Ash Wednesday is, however, a day of fasting and abstinence. Fasting means that Catholics from 18 years of age up to the beginning of their 60th year are expected to eat only one full meal and two other light meals on this day, with nothing to eat between meals. Abstinence means that Catholics over 14 years of age are expected to abstain from eating meat on this day. All of the Fridays of Lent are days of abstinence.
The ashes that are used are created by burning the palms that were blessed on Palm Sunday of the previous year. These ashes are then imposed by the priest on the foreheads of the faithful. As he uses the ashes to trace the sign of the cross, the priest says either “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19) or “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).
The ashes are a visible sign that reminds us that life passes away on Earth. They are also a visible sign of our willingness to enter into the season of Lent and to renew ourselves spiritually through fasting, prayer and alms-giving.