Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday Collide: When Cupid Meets Lent
There’s nothing romantic about Ash Wednesday — or is there? Catholic couples share their thoughts as we celebrate World Day of Marriage!
It’s almost that favorite feast day, when love is in the air, red heart-shaped boxes line the shelves from grocery stores to gas stations, and Catholics remember the great devotion of St. Valentine as we shower our spouses or significant others with heartfelt cards and flowers, hoping to score a seat at a romantic restaurant.
But this year, Ash Wednesday lands smack-dab right on the calendar at Feb. 14. Ash Wednesday, when we remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return, kicks off the season of Lent, a period of penance, abstinence and fasting.
There’s nothing romantic about Ash Wednesday — or is there?
What is a Catholic to do? Is it a time of choosing or is there a way to celebrate both in a creative and holy way?
Dominican Father Thomas Petri at the Dominican House of Studies gave pastoral guidance to the Register: “A nice romantic meal is certainly contrary to a spirit of fasting for the day.”
He also offered this advice:
“Make the best of Tuesday — a Mardi Gras Valentine! Couples can then grow closer on Ash Wednesday by growing closer to Jesus Christ — who suffered and died for us.”
Taking to the virtual streets, we asked some of our favorite Catholic couples how they plan to mark the day, and their answers did not disappoint!
“Lent is like date night in marriage. You’re always married, but if you’re never extra intentional about the relationship, it will die. So it is with God, and that’s what Lent is about: a time of next-level focus and intentionality with God.”
— Chris Stefanick of Real Life Catholic
“Valentine’s Day is not, as you may be pardoned for thinking, a Hallmark holiday aimed at consumers with disposable incomes and romantic hearts. It’s a holy day, in which we remember Bishop Valentine, martyred by Emperor Claudius in the third century for marrying young lovers in secret. You see, the emperor needed soldiers for his army and had banned marriages to keep the young men single and available for cannon fodder. St. Valentine gave his head for young lovers. And this year, you may see a couple in Miami both wearing their ash crosses and sipping at a tiny glass of wine in some quiet corner. That will be my husband and I, celebrating our love and also being heartily sorry for our sins.”
— Grazie Christie, host of TCA’s Conversations With Consequences on EWTN Radio
“Perhaps skip lunch, then plan on a late visit to church for ashes and then to a romantic seafood joint. (I’m in New Orleans; this is just barely a sacrifice, but there is no meat so it counts.) That way, you retain the penitential marker and get to show it off as a couple in public afterward. Though being a New Orleanian, we have been prepping for Lent since the 12th night. We always profoundly feel the arrival of Ash Wednesday after weeks of carnival merrymaking.”
— Raymond Arroyo, host of The World Over on EWTN
— Raymond Arroyo (@RaymondArroyo) January 1, 2024
“Mardi Gras, like Valentine’s Day, is a day of indulging, so why not blend the two and give your Mardi Gras celebrations a Valentine’s Day theme? Kids can receive a Valentine’s Day goody bag after dinner, the Mardi Gras king cake can be pink and white instead of purple and green, the wine and chocolates can be consumed the evening before. And then find ways to show affection without indulging on the day-of and encourage your kids to do the same; a handwritten card, an act of service, a wintery bouquet picked from the garden. Showing your love through a small sacrifice for your spouse or children is the perfect way to embody the spirit of Ash Wednesday.
“A Valentine’s Eve celebration is the perfect way to put your faith first without skipping the fun. And a Valentine’s Day that is about love and affection without indulging is a good way to reclaim the Christian spirit of the day, which actually began with the ultimate sacrifice.”
— Ashley McGuire of The Catholic Association
“Make Fat Tuesday a night to remember, and then go to Ash Wednesday services the next day. We know that couples who have regular date nights and attend church together are significantly happier in their marriages and less likely to end up in divorce court. So I’d recommend combining a great date night with attending church together on Valentine’s Day.”
— Brad Wilcox of the National Marriage Project and author of Get Married
“This year, Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday happen to fall on the same day. Penance and abstinence coupled with romance? At first blush, it may seem like an awkward pairing. But for those of us with a vocation to marriage, we can devoutly, enthusiastically and simultaneously embrace the call to both penitential and spousal love on Feb. 14. Abstinence only refers to the food, after all. So forgo the wine and chocolate on your Valentine’s date night but feel free to fully embrace your marital love. Gents: Bring home roses and a sweet card! Ladies: Dim the lights and pull out the candles, spray on your favorite perfume, and get your Spotify playlist ready for some Ash Wednesday romance.”
— Maureen Ferguson of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast and The Catholic Association.
“Many couples might think it’s a downer that Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday this year. But what better way is there to spend time with your beloved than by going to Mass? It is an opportunity to spend intimate time with our loved one and God; to be reminded that we are striving to help each other make it to heaven rather than achieve earthly success; and to receive the gift of Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul and divinity in the Eucharist, that’s an amazing experience on any day of the year. I read once that Catholic married couples who regularly attend Mass, pray together, and use natural family planning have a divorce rate of less than 1%. Attending Mass with your spouse is one of the key ingredients for a successful marriage. So I look forward to taking my wife, Angela, to Mass this Ash Wednesday — and taking her out for a romantic dinner on a different night that week.”
— John Bursch of Alliance Defending Freedom
“Why not celebrate Valentine’s a few days early, on World Marriage Day, which always falls on the Sunday closest to Valentine’s Day? This year, World Marriage Day falls on Sunday, Feb. 11. That date also happens to be Super Bowl Sunday. But what a loving gift it would be, if you have a football fan in your house, to offer to watch the game together or perhaps offer to give up watching the game and enjoy a romantic evening alone away from the TV and other distractions.”
— Teresa Tomeo, host of Catholic Connection on EWTN Radio
“Our four sons were all born in February and March, so postponing celebratory feasts to the following Sunday during Lent is old hat to us. Besides, this year my Valentine will be in Rome so skipping any Valentine’s ideas was always the plan. And though I usually fall short, I do believe in starting Lent as you mean to go on. So fast and wear your ashes on Wednesday, then bust out that waffle maker after Mass on Sunday, and try and sneak out that night for a drink with your sweetheart.”
— Leigh Snead, fellow at The Catholic Association
“On the surface, having Valentine’s Day fall on Ash Wednesday seems like a bummer because it doesn’t feel like a celebration, but it presents an opportunity for married couples to go deeper in their prayer life together. One is about love and the other about sacrifice so praying together as a couple is a beautiful way to show both heartfelt love for each other while sharing in each other’s gift of vulnerability.”
— Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, host of Beacon of Truth on EWTN Radio
“We will celebrate the St. Valentine’s Day vigil and also Mardi Gras the same day. In Chicago, the tradition begins in the morning with Pączki Day, very much rooted in our huge Polish community — even non-Polish stores and businesses get in on the day, and lines form outside bakeries at 5 a.m. We’ll have a nice dinner that evening with lots of our family favorites on fancy red plates. But nothing on Ash Wednesday.”
— Mary Fiorito, Cardinal Francis George Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center
“I’m glad you are focusing on this double day! Our confused world needs the Church’s wisdom on life, love, and marriage now more than ever. I remember being surprised years ago when a high-school friend told me that his older sister had chosen Lift High the Cross for the entrance hymn to her wedding. Now, 29 and half years into the joys of Christian marriage, I see how wise that bride was. The love that the martyr St. Valentine promoted wasn’t symbolized by hearts, flowers and matching pajamas, but by dying to self – by putting on Christ who loved us even unto death. This year we have a great opportunity to deny ourselves and grow closer to our true love, Christ. What could be better?”
— Amy McInerny, Respect Life director of the Office of Marriage in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia
And unlike St. Patrick’s Day, dioceses across the country are not offering any dispensations (and rightly so!). Take heed to the advice above and make the most of this amazing World Day of Marriage as we prepare for Lent!
St. Valentine, pray for us!