Why is Ash Wednesday not a holy day of obligation?
A holy day is a day that has been consecrated for God, so in that sense Ash Wednesday is a holy day. At the heart of a holy day of obligation, however, is the Resurrection. For this reason holy days of obligation are times to celebrate and feast. Even in the midst of Lent, we feast on Sundays to celebrate Christ’s resurrection.
You may have noticed, Holy Thursday and Good Friday also are not holy days of obligation. This does not diminish their importance, though. It simply makes no sense to celebrate these days as obligatory feasts because they are supposed to bring to mind the death of our Lord and also our own death—our physical death, and our death to self in order to avoid spiritual death. God does not force us to take up our cross and follow him, but he does invite us.
With that said, what better place to go to start Lent than to Mass? It is the beginning of a long journey, and we need the strength the Lord can give us through the Ash Wednesday readings and the Eucharist. And what better way to remind ourselves of the whole point of Lent, that we are dust and to dust we shall return, so we ought to repent and believe in the gospel. Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, but a holy day of invitation.
For further reading, Fr. Mike mentions the story where Elijah, in a deep slumber, is awoken by a “messenger” who tells him to get up and eat. This story can be found in 1 Kings 19.
Meet Fr. Mike Schmitz
Fr. Mike Schmitz serves as Director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and as chaplain for the Newman Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.