Who uses it: Roman Catholics
What it means: "Fasting" means eating one main meal during the day, though two small meals are also allowed. "Abstinence" means not eating meat or poultry. Since Vatican II, Catholics have fasted and abstained on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and on Fridays during Lent. Before Vatican II, they abstained on every Friday and all through Lent.
How you can use it: Today, on Friday, and when cheating on your diet.
This is a wonderful example of a "term of art," because what Catholics mean by fasting is not what doctors mean by fasting, or what hunger strikers mean by fasting. I looked up the details of the requirement, and learned that "abstinence" does not extend to meat broths and flavorings, which are allowed, or to gelatin, an animal product, "which no one considers meat." Since I don't eat fish, abstinence in my childhood meant peanut butter and jelly, or spaghetti with melted butter and Italian seasoning.
"Can I ask you a question?" said the guy behind the counter at Sparky's Espresso Cafe this morning. He leaned toward me and said in an undertone, "Do you know you have a blotch of something on your forehead?"
I laughed, relieved that he wasn't going to tell me my nonfat cafe au lait had had a bug in it. "It's Ash Wednesday," I said.
"Oh!" the coffee man said. "That's why... there was another guy in line before you, and he had a smudge on the same place -- I didn't know what was going on."
I'm in DC again this morning. The early Mass at St. Augustine's is the Mass for their schoolchildren, which was especially nice. I should have told the coffee man what the priest told us, which is that the ashes are supposed to remind us that 1) Life is a gift; 2) Life is temporary; and 3) Life is for others.
Dizzy and I head back to Maine this morning. Thanks to everyone for their hospitality along the way.