The skull of St. Valentine

A SAINT’S SACRIFICE: The skull of St. Valentine is kept in the Greek-Catholic Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome, Italy.

We might be in the mood for love on Valentine’s Day, but if you’re of the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, Moravian, Oriental Orthodox, Church of the East, United Protestant or other faith that traditionally observes Lent, the event may be a pared-down affair this year.

Valentine’s Day 2024 falls on Ash Wednesday, the start of the sacrificial Lenten period leading up to Easter, and for some faiths the day is a holy day of prayer, alms giving, fasting and abstinence from eating meat — part of which can put a faithful couple at odds with the traditional holiday celebration.

According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Roman Catholic Church sets aside two fasting day each year: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Additionally, Catholics older than the age of 14 are required to abstain from meat those days and Fridays during Lent.

Sometimes when a holiday falls on a day of abstinence, the USCCB will make exceptions. In 2023, when St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Friday, dioceses were given permission for some form of dispensation from the fast of eating no meat, and nearly 73 percent of them did so.

But unlike that day on which corned beef and shepherd’s pie play a significant role, having meat on Valentine’s Day is not an essential part of the holiday. and so, this year the USCCB confirmed that fasting and abstinence will not be supplanted by treats, candy and lavish dinners.

So, what’s a couple to do on that special day?

Fasting on Ash Wednesday in many faiths doesn’t mean a total abstinence from all foods for 24 hours. According to the USCCB, for Catholics between the ages of 18-59, “When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that are not equal to a full meal.”

So, the bishops say, a special, simple dinner together is still an option, and one that becomes even more special when the couple recognizes the reason for the sacrifice.

And, there’s always the option of celebrating the holiday on a different day of the week, such as Fat Tuesday. Also known as Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday involves the custom of using all the fats in the home before Lent in preparation for fasting and abstinence, and can take on a more festive atmosphere.

But who was St. Valentine, anyway?

A third holiday option is in recognizing, together, the traditional origins of Valentine’s Day, the US bishops say.

Tradition indicates that a third-century martyr, St. Valentine, would marry couples in secret because of an edict from Emperor Claudius banning marriage — unmarried young men were more likely soldiery candidates for cannon fodder than their counterparts with families. Valentine, a champion of marriage during an age of rampant promiscuity, would ultimately be tortured and beheaded by Claudius for refusing to deny his faith.

Today, St. Valentine is the patron saint of lovers (as well as epileptics).

In fact, though little of St. Valentine’s life can be confirmed — he was either the bishop of Terni or a priest in Rome — his skull can be found in the minor Byzantine basilica of Santa Maria in Comedian, Rome. Veneration of such relics can remind us as individuals and couples of the sacrificial nature of love, bishops say.

The beheading of St. Valentine took place on Feb. 14, 278.

Trending Video

Recommended for you