On Feb. 14 of each year, the Roman Martyrology commemorates the anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Valentine of Rome, who is considered the patron saint of lovers and married couples. Coincidentally, Feb. 14 this year is also Ash Wednesday, the day that marks the beginning of Lent. So how can dating Catholic couples and spouses observe both on the same day?
Very little is known about the life of St. Valentine, but tradition indicates that he risked his life to marry couples in a Christian way during the time of persecution against Christians. He was martyred around the year 269.
Today, St. Valentine’s Day is a time when couples express their love with gestures and gifts.
Ash Wednesday, however, is a day of fasting and abstinence for Catholics, which marks the beginning of the 40 days in which the Church calls the faithful to conversion and to truly prepare to live the mysteries of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ in Holy Week.
For Brother Édgar Henríquez, a Chilean seminarian of the Legionaries of Christ, Catholics can observe the coinciding days in light of the mystery of the incarnation of the Lord, who “committed himself to us” by assuming human nature and suffering for the sin of man, in the same way that a married couple becomes one flesh and mutually “accepts their weaknesses, their failings, and their sin out of love.”
Henríquez, who is close to being ordained as a transitional deacon, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, that “the commitment of a couple that is engaged or in a serious dating relationship and a married couple is a commitment of love, just as God has also assumed a commitment with us.”
With this way of looking at St. Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, the Chilean seminarian offered Catholic married couples and those in a serious relationship five tips to observe Feb. 14 in the best possible way:
1. The importance of words
For Henríquez, one of the best things a Catholic couple can do for each other is to show affection through words. Not just once a year, but every day. Jesus Christ, who is the Incarnate Word of God, is also present in Catholic marriages.
“Praying together is the least we can do with the person we are committed to,” he said, noting that this Feb. 14 is a special opportunity “to offer a day of prayer for your partner, for your future together, and for everything you are building.”
“A couple that prays together, stays together,” he added.
2. Pay attention to details.
“Jesus is very detailed. He thinks about everything because he knows that the details make the difference,” the Chilean seminarian pointed out. In order not to break with the penitential spirit of Ash Wednesday, the gifts can be simple and sober things but coming from the heart, they can perfectly demonstrate the affection one has for the other person: “a letter, a song or some little thing.”
3. Spend time together.
Henríquez advised that serious Catholic couples and married couples “can leave aside the logic of the world a little,” which pushes consumerism and materialism on Valentine’s Day, and “enter into the logic of God, to offer each other the most valuable thing they have, which is their own time.”
He pointed out that this is what Jesus Christ did with his apostles and it is what the Church also asks us to do during Lent: spend more time with Jesus and get closer to him, to accompany him during his passion, death, and resurrection. “It is an expression of love to spend time with each other,” Henríquez said.
4. Project yourself into the future.
Just as Ash Wednesday is a call to prepare ourselves to spend the 40 days in conversion and penance until the Sacred Triduum, so a Catholic couple can take advantage of this day to “renew the mutual promise they made to each other, to look toward what is to come and what they are going to build together,” the seminarian said.
5. Do something together for others.
Finally, Henríquez noted that “love is about giving,” and there is no better way to start Lent than with a work of charity, especially if it is done as a couple, “such as going to Mass together and offering it for whoever needs it, praying the rosary for some intention, donate the money that they were going to use to buy a gift and buy basic necessities for needy families.”
“These things leave their mark, especially during the engagement period, and it is the true spirit of Lent,” he added.
Henríquez concluded by asking that on Feb. 14, priests, as well as men and women religious, also in some way observe both days since they have given their lives to the Lord out of love.
This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.