 40. This was the origin of Ash Wednesday.
The Eastern Churches (both Catholic and Orthodox) consider Holy Week as a separate unit with its own Fasting and Abstinence requirements, not technically included in the Great Lent. Lent liturgically concludes on the evening of the 6th Friday of Great Lent, the vigil of Lazarus Saturday. Although we do not fast on Saturdays and Sundays, we do continue to abstain from certain kinds of foods on the Fridays of Lent. The Saturdays & Sundays of the Great Fast are counted in the total of days, thus bringing the number up to 40, counted from Ash Monday, the first day of Great Lent.
For some of us, Lent begins on Monday!
Ash Wednesday is NOT a holy day of obligation. Catholics do not need to go church this day.
But strangely it is very very popular. A priest and I laughed about this years ago. It has to be about the ashes and demonstrating to others your faith.
That’s a really interesting question, since it hinges on what exactly it is about observances that appeals to the “semi-faithful”, the people who are normally lukewarm about such things.
I think one thing you have to note is that Ash Wednesday is the most visible of the Catholic holidays, where the individual observant is concerned. When you go about your day on Palm Sunday, or All Saint’s Day, nobody knows by looking at you whether you went to mass. On Ash Wednesday though, especially in largely Catholic communities, everyone can see who are the lazy ones who didn’t bother to get down to church. So, I think simple shame is a part of why the lukewarm folks get down there on that particular day.
I’m going to a church festival tomorrow, a St. Valentine’s day card party and luncheon that is also kind of a pre-Lent kickoff. If snowy weather would cause a cancellation, as happened several years ago when we got two feet of snow, the event would be rescheduled AFTER Lent was over. No partying in church during the solemn Lenten season and no serving of meat dishes.
Read also that the Christians in the Holy Land have decided to do one Lent and one Easter. May that practice spread to the whole of the global Christian community.
The only thing I do not like about this coming Lent is that it is starting early, plus dealing with the after effects of this blizzard.
Everything about my Catholic Faith bears out this truth - you get out of it way more than you put in. For me Ash Wednesday is all about the beginning of Lent and as I age each Lent seems to be more and more fruitful. A great time for self-examination, more prayer, sacrifices (fasting) I still find a few things to give up. There have been a couple of years that I gave up Free Republic - that was tough at first but then no big deal. God does call us to sacrifice, something many of us do not like to do surrounded by all the indulgences in our society.