For the first time since 1945, Ash Wednesday – the beginning of the penitential season of Lent – falls on February 14th, the feast of St. Valentine commonly celebrated as Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day is often celebrated by couples with gifts of chocolate, flowers, and a lavish steak dinner. Ash Wednesday, in contrast, is a universal day of fasting (one full meal plus two smaller meals that together are not larger than the full meal) and abstinence (no meat) by all Catholics, and is the start of a 40-day period of prayer, sacrifice and simplicity in preparation for Easter.
As Catholics, we recognize Ash Wednesday as the beginning of a period of solemn reflection, committing ourselves to fulfill our baptismal call to maturity, holiness, service, and community. Because of the significance of Ash Wednesday, the obligations of fast and abstinence must be a priority for all Catholics. While the feast day for St. Valentine is no longer on the Catholic liturgical calendar, many couples still enjoy taking time on this secular holiday to celebrate love in a special way. While a fancy steak dinner is not an option this year, there are many other ways that couples can celebrate their love while still honoring the solemnity of the day as they begin their Lenten walk with Christ.
Celebrate Valentine’s Day a day early on Mardi Gras (Tuesday, February 13th)
Mardi Gras is also known as “Fat Tuesday” or “Shrove Tuesday”. This celebration originated out of the religious significance of the day, traditionally preceding the observance of the Lenten fast. The custom of Christians eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday was one based in practicality – the celebration became a way to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk, and sugar, before the Lenten fast.
Take time this Fat Tuesday to finish up some of the sweets and chocolates you may have in the house, or by celebrating National Pancake Day at your favorite local diner.
Spend the evening at your local church at Mass or a Liturgy of the Word
Ash Wednesday is a day with one of the highest church attendances of the year, and most parishes have additional Masses and liturgies where people can receive ashes. Find a parish near you and spend time with your significant other meditating on how to better love God and love others for love of God this Lent.
On Ash Wednesday each year, the faithful receive ashes marking a cross on their forehead to note repentance and a reminder of our own mortality, our finite existence here on earth (“Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou will return.”). While Mass and the receiving of ashes on Ash Wednesday is not an obligation, it is a way to enter into the season of Lent with a stronger spirit of intention and with the added blessing of the graces offered during this unique liturgical season.
Share a simpler Valentine’s celebration
Many of the trappings of the current customs of Valentine’s Day are extravagant and costly. Take time this year to celebrate a scaled down version of this holiday’s traditional celebrations. If you decide to go out to eat, split a simple vegetarian or fish meal, and skip dessert. Take a walk in a local park or even in your neighborhood, if the weather allows it. Instead of purchasing an expensive box of chocolates for your special someone, take time to craft a handmade card or write an old-fashioned “love letter”. And in the spirit of almsgiving, take the money you would have spent on an expensive meal or gift and give the money to a worthy charity, such as Catholic Charities or the CRS Rice Bowl.
Photo Credit: Laura Ockel on Unsplash