Ash Wednesday overrides Valentine's Day

Published: February 8, 2024

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Ash Wednesday, one of the most popular and important days in the liturgical year, begins the season of Lent. On this day, Catholics are marked with ashes, in the form of a cross, on their heads during special Masses worldwide. The ashes and the whole season of Lent are a time to refocus on our relationship with God.

This year, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine's Day, a day typically celebrated with special feasts, candy and parties, a kind of overindulgence that directly conflicts with the rules of fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday. So what's a Catholic to do? Observe Ash Wednesday on Feb. 14. The fact that it is also Valentine’s Day does not dispense us from fasting and abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday, one of only two days set aside for both of these obligations each year. The other is Good Friday.

The first reading for the day makes it pretty clear"Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God." (Joel 2:12-13)

If you don't want to forgo Valentine's Day this year, consider combining it with Fat Tuesday the day before, which is the last day to overindulge before Lent, and is traditionally celebrated with Mardi Gras parties, feasts, king cake, pastries and other sweet treats.

"Being a saint and third-century martyr, I’m sure Valentine doesn’t mind playing second fiddle to the start of Lent — our great season of repentance, reparation and renewal," wrote Bishop Robert Reed, of the Archdiocese of Boston, for Our Sunday Visitor.

In fact, Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day being celebrated on Feb. 14 offers us a "unique opportunity to reflect on the true meaning of love," wrote Bishop Erik Pohlmeier, of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida. 

"True love involves committing oneself to another person’s greater good, which requires both emotional expression and tangible actions," he wrote. "This year, with Valentine’s Day falling on a day that calls for fasting and abstinence within the Church, there is even more reason to move beyond the superficial. Take the opportunity to express your love in a meaningful way that reflects the perfect love of God. Just as Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross to demonstrate God’s love, consider the Ash Wednesday and Lenten sacrifices you can make for your beloved to show your love in action."

"Use this occasion to have a deep and meaningful discussion with your beloved. How can the love in your relationship reflect the love of Jesus Christ? What kind of sacrifices can you make to demonstrate your love? How can the days of Lent bring you closer to each other by the practice of your faith?" he challenged.

In his 2024 Lenten message, Pope Francis also challenges us to see that "love of God and love of neighbor are one love." We partake in Lent with prayerfasting and almsgiving,  which "are not three unrelated acts, but a single movement of openness and self-emptying," that can allow us to focus on the needs of others.