Allow me to remind you that Wednesday, February 14, is not only Valentine’s Day—but, more importantly, it is Ash Wednesday. “O, my goodness,” you may say and point to the boxes of Christmas decorations that you haven’t had chance to bring back to storage. Yeah, I realize that may be an exaggeration.
So many times we find ourselves unable to manage our time. We have bells, whistles, schedules, and all sorts of electronic gizmos and doodads to help us track days, weeks, hours, etc. I am reminded of this point each day as I put on my watch. It was gift from my mother in 1973, when I graduated from Loyola University. It’s a Seiko that displays the day and the date. I thought it was incredibly frivolous since—in my youth—I could not imagine how anyone could not know the day of the week. What a difference 48 years can make in one’s perceptions …
Nevertheless, since keeping track of time, or at least trying to be punctual, has become such a part of human obsessiveness, I’m concerned that we seem to have lost sight of the passing of time that concerns itself with the management of our spiritual lives. At one point in human history the management of all life was based on the Church calendar—the preparation for the major feasts of Christmas and Easter in particular. That concept seems lost on the current age.
Another problem presenting itself for us this Ash/Valentine Wednesday is the situation involving fast and abstinence and how we are expected to deal with this very important element of Lenten discipline. In the modern age, we have become accustomed to the fact that if St. Patrick Day occurs on a Friday in Lent, typically there will be a dispensation from the abstinence from meat—especially if the local Ordinary is of Irish descent. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and sets the boundaries for the entire season that determines the great penitential and sacrificial time of the Church year.
Catholics have recognized Ash Wednesday as the start of Lent for over a thousand years. The last time Ash Wednesday fell on February 14 was in 1945, well before the secular celebration of Valentine’s Day became such a bacchanal. The next time this will happen will be in 2024, and then again in 2029.
So, I strongly urge that if you are planning a celebration of Valentine’s Day with your husband, wife, or special someone, please do so the day before. Centuries have given this time over to Mardi Gras, so there is no problem in choosing it as your time for a special night out.
Keep in mind that Catholics throughout the world recognize Ash Wednesday as the solemn beginning of prayerful reflection and penance as evidence by the large number of the Faithful who take advantage of coming to Mass and being signed with Ashes as a symbol of the brevity of life and the call to personal reformation.
Ash Wednesday is not a day of obligatory Mass attendance. Catholics who have celebrated their 14th birthday are to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, all Fridays in Lent, and Good Friday. In addition to abstaining from meat, Catholics who have celebrated their 18th birthday, until they celebrate their 59th birthday, are to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. (Code of Canon Law C.1249-1253)
In any event, the idea is to be with the one you love for both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. Your day will be infinitely blessed by making these choices wisely.
Blessed Lent to all of you!