February 14 is a public holiday this year due to a collision of events in the calendar.
Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day, the annual celebration of love and friendship, marked by adorable couples, enthusiastic elementary school students – and critics who deride its commercialization. But it is also Ash Wednesday, a solemn day of fasting and reflection which marks the beginning of Christianity’s most penitential season.
WHY IS ASH WEDNESDAY VALENTINE’S DAY THIS YEAR?
Ash Wednesday is not a fixed date. Its calendar is linked to Easter Sunday, and for most Christians Easter will fall on March 31 this year.
Easter also moves each year, oscillating between March 22 and April 25 based on a calendar calculation involving the moon.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops explains: “Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the Easter full moon, which is the first full moon occurring either during or after the spring equinox (March 21). …To find the date of Ash Wednesday, we go back six weeks leading up to the first Sunday of Lent and four days before that is Ash Wednesday.
This year it’s February 14.
WHAT HAPPENS ON ASH WEDNESDAY?
Not all Christians observe Ash Wednesday. For those who do, they typically attend an Ash Wednesday church service, during which a priest or other minister draws a cross – or at least what is supposed to look like a cross – of ashes on their forehead. The distribution of ashes highlights, among other themes, human mortality.
It is a day of obligatory fasting and abstinence for Catholics. Abstinence restrictions continue on Fridays of Lent, which is the period of repentance and penance leading up to Holy Week celebrations – which is particularly important for their belief in the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead .
WHERE DO THE ASHES COME FROM?
Typically, ashes come from palm trees used on Palm Sunday, which falls a week before Easter, according to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Ashes can be purchased, but some churches make their own by burning palm trees from previous years. For example, several parishes and schools in the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago plan to hold palm-burning ceremonies this year.
CAN CATHOLICS CELEBRATE VALENTINE’S DAY ON ASH WEDNESDAY?
In addition to secular celebrations with candy hearts and chocolate, February 14 is also the holiday of Valentine’s Day. But Ash Wednesday, with its requirements for fasting and abstinence, is far more important and should be a priority, Catholic Bishop Richard Henning of Providence, Rhode Island, said in the diocese’s official newspaper. His predecessor shared a similar message in 2018.
“Ash Wednesday has a much higher value and deserves the full measure of our dedication,” he said. “I respectfully request that we maintain the unique significance of Ash Wednesday. If you would like to wine and dine with your Valentine, please do so the Tuesday before. February 13 is Mardi Gras, “Fat Tuesday,” a perfect day to party and celebrate!
WHO WAS ST. VALENTINE?
The history of Valentine’s Day and Valentine’s Day is a bit murky, but the holiday began as a liturgical feast for a third-century Christian martyr, according to Lisa Bitel, professor of history and religion at the University of Southern California.
In Conversation, his article titled “The ‘Real’ Valentine Was Not a Patron of Love” explains that there may have been more than one Valentine executed for his faith during the same time period , but none of them seem to have done so. were romantics. The emphasis on love seems to have come later.