Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation. It is, however, a day of fasting and abstinence . On Ash Wednesday and all of the Fridays of Lent, Catholics over the age of 14 are required to abstain from meat and from foods made with meat. Every person between the age of 18 and 60 must fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Fasting and abstinence are closely related, but there are some differences in these spiritual practices. In general, fasting refers to restrictions on the quantity of the food we eat and on when we consume it, while abstinence refers to the avoidance of particular foods. The most common form of abstinence is the avoidance of meat, a spiritual practice that goes back to the earliest days of the Church. This is no a diet nor a resolution.
In the Roman Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, the season of preparation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. (In the Eastern Catholic Churches, the first day of Lent is Clean Monday.) Ash Wednesday falls on March 5, 2014, 46 days before Easter 2014.
The date of Ash Wednesday is easily calculated. Simply take the date of Easter and subtract 46 days. first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, falls on a different date each year.
Christ’s original disciples, who were Jewish, grew up with the idea that the Sabbath—the day of worship and of rest—was Saturday, the seventh day of the week, since the account of creation in Genesis says that God rested on the seventh day.
Since all Sundays—and not simply Easter Sunday—were days to celebrate Christ’s Resurrection, Christians were forbidden to fast and do other forms of penance on those days. Therefore, when the Church expanded the period of fasting and prayer in preparation for Easter from a few days to 40 days (to mirror Christ’s fasting in the desert, before He began His public ministry), Sundays could not be included in the count.
Thus, in order for Lent to include 40 days on which fasting could occur, it had to be expanded to six full weeks (with six days of fasting in each week) plus four extra days—Ash Wednesday and the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday that follow it. Six times six is thirty-six, plus four equals forty.