Sunday, March 26, 2017

Laetare Sunday

Laetare Sunday at the Birmingham Oratory. [cf., Birmingham Oratory official site]

Today, the fourth Sunday of Lent, is known as Laetare Sunday for the opening word of the Introit of the Mass on this day, which quote the prophet Isaiah:

"Laetare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis: ut exsultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestrae."

"Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation."

Here is that text in its Gregorian Chant setting:

On this day, then, Lenten observances are eased a bit as we look to Easter, having now completed half of Lent, and rose vestments are used.  Laetare is, then, the Lenten companion of Gaudete Sunday in Advent.  The Old Catholic Encyclopedia notes on this day:

"Strictly speaking, the Thursday before Laetare Sunday is the middle day of Lent, and it was at one time observed as such, but afterwards the special signs of joy permitted on this day, intended to encourage the faithful in their course through the season of penance, were transferred to the Sunday following. They consist of (like those ofGaudete Sunday in Advent) in the use of flowers on the altar, and of the organ at Mass and Vespers; rose-coloured vestments also allowed instead of purple, and the deacon and subdeacon wear dalmatics, instead of folded chasubles as on the other Sundays of Lent. The contrast between Laetare and the other Sundays is thus emphasized, and is emblematical of the joys of this life, restrained rejoicing mingled with a certain amount of sadness. The station at Rome was on this day made at the church of S. Croce in Gerusalemme, one of the seven chief basilicas; the Golden Rose, sent by the popes to Catholic sovereigns, used to be blessed at this time, and for this reason the day was sometimes called 'Dominica de Rosa'."

For more on Laetare Sunday, you might visit:
Old Catholic Enyclopedia: Laetare Sunday

Fisheaters: Laetare Sunday

On this Fourth Sunday of Lent: Laetare!

Live well!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Solemnity of the Annunciation

Annunciation by Lanfranco, 1616AD.  This image is found in the Church of San Carlo ai Catinari in Rome, Italy.

This great Feast of the Annunciation falls on 25 March, some nine months before Christmas.  It is on this day that the Blessed Virgin Mary received the message of the Archangel Gabriel, and "the Word was flesh and dwelt among us."

The Gospel of St. Luke recalls this profound moment of the Annunciation that this feast commemorates:
"Chapter 1:26 When the sixth month came, God sent the angel Gabriel to a city of Galilee called Nazareth, 27 where a virgin dwelt, betrothed to a man of David’s lineage; his name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 Into her presence the angel came, and said, Hail, thou who art full of grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women.  29 She was much perplexed at hearing him speak so, and cast about in her mind, what she was to make of such a greeting. 30 Then the angel said to her, Mary, do not be afraid; thou hast found favour in the sight of God. 31 And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call him Jesus. 32 He shall be great, and men will know him for the Son of the most High; the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob eternally; 33 his kingdom shall never have an end.34 But Mary said to the angel, How can that be, since I have no knowledge of man? 35 And the angel answered her, The Holy Spirit will come upon thee, and the power of the most High will overshadow thee. Thus this holy offspring of thine shall be known for the Son of God. 36 See, moreover, how it fares with thy cousin Elizabeth; she is old, yet she too has conceived a son; she who was reproached with barrenness is now in her sixth month, 37 to prove that nothing can be impossible with God. 38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be unto me according to thy word. And with that the angel left her."

Historically, until the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1751AD, the Annunciation, 25 March, was the first day of the New Year on the Civil calendar in the English world.

All the same, it is on this day that the Incarnation took place.  The Fiat, the "let it be," of the Blessed Virgin Mary, has begun the process of our salvation!

For more on the Feast, you might note:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Annunciation

Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Feast of the Annunciation

Fish Eaters: Annunciation

Live well!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Vernal Equinox: first day of Spring

Image result for vernal equinox

Today, at precisely 6:28AM Eastern Daylight Time, we mark the Vernal Equinox.  At that moment, the Sun crossed the celestial equator on its path along the ecliptic.  Of course, this date is critical in determining the date of Easter -- Easter is the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after today's Vernal Equinox.

If the Earth sat directly upright on its axis, the Sun would always be directly overhead at noon on the equator, it would appear to move through the stars along the celestial equator, days would always remain the same length, and every day would be like the two equinox days in Spring and Fall -- every day like today. As it happens, the Earth is tilted at about 23.5 degrees on its axis. Thus, the sun appears to diverge as much as 23.5 degrees from the celestial equator in its apparent path through the stars (the ecliptic), and ends up being directly overhead up to 23.5 degrees north or south of the equator (the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn) on the two solstice days. This is the reason, of course, for our seasons.

So, if we start at the vernal equinox in March, today, the sun is directly overhead at the equator at noon, and night and day are the same length. [Of course, thanks to Daylight savings time, this happens at approximately 1PM, and not Noon.  DST is a fictional time in which we pretend to live in the next time zone to the east.] From the Vernal equinox until the summer solstice, the Sun appears to move slowly to the north both in the sky, setting a bit further north of west each day, and in its apparent path through the constellations of the zodiac. This continues until the Sun reaches the solstice, where it stops, being directly overhead at 23.5 degrees north latitude (the Tropic of Cancer) at noon, and sitting about 23.5 degrees north of the celestial equator. From that point, the sun drifts back south until reaching the equator once more at the autumnal equinox in September, on this day, going all the way to 23.5 degrees south at the Winter Solstice.

File:Analemma Earth.png
This chart show the analemma for Earth, showing the relative locations of the Sun at noon at the Greenwich Observatory in England. Notice the change in both altitude and azimuth at the different points of the year.

The reason for all of this is that as the Earth orbits the Sun the two hemispheres of the Earth take turns being tilted toward the Sun. The following diagrams might help to illustrate what I am trying to articulate:

File:Ecliptic path.jpg
In this diagram, the sun appears to move against the background of the stars along the red line, the ecliptic, while the white line marks the celestial equator -- the imaginary line through space that is merely the extension of the Earth's equator. The two points where the red and white lines are at greatest divergence are the solstices, while the two points where the red and white lines cross are the two equinoxes. The yellow line shows what the sun would appear to be in front of from the Earth, the Constellation Pisces, at the vernal equinox.

File:North season.jpg
This diagram shows the positions of the Earth in relation to the sun at those four points -- the Summer solstice on the left, with the Northern Hemisphere tilted toward the Sun, and the Winter solstice on the right, with the Southern Hemisphere facing the Sun more directly, with the two equinoxes between, with the Hemispheres equally oriented to the Sun.

So today, at the Vernal Equinox, the sun shines directly overhead at the equator, and both hemispheres are equally lit!  Welcome to astronomical Spring!

Live well!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Feast of St. Joseph

File:Saint Joseph with the Infant Jesus by Guido Reni, c 1635.jpg
St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus, by Guido Reni, ca. 1635.

Today, 19 March, is traditionally the Feast of the foster father of our Divine Lord, and patron of the Universal Church: St. Joseph!  As the solemnity falls on a Sunday this year, the observance is transferred to tomorrow.

On this Feast of St. Joseph, let us recall this great saint who example is one of silent witness.  He is the one that the Gospels call "a just man" who protected and provided for the Holy Family.  Indeed, Scripture notes that Our Divine Lord "was subject to them," referring to Mary and Joseph.  Of what a family was St. Joseph the head!

St. Jospeh is a splendid example of manhood, of willingness to do the Will of God, and, considering who was, by tradition, there in his last moments, a patron of a happy death.

You might note this encyclical letter of Pope Leo XIII on devotion to St. Joseph:
Encyclical Letter of Leo XIII on St. Joseph

Here is the Old Catholic Encyclopedia article on this great saint:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Joseph

Finally, from Catholic saints info:
Catholic Saints Info: St. Joseph

I close with a traditional hymn to St. Joseph:

TE, Ioseph, celebrent agmina caelitum,
te cuncti resonent Christiadum chori,
qui, clarus meritis, iunctus es inclitae,
casto foedere Virgini.
Almo cum tumidam germine coniugem
admirans dubio tangeris anxius,
afflatu superi Flaminis, Angelus
conceptum puerum docet.
Tu natum Dominum stringis, ad exteras
Aegypti profugum tu sequeris plagas;
amissum Solymis quaeris et invenis,
miscens gaudia fletibus.
Electos reliquos mors pia consecrat1
palmamque emeritos gloria suscipit;
tu vivens, Superis par, frueris Deo,
mira sorte beatior.
Nobis, summa Trias, parce precantibus;
da Ioseph meritis sidera scandere,
ut tandem liceat nos tibi perpetim
gratum promere canticum.

Live well!

Friday, March 17, 2017

St. Patrick's Day

Saint Patrick

Today is St. Patrick's Day, which, in the dioceses of the United States is a commemoration during this Second Week of Lent.  In Ireland today is a solemnity (first class feast) and a Holy Day of Obligation.  St. Patrick is, of course, Apostle and Patron of Ireland, and the first Archbishop of Armagh, and Primate of Ireland.  He is also the Patron Saint of Nigeria.

St. Patrick was born in Britain around 389, visited Ireland during his youth in unfortunate circumstances, was ordained in the continent of Europe, and returned to the Emerald Isle as a Missionary, sent by Pope St. Celestine I .  He founded the Archdiocese of Armagh in 445AD (Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Armagh).  Writing his Confessio, and probably the Lorica, he was personally responsible for converting most of the people of Ireland at the time.  He died between 461 and 464AD in Ireland.

For more, you might note:
Catholic Saints Info: St. Patrick

Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Patrick

Fisheaters (customs): St. Patrick

For the sake of curiosity, here is the website of the Archdiocese founded by St. Patrick -- which is actually in the United Kingdom: Diocese of Armagh, Ireland

Here is a link to the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of New York City, named for the great Apostle of Ireland: St. Patrick's Cathedral

So, even if in your neck of the woods, St. Patrick is only celebrated with a commemoration, and the day is more focused on Lent, it is certainly worth recalling the great contribution of St. Patrick, seeking his intercession, and praying for Ireland!

Finally, with today as a Lenten Friday, you might note that some bishops have offered dispensations from the requirement of abstinence from blood meat on this day.  There is a running list of the dioceses in the USA that have done so for 2017 here: Whispers in the Loggia: Irish or not happy indult day (2017)

Live well!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Feast of St. Frances of Rome

From the life of St. Frances of Rome by Antoniazzo Romano. 15th Century.

Today is the Feast of the great noble lady, mother, widow, and religious, St. Frances of Rome (+1440AD).  She is the patron saint of drivers -- much venerated in Rome!

She was born in the neighborhood of Trastevere in Rome in 1384AD, and she would be married at a young age, at her family's insistence, to one Lorenzo Ponziano.  Though married, she went to confession weekly, as she did Holy Communion, and was often seen helping at the hospital of Santo Spirito.  She became mistress of the family house at the time of her first child's birth in 1400.  She would have several more children in what was a turbulent time in Rome -- not only were there political struggles in the kingdom of Naples to the south, but the trials of the Great Western Schism.  She would fall victim to the plague in 1414, but recovered.  Her husband's health did not, and he allowed her to dedicate herself more to charity in Rome.  She organized a community of women affiliated with the Benedictines, who shared a life in common, but did not take vows.  This group of Oblates was approved by Pope Eugene IV in 1433.  St. Frances joined them herself at the death of her husband in 1436.  She would finally died in 1440AD.  St. Frances of Rome was canonized by Pope Paul V in 1608AD.

One of my favorite stories of St. Frances of Rome is as follows: "Whilst she was at her prayers or other exercises, if called away by her husband, or the meanest person of her family, she laid all aside to obey without delay, saying, 'A married woman must, when called upon, quit her devotions to God at the altar to find him in her household affairs.' God was pleased to show her the merit of this her obedience; for the authors of her life relate, that being called away four times in beginning the same verse of a psalm in our Lady's office, returning the fifth time, she found that verse written in golden letters." (cf., EWTN: St. Frances of Rome)

For more:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Frances of Rome

Catholic Saints Info: St. Frances of Rome

This blogger had the opportunity to visit the tomb of St. Frances of Rome in the Roman Basilica of Santa Francesca Romana.  She is pictured below in a photo by this blogger:

A reminder of the Catholic practice of Holy Relics: Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Relics

Live well!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Ember Days

The Seasons pass, and for each, there is a set of three Ember Days.

Today is also the Ember Wednesday of Lent.  What is that you ask?

The Ember Days were traditionally a Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, occurring in Lent, the Octave of Pentecost, this week in September, and in Advent,  These "Quatuor Tempora" had as their purpose, "besides the general one intended by all prayer and fasting, was to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy." (Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Ember Days).

Formerly, these were days of fasting and partial abstinence (only meat at the "main" meal).

For more on the Ember Days, you might note: Fisheaters: Ember Days

These days, then, four in number, like the seasons, were a time of gratitude, penance, and prayer.  Indeed, in the current General Instruction of the Roman Missal, it provides that: "In the drawing up of the Calendar of a nation, the Rogation Days and Ember Days should be indicated (cf. no. 373), as well as the forms and texts for their celebration, and other special measures should also be kept in mind." (USCCB GIRM: Chapter IX)

Why the practice and celebration of Ember Days has largely disappeared, and is now restricted to traditional communities is tragic, and seemingly contrary to the instructions of Holy Mother Church.

Perhaps if it is not a custom you have, this is the year it will be revived in your family or parish?

Live well!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Traditional Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas

Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas by Andrea di Bonaiuto (1366AD)

Today is the traditional feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, Dominican and Doctor of the Church -- he died on this day in 1274AD.  The Angelic Doctor, as he is known, is the patron saint of Catholic Schools and Scholars.

St. Thomas Aquinas was born at Roccasecca, a town in Italy located between Rome and Naples, son of the Count of Aquino.  He was educated early on by the Benedictine Monks of Monte Cassino, from 1230-1239.  He would be a student at the University of Naples from 1239-1244, there coming into contact with members of the new Order of Preachers.  He would join the order in 1244, much to the dismay of his family, who wished a more exalted position in the Church for their son.  Indeed, he was detained and confined by his own family for a year, finally released in 1245AD when it became clear that his determination to be a Dominican could not be swayed.

From 1245-1248, St. Thomas would be a student of fellow Dominican St. Albert the Great at the University of Paris, and acts as both student and assistant from 1248-1252 at the University of Cologne.  St. Thomas Aquinas was ordained a priest around 1250-1251, and received his Master of Theology in 1256.

He would be a regent Master at Paris from 1256-1259, and then resident in Italy from 1259-1268.  It was during that time, in 1264, that he composed the liturgy for the new Feast of Corpus Christi.  He would return to Paris for a short time, 1268-1272, ending his career in Naples.  St. Thomas Aquinas would die on his way to the Second Ecumenical Council of Lyon, summoned by Pope Blessed Gregory X in 1274.  He died on 7 March 1274AD.

He was canonized in 1323 by Pope John XXII, and named a Doctor of the Church in 1567AD by Pope St. Pius V.

In 1923, Pope Pius XI wrote an entire encyclical letter on the subject of St. Thomas Aquinas, Studiorum Ducem, which you can find here: Pius XI: Studiorum Ducem

For more details, you might note these sites:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Thomas Aquinas

Catholic Saints Info: St. Thomas Aquinas

Butler's Lives of the Saints: St. Thomas Aquinas

Here is a site with information on the Church where he is buried in Toulouse: Toulouse: Church of Les Jacobins

Have you read some St. Thomas Aquinas lately? The Successors of St. Peter have been rather direct in their recommendation of the Angelic Doctor. You can find the full text of his splendid Summa Theologiae here: Summa Theologiae: Full Text

Also worthy of note, especially in a world of Gentiles, is the Summa Contra Gentiles of St. Thomas, which is concerned with presenting arguments that would be comprehensible for those not Christian: Summa Contra Gentiles: Full Text

St. Thomas Aquinas, from the Carafa Chapel of the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome, 
by Filippino Lippi, ca. 1490.

Here are a few notable quotations on St. Thomas from recent Popes:

POPE LEO XIII – Aeterni Patris (1879)
17…With his spirit at once humble and swift, his memory ready and tenacious, his life spotless throughout, a lover of truth for its own sake, richly endowed with human and divine science, like the sun he heated the world with the warmth of his virtues and filled it with the splendor of his teaching. Philosophy has no part which he did not touch finely at once and thoroughly; on the laws of reasoning, on God and incorporeal substances, on man and other sensible things, on human actions and their principles, he reasoned in such a manner that in him there is wanting neither a full array of questions, nor an apt disposal of the various parts, nor the best method of proceeding, nor soundness of principles or strength of argument, nor clearness and elegance of style, nor a facility for explaining what is abstruse.

18.…Again, clearly distinguishing, as is fitting, reason from faith, while happily associating the one with the other, he both preserved the rights and had regard for the dignity of each; so much so, indeed, that reason, borne on the wings of Thomas to its human height, can scarcely rise higher, while faith could scarcely expect more or stronger aids from reason than those which she has already obtained through Thomas.

21.…while to these judgments of great Pontiffs on Thomas Aquinas comes the crowning testimony of Innocent VI: "His teaching above that of others, the canonical writings alone excepted, enjoys such a precision of language, an order of matters, a truth of conclusions, that those who hold to it are never found swerving from the path of truth, and he who dare assail it will always be suspected of error."

22.…But the chief and special glory of Thomas, one which he has shared with none of the Catholic Doctors, is that the Fathers of Trent made it part of the order of conclave to lay upon the altar, together with sacred Scripture and the decrees of the supreme Pontiffs, the Summa of Thomas Aquinas, whence to seek counsel, reason, and inspiration.

POPE PIUS XI – Studiorum Ducem (1923)
27. Again, if we are to avoid the errors which are the source and fountain-head of all the miseries of our time, the teaching of Aquinas must be adhered to more religiously than ever. For Thomas refutes the theories propounded by Modernists in every sphere, in philosophy, by protecting, as We have reminded you, the force and power of the human mind and by demonstrating the existence of God by the most cogent arguments

28. Accordingly, just as it was said to the Egyptians of old in time of famine: "Go to Joseph," so that they should receive a supply of corn from him to nourish their bodies, so We now say to all such as are desirous of the truth: "Go to Thomas," and ask him to give you from his ample store the food of substantial doctrine wherewith to nourish your souls unto eternal life.

POPE JOHN PAUL II – Fides et Ratio (1998)
43. A quite special place in this long development belongs to Saint Thomas, not only because of what he taught but also because of the dialogue which he undertook with the Arab and Jewish thought of his time. In an age when Christian thinkers were rediscovering the treasures of ancient philosophy, and more particularly of Aristotle, Thomas had the great merit of giving pride of place to the harmony which exists between faith and reason. Both the light of reason and the light of faith come from God, he argued; hence there can be no contradiction between them.

Live well...and Go to Thomas!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Lenten Friday Abstinence

File:Salvelinus fontinalis.jpg
Catholics can eat this fellow on a Lenten Friday (a speciman of Salvelinus fontinalis)

As we have entered Lent, it is a fine time to recall the discipline of abstinence that, by canon law, binds Catholics of a certain age on Fridays of the season, in addition to Ash Wednesday.

Abstinence from the flesh of warm-blooded creatures on the day that Christ shed His Precious Blood for us is both fitting, as we refrain from shedding blood in a kind of symbolic way, and a helpful way in which to recall His Sacrifice for us, even in what we choose to eat!

The 1983 Code of Canon Law lays down for us the current law:
"Can. 1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, 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.

Can. 1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance."
[cf., Code of Canon Law]

Further, the entire season of Lent is a time of general penance -- penance that traditionally includes fasting, even if that is not required by Church law!  In a similar way, every Friday of the year is a day of canonical penance for Catholics.

Finally, the age of those bound to abstain from meat on Friday is for those that have turned 14 years old until the "beginning of their sixtieth year."

The following link goes to an entry of a commentary on Canon Law that explains the above canons a bit more -- in particular as regards what is meant by "meat":
New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, canon 1251.

That commentary sites the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul VI, Paenitemini, in Chapter III, as he expresses the currently understood interpretation of abstinence: "The law of abstinence forbids the use of meat, but not of eggs, the products of milk or condiments made of animal fat."
Cf., Pope Paul VI: Paenitemini

It is well worthwhile to recall the traditional practices and laws on the subject, as they are the context in which we understand the current legislation and customs of the Church.  Here is the text of the 1917 Code of Canon Law:
"Can 1250. Abstinentiae lex vetat carne iureque ex carne vesci, non autem ovis, lacticiniis et quibuslibet condimentis etiam ex adipe animalium."
"Canon 1250. The law of abstinence prohibits meat and soups made of meat but not of eggs, milks, and other condiments, even if taken from animals."

Giving yet a more lengthy explanation of the background of the discipline of abstinence, including the medieval world, is this article in the Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Abstinence

This site, too, gives some good perspective it what has been traditionally observed as far as abstinence, and fasting, is concerned: Fisheaters: Fasting

One of the interesting details is that, considering the understanding of the prohibition as extending to warm-blooded animals only, reptiles, amphibians, and fish would not break one's Lenten abstinence.  Fr. Zuhlsdorf has a splendid entry on that subject: Fr. Z's Blog: Lent and the Old Alligator Dilemma

May your Lent be fruitful, may your penances draw you ever closer to love of God, and may you ever remember the blood shed by Christ for our redemption -- blood shed on a Friday.

Live well!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday: Lent Begins

File:Santa Sabina inside.JPG
The Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome -- this is the station Church for Ash Wednesday, where the Supreme Roman Pontiff traditionally presides over the Ash Wednesday Mass.

On this day we open the great penitential season of Lent.  Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.  Remember man that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return! (Gen 3:19)

Ashes have, from time immemorial symbolized "grief, mourning, or repentance."  How fitting that, on this day, we put on ashes to outwardly manifest our interior repentance -- ashes made from burning the blessed palms of the previous Holy Week.

The liturgies and prayers of this day are sublime:
"Almighty and everlasting God, spare the penitent...bless these ashes, that they may be a remedy to all who invoke Thy Name...O God, who desirest not the death but the conversion of sinners, look in kindness upon our human frailty...and bless those ashes, so that we, who know ourselves to be but ashes...and the we must return to dust, may deserve to obtain pardon and the rewards offered to the penitent."

My favorite, after the imposition of the ashes is this prayer:
"Grant us, Lord, the grace to begin the Christian's war of defense with holy fasts; that, as we do battle with the spirits of evil, we may be protected by the help of self-denial."

Today we begin the Lenten season in preparation for Easter.  Traditionally, in the Latin Church, today marks a period of forty days of fasting (Sundays excluded).  While the minimum may be lowered to merely Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, surely our appreciation for the value of fasting and penance, and reverence for tradition, spurs us on to mortify our appetites in this way!

For more on this splendid, if somber, Feast, you might note:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Ash Wednesday

Customs of Ash Wednesday (Fisheaters)

Catholic Culture: Ash Wednesday

Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Lent

Customs of Lent (Fisheaters)

Catholic Culture: Lent

Here is a link that goes into more detail about the ashes of this day:
Catholic Culture: Why Ashes?

The Code of Canon Law, 1983, lays down for us several points about this penitential season (emphasis mine):
"Can. 1249 The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way. In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence, according to the norm of the following canons.

Can. 1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, 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.

Can. 1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.

Can. 1253 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 exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast."

Finally, here is a link with a little information about today's station Church in Rome -- Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill, a Dominican Basilica: Roman Church Wiki: Santa Sabina

Here is a splendid explanation of the role of Santa Sabina by the Dominicans themselves: Order of Preachers: Why does Lent start on the Aventine Hill?

Finally, a splendid motet by the Englishman William Byrd, setting to music one of the liturgical texts of Ash Wednesday:

Here is the text, with a translation:
Emendemus in melius quae ignoranter peccavimus; 
ne subito praeoccupati die mortis, 
quaeramus spatium poenitentiae, 
et invenire non possimus. 

Attende, Domine, et miserere; 
quia peccavimus tibi. 

Adjuva nos, 
Deus salutaris noster, 
et propter honorem nominis tui libera nos. 

Let us amend for the better in those things in which we have sinned through ignorance;
lest suddenly overtaken by the day of death,
we seek space for repentance,
and be not able to find it.

Hearken, O Lord, and have mercy:
for we have sinned against thee.
Help us, O God of our salvation,
and for the honour of thy name deliver us.

(English translation by William Mahrt)

(Ps. 78:9; Distribution of Ashes, Ash Wednesday; First Sunday of Lent, Matins Responsory; cf. Esther 13, Joel 2)

Live well!