Catholic Ash Wednesday Tradition of Not Eating Meat Should Not Be Confused With Dieting

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | February 14, 2013 3:37 PM EST

Papabili or potential pope Philippine Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle said on Wednesday that Catholics all over the world should not confuse or mix up the notion that not eating meat on Ash Wednesday is tantamount to dieting.

Instead, he urged Filipinos to donate and share whatever money that will be saved from food bingeing to charity works.

"Fasting is a bit of self-denial for others. There are those who are very happy because it is a time for them to reduce, but this should not be the case. This is fasting, there is an element of self-discipline, that I am dependent on God," he said. 

For the Roman Catholics, Ash Wednesday heralds the start of the Lenten season, a season of penance, reflection, and fasting which leads to Jesus Christ's Resurrection on Easter Sunday. Ash Wednesday always falls 46 days before Easter. All Roman Catholics are encouraged to attend Mass on this day to mark the beginning of the Lenten season.

It is during the Mass when the ashes, made by burning the blessed palms that were used the previous year on Palm Sunday, are distributed. After the priest blesses the ashes and sprinkles them with holy water, the faithful come forward to receive them. The priest dips his right thumb in the ashes and, making the Sign of the Cross on each person's forehead, says, "Remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return," or a variation of these words.

In other countries, even in the Philippines, in order to better spread the importance of the occasion, the Roman Catholic Church sends out its priests on the streets to conduct the Ash Wednesday tradition.

In San Jose, Father Michael Gazzingan, a young 37-year-old priest in a rapidly aging American Catholic priesthood, would drive his small SUV or sometimes bikes to go and knock at the homes of the Catholic faithful in the Philippines. Sometimes, he's found in the hospitals or nursing homes giving ashes.

"It makes them feel they are still part of the church," he said. "That's why we bring Jesus and the good news to them."

The Filipino papabili or potential pope, Cardinal Tagle, said the world's Catholic faithful should give alms instead of keeping the money that they were able to save in relation to Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season where Catholics are urged to avoid eating meat in reverence to the sacrifices that Christ made, who spent 40 days fasting in the desert.

Read more:

Meet the 'Papabili' or Potential Popes Who Could Replace Benedict XVI (SLIDESHOW)

Next Pope, Will Race and Skin Color Matter in Choosing the Leader of the Catholics?

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