Catholics and other Christians around the world are observing Ash Wednesday today, March 9, 2011.
If you too want to observe the holy day according to the Catholic tradition, there are a series of rules you should be familiar with.
First, you can not eat meat on Ash Wednesday, which marks 40 days before Easter and the beginning of Lent.
According to the Catholic law of abstinence, Catholics aged 14 and older must refrain from meat on Fridays altogether during this 40-day period, as well as Ash Wednesday.
Per the Code of Canon Law:
Canon 1251 Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Many Catholics also get ashes on their forehead on Ash Wednesday, a reminder of our mortality (often stated as, 'we are dust and to dust we shall return'). Catholics are encouraged to attend Mass on Ash Wednesday, however, Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation.