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When Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day collide

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As you may have heard, that’s the situation this year:

Thinking about making Valentine’s Day reservations soon? If you are Catholic and under the age of 60 you might want to look for seafood or vegetarian fare. This year, Valentine’s Day shares the calendar with Ash Wednesday. This hasn’t happened since 1945 (…but it will happen again in 2024 and 2029). That means it is an obligatory day of fasting (one full meal plus two smaller meals that together are not larger than the full meal) and abstinence (no meat). Also, expect some non-Catholics in the restaurant to think you and your date have dirt on your heads.

It is common during Lent for some bishops to give a dispensation when St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday. But I wouldn’t expect Ash Wednesday to be treated similarly and unlike Patrick, we don’t know much about Valentine(s). As the story goes, on February 14 in the year 278, Valentine lost his head (after being beaten by clubs) at command of Emperor Claudius II. His crime? He kept marrying Christians at a time the Emperor was trying to recruit more single men for the army. And he was Christian…

There are actually three different stories of martyrs named Valentine (not a lucky name apparently…) that share a February 14 feast day. As the Catholic Education Center notes, “Unfortunately, the historical record is sparse.” In 1969, the Catholic Church removed Saint Valentine’s feast from the liturgical calendar. Yet, he (all three) remains a saint.

According to a CARA Catholic Poll (CCP), married and widowed Catholics are the most likely to abstain from meat during times of Lent (66%) and are also more likely than those of other marital statuses to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday (48%). Those least likely to be bothered by an Ash Wednesday Valentine’s Day? Perhaps those Catholics who are living with a partner. Only 47% abstains from meat and 21% receives ashes.

Read it all. 

And, Catholics: if you have your heart set on filet mignon and a chocolate souffle for dessert, you might consider making plans this year for Valentine’s Day Eve…

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