What to Do When Ash Wednesday Falls on Valentine's Day
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the penitential season of Lent.
While it doesn’t happen often (only a handful of times each century!) Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day falling on the same day leaves Catholics around the world wondering—what do we do?
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the penitential season of Lent– 40 Days of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to ready our minds and hearts to celebrate the Highest Feast in the Church: the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter.
On Ash Wednesday the faithful are encouraged to have their foreheads marked with a cross of blessed ashes. This act invites each of us to reflect on our mortality, acknowledge our sins, and seek forgiveness. It serves as a poignant reminder of the transformative journey that lies ahead during the Lenten season.
Despite the common misunderstanding, Catholics are not obligated to go to Mass on Ash Wednesday though it is strongly encouraged; however, Catholics do have the obligation to fast and abstain from meat on this day.
Along with Good Friday, Ash Wednesday is only one of two yearly days of obligatory fasting and abstinence for Roman Catholics. These required fasts can only be dispensed for grave reasons, such as pregnancy, breastfeeding, or other health concerns.
Valentine’s Day does not dispense the obligations and observances of Ash Wednesday.
While the secular festivities of Valentine's Day often bury its Christian roots, this holiday originally began as the feast of the 3rd Century Bishop and Martyr St. Valentine, patron saint of love.
However, Valentine’s Day is no longer a feast day officially recognized by the Church. His name was removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969 actually making February 14th the obligatory memorial of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. But because of its importance, Ash Wednesday takes precedence over this feast too.
We cannot fully enjoy the feast (any feast!) without knowing first of our own hunger for God, which is why fasting plays such a necessary role in the spiritual life.
Not only that, but on a day dedicated to love, it’s even more important to recognize and remember the ultimate symbol of Love–the Cross–a symbol we wear on our foreheads as a reminder of Christ's sacrifice.
So do we just need to forget about Valentine's Day this year?
While you won’t be able to celebrate Valentine’s Day the way you would any other year (or the way the secular culture tells you you should), you can still embrace the spirit of the holiday with these suggestions:
Of course, to avoid scheduling conflicts you can choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day a day early on February 13th.
February 13th is also often called “Shrove Tuesday” or “Mardi Gras” and has become a day where people indulge a bit before Lent begins.
Although a big steak dinner is out as an option for Valentine’s Day this year, you can still choose to spend intentional time with your beloved that day.
Maybe you can go to Mass together to get your ashes, exchange cards or small gifts, join each other for your larger meal of the day, or hold hands and chat. You don’t need heart-shaped confetti and outrageous displays of affection to have meaningful interactions with your loved ones.
Celebrate the True Meaning of Love
After washing the feet of His disciples before his passion and death, Jesus commands his disciples: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another (John 13:34). With His words and actions, Christ gives us an example of sacrificial love to follow in our own lives and relationships.
Consider making time on Ash Wednesday to follow this example. Take on some extra chores for someone. Offer your sufferings for someone who needs it. Do a Work of Mercy.
Ash Wednesday is a time to meditate on God’s abiding love and the gift of His Son who paid the ultimate price for our sins and opened to us the possibility for a real and eternal relationship with the Most Holy Trinity.
Choosing to forego the secular celebrations of Valentine’s Day this year allows you to more fully embrace this new liturgical season and the ways in which it will change your heart to more perfectly reflect Christ’s.