Is Ash Wednesday a Holy Day of Obligation?

Do You Have to Go to Church on the First Day of Lent?

Ash Wednesday 2010, St. Matthew Cathedral, Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Catholics pray during an Ash Wednesday Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle, Washington, DC, Feb. 17, 2010. Win McNamee/Getty Images

 Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent in the Roman Catholic Church, and many Catholics attend Mass on Ash Wednesday to be marked with ashes as a sign of their own mortality. But is Ash Wednesday a Holy Day of Obligation?

While all Roman Catholics are encouraged to attend Mass on Ash Wednesday in order to begin the Lenten season with the proper attitude and reflection, Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation.

It is, however, a day of fasting and abstinence. For the regulations on fasting and abstinence, see Can Catholics Eat Meat on Ash Wednesday? and What Are the Rules for Fasting and Abstinence in the Catholic Church?

For the date of Ash Wednesday in this and future years, see When Is Ash Wednesday?