BANGKOK, Thailand — Since Ash Wednesday coincides this year with Chinese New Year — also known as Lunar New Year — many bishops in East Asia are granting dispensations from the fasting and abstinence normally required on the day that begins the season of Lent.
This year, Ash Wednesday falls on Feb. 18, which is the eve of the day that begins the Year of the Goat in the Chinese calendar.
“In view of the celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year, its cultural and spiritual importance and the traditional practices associated with it, we therefore grant dispensation from the obligation of fasting and abstinence to our Chinese-Filipino and Chinese Catholics in the Archdiocese of Manila from the afternoon of Feb. 18, 2015, until midnight,” Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila wrote in a circular letter to his archdiocese on Feb. 6.
“Those availing of the dispensation must engage in some other forms of penance, acts of mercy and charity, especially to the poor and those who suffer, in keeping with the penitential spirit of the season of Lent,” he continued.
“May our celebration of the start of a new year and the Lenten season bring us to the path of renewal and conversion towards God’s kingdom! Have a meaningful Lenten season and a Happy Lunar New Year!”
Similarly, the bishops' conferences of Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei and Southeast Asia have also said that the fasting and abstinence of Ash Wednesday can take place either on the day itself or on another day to be decided on by the individual. Masses with the imposition of ashes will still be said on Ash Wednesday.
Outside of East Asia, dioceses with significant communities with roots in China or its neighbors have granted similar dispensations.
Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver wrote Jan. 21 that “the 2015 Lunar Year for Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Malaysian and other ethnic groups coincides with Ash Wednesday. Therefore, I dispense … those of the faithful who are present in the Archdiocese of Vancouver and who are subjects of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, wherever they may be, who will celebrate the Lunar New Year on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015, from the laws on abstinence and fasting.”
He continued: Since “Lent is a penitential time of preparation for the liturgical celebration of the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, I am obliging all who make use of this dispensation to observe a day of fast and abstinence on one other day at the beginning of Lent, such as Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015, or Friday, Feb. 27, 2015.”
“Please note that this relaxation of the rule for such a significant day in the Church’s liturgical year is a one-time dispensation only and is not valid for future years,” Archbishop Miller concluded.
Lunar New Year, also called the Spring Festival, falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice; it will be celebrated until the Lantern Festival, observed March 5.
The event is celebrated culturally, and Catholics observe it with Masses of thanksgiving, blessings of cemeteries, “agape” meals and sharing charitable gifts.
The festivities unite families in offering thanksgiving and in praying for their predecessors’ souls.
Fasting and abstinence are obligatory for Roman Catholics from the ages of 14-60 on both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, unless their bishop allows a substitution of other forms of penance.