Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting (required for those between the ages of 18-59; encouraged for all others) and a day of abstinence from meat (for all aged 14 and up) it is NOT a holy day of obligation. There is no obligation to receive ashes.
What does fasting mean?
Fasting means partaking of only one full meal for the day. Two smaller meals may substitute in order not to weaken. No eating between meals.
What does abstinence mean?
The practice of abstinence is defined as not eating red meat; eggs and milk products are acceptable.
Blessed John Paul II reminded us that “While preserving their value, external penitential practices are never an end in themselves, but an aid to inner penitence, which consists of freeing the heart from the grip of sin with the help of grace, to direct it toward the love of God and our brothers and sisters.“
Lenten practices: confession of sins, praying the Stations of the Cross, giving alms, doing an act of charity. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving form one unit, to separate them makes the whole thing incoherent. Many people attend Mass more often than once a week.
“For the sake of the joy which lay before him he endured the cross, heedless of its shame” (Hebrews 12-2).