For Roman Catholics, there is an obligation to fast today (one main meal and two light meals in the course of the day) and to abstain from meat. The law of fasting obliges all Catholics except the sick between the ages of twenty one and fifty nine. The law of abstinence obliges all Catholics over the age of fourteen. At other times, for example, Fridays, Catholics must practice self-denial either by continuing to abstain or by any other act of self-denial such as attending Mass, making the Stations, saying extra prayers or by visiting the sick or lonely.
Today we begin the forty days of Lent. Ashes are a sign of mortality and penance. In accordance with ancient custom, all who attend Mass today approach the altar after the homily and the priest places ashes (often produced from the burnt palms of the Palm Sunday of the previous year) on the forehead of each person, saying either, 'Repent and believe the Gospel (Good News)' or 'Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return'.