Technically, Lent is not 40-days-long
Lent is celebrated for 40 days simply because Sundays are not included in Lent so technically, despite the fact that most Catholic communities including each Sunday, it is not.
If you take a look at your calendar, you’ll notice that between the time of Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday, there are actually 46 days.
Ashes are more than what they seem
Do you know that the ashes used to mark a cross on your forehead symbolize God’s creation of man from ashes? Does this show that man returns to ash when he dies?
Priests often say, “Remember, man, you are dust, and unto dust, you shall return.” or ” Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel” – a reminder of our mortality and our need to repent before it is too late.
In addition to that, they also mark the sorrow and grief of our personal sins and serve as a symbol of repentance.
In an interesting note, many wipe the ashes from their foreheads following Mass, but several wear their ashes proudly as they go to school, work or run errands – a matter of choice.
Further reading: Origin of Ash Wednesday.
One does not have to be a Catholic to participate
Although Lent is predominantly observed by Catholics, several non-Catholics often follow our example to fast and honor Jesus’ time in the wilderness. Others even give up a single indulgence, such as social media or chocolate, as well.
Rt. Rev. Seamus Cunningham, the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle Diocese, once specified that anyone can take part in Ash Wednesday ceremonies if they so chose.
He stated: “This is an important day. It is not just for Catholics. Anyone can receive blessed ashes on Ash Wednesday, whether Christian or not. This is to express the desire to grow spiritually and to turn away from our failings, areas of weakness and brokenness, in favor of seeking the healing and wholeness that only God can give.
“No Meat Fridays” have exceptions
We are Obligated to abstain from meat on all Fridays of Lent and Ash Wednesday. Catholics observing Lent choose to eat fish and not meat, on Fridays of the Lenten period. There are, however, few interesting exceptions to the rule.
For example, the abstinence from eating meat on Fridays of Lent has an exception for those who are ill. Children below the ages of 14 can also be exempted.
Further reading: What you should give up during the Lenten Period.
You Can’t Eat Meat on Fridays of Lent Even at a Party Without the Proper Dispensation.
In the 1600s, a group of monks in France allowed puffins to be considered fish, since their “natural habitat was as much terrestrial as aquatic,” and the bird was allowed to be eaten on Fridays.
Two years ago, the National Bishops’ Conference approved of the consumption of alligator on Friday as the beast “is considered in the fish family.”
In 2006, several American bishops have a special dispensation to eat meat on Friday during Lent because St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Friday and it is traditional to eat corned beef brisket for his feast day.
According to Canon Law:
Can. 1251 states; Abstinence from Eating meat or some other food according to the prescripts of the Bishops is to be observed on all Fridays unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Canon 1253 states; The conference of Bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercise of piety, in the whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.
In regards to the above, we are obligated to abstain from meat on all Fridays of Lent and Ash Wednesday. This means that we ourselves cannot dispense from this obligation by making a prudential decision. Thus;
Canon 1245: With due regards for the right of diocesan bishops which is mentioned in can. 87, for a just reason and in accord with the prescriptions of the diocesan Bishop, the Pastor (Parachus) in individual cases can dispense from the obligation to observe a feast day of penance: or he can commute it to other pious works.
However, avoiding a piece of meat in a party(s) would be easier to do than seeking out a dispensation from the Church authority, which would be required to eat meat on one of these days in accordance to the canon law.