I recall a discussion among relatives when I was young concerning what was “the fastest day of the year”, one side holding out for Ash Wednesday and the other for Good Friday. Of course the argument was unwinnable, but it illustrates the fact that many of us do not understand what fast and abstinence is all about.
Part of the problem is that Pope Paul VI updated the rules for public fasting and penance in his “Apostolic Constitution on Penance, ” so they are a little different than they were for your grandmother.
No one can be dispensed from the necessity of doing penance, but for those physically unable to observe the rules of fast and abstinence due to illness or other causes, it is recommended that they practice voluntary acts of penance or works of charity. For that matter, all Catholics are urged to practice such voluntary acts in addition to observing the rules of fast and abstinence appropriate to their situation.
Basically, if a person is between the ages of 18 and 59 they are obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting means taking only one full meal. It may be any meal, but the other meals should together not equal another full meal.
Those who have celebrated their 14th birthday must practice abstinence on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all the Fridays of Lent. Abstinence forbids the use of meat, but does not include eggs, milk, meat juices and soups, gravies and sauces flavored with meat.
Honestly, the rules are not as important as the spirit of penance, voluntarily forgoing legitimate activities to share in the sufferings of Jesus who “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross”(Phillippians 2)
What is the fastest day of the year?
Today, Ash Wednesday is certainly one of them.