Catholics and Christians across the globe will soon be celebrating Ash Wednesday, a holiday that marks the beginning of Lent and 40 days before Easter. There are a lot of questions that those of the Catholic faith may have concerning this holy day. But of the many questions you might have, can you eat meat on Ash Wednesday is one of the most common.

Perhaps you forgot what you learned way back in Sunday school, or perhaps you never learned it at all. There are a lot of different rules that come along with Lent. But don't worry, I'm going to simplify them for you.

Can you eat meat on Ash Wednesday?

meat, chicken, pork, barbecue, beef, sauce
Christin Urso

The simple answer? No. While it's not explicitly stated in the Bible that meat on Ash Wednesday is off limits, the Code of Canon Law explains that Catholics should refrain from eating meat on this day, as well as on Fridays throughout the Lent season.

What is the Code of Canon Law?


Steve Snodgrass on Flickr

The current Code of Canon Law was established in 1983 to specify the obligations of Latin Rite Catholics. According to 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."

In more simple terms, Catholics should refrain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday. In addition, Canon 1251 points out that Catholics should also fast.

What does it mean to fast?

bacon, cheese, cheddar, beef, bun, onion
Caroline Ingalls

Adult Catholics are required to fast, as per Canon 1249.  But that doesn't necessarily mean that you need to refrain from eating any food, but should reduce your usual intake on these holy days.  Typically, one who fasts would eat one meal per day or two smaller meals.

What about Valentine’s Day?

candy, sweetmeat, sweet, goody, bonbons, gelatin, chocolate
Christin Urso

This year, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day, which could present a dilemma for some. If you’re observing Ash Wednesday but also want to have an intimate Valentine’s Day dinner, opt for one of these vegetarian dinners. Who said you need meat to have a romantic dinner anyway?  

#SpoonTip: Don't worry, this is the first time in over a decade the two days have overlapped.

On Ash Wednesday, you'll see many Catholics attend mass and receive ashes on their forehead to display their mortality. It is important to point out that Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation–meaning Catholics are not required to attend mass on Ash Wednesday. Catholics are still encouraged to attend mass and participate in abstinence to prepare for the celebration of Christ's death and resurrection.

Disclaimer: If you're an Eastern Rite Catholic or another sect, your lent practices may differ. Though there may be some similarities across different sects, the Code of Canon Law specifically applies to those of the Roman Catholic faith. I suggest you talk to your local parish about the different obligations of your sect during the Lent season.