Today, February 14, Is Valentine's Day, Ash Wednesday

Today, February 14, Is Valentine's Day, Ash Wednesday

Valentine's Day is celebrated on February 14 every year. It is a special occasion dedicated to expressing love and affection towards those closest to our hearts. It's a day filled with romantic gestures, heartfelt messages, and the exchange of tokens of love. Today is also, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent or the start of the Lenten season. As far as anyone can tell, the St. Valentine of Valentine's Day, was one of the two guys preaching the Good Word in Rome in the Third  Century. One of these two was beheaded on February 14, 269. 

He wrote a love note to his heartthrob on the eve of his execution on February 13. Today is therefore, both Fat Tuesday and de facto Valentine's Day, Observed, since Ash Wednesday would seem an inappropriate time for that commemoration of romantic love, which we attach to St. Valentine's martyrdom.


According to the Catholic Literature, Ash Wednesday or the beginning of Lent comes providentially to reawaken us, to shake us from our lethargy. Ash Wednesday always falls six and a half weeks before Easter, or Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Ash Wednesday dates back to the 11th Century. Yet, the tradition of receiving ashes has even earlier roots — to the ancient Hebrew custom of clothing oneself in sackcloth and dusting oneself with ashes as a sign of penance.

The Bible does not explicitly detail this first day of Lent, but there are many instances of this repentant act in the Old Testament, like Job 16:15:

“I have sewed sackcloth upon my skin, and have laid my strength in the dust.

”In Luke 10: 13 of the the New Testament, it was stated, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.”

Across many religious traditions, ashes signify the mortality of our human bodies. Genesis 3:19 tells us,

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken;

you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.

In the early Christian Church, public penance for people who had sinned, included wearing ashes and sackcloth. As the Church grew and evolved, this practice lessened.

This long tradition — of externally recognizing ourselves as sinners seeking renewal with God — ultimately transformed into what we now know as Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation for Roman Catholics, yet receiving ashes is a universal practice among Christians to begin their Lenten journeys. Most Catholic parishes offer Ash Wednesday Mass, and in some places, it is possible to receive ashes without attending Mass.

One does not need to be a Catholic to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. Several other traditions within Christianity also share this act of repentance.

This year, Ash Wednesday falls on February 14. Ash Wednesday reminds us of Jesus’ entry into the desert preceding his death. Before Easter, however, we must prepare our hearts for his Resurrection.

We begin our season of preparing our hearts for Easter by recognizing our weaknesses and need for conversion, a turning of our hearts to God.

It is typical to receive ashes on your forehead in the Sign of the Cross. Similar to taking communion at Mass, you usually proceed toward the altar to get ashes. The priest will make the Sign of the Cross and say one of two things:

“Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” or

“Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

The ashes symbolize our mortality. They are a physical reminder that our bodies will decay, but our souls will live on in eternal life.

The cross of ashes means that we are making a commitment – that we are undertaking Lent as a season of prayer and penitence, of dying to ourselves.

It also describes our human condition: it says that we are broken and need repair; that we are sinners and need redemption. Most importantly, it tells us that, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are to carry our crosses.

Fasting allows for one full meal and two smaller meals (that combined do not equal a full meal), with an expectation to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday. Exemptions are available for those with special physical needs.

The Catholic Church requires able members from age 18 to 59 to fast on Ash Wednesday. The obligation to abstain from meat applies to those 14 years of age and older.

In certain situations, bishops can offer a formal dispensation, allowing Catholics to eat meat. This happened in some dioceses during the initial outbreak of Covid-19.

Catholics are also instructed to abstain from meat on each Friday during Lent.

Ash Wednesday, as the first day of Lent, is a great time to begin a renewed commitment to prayer.Ash Wednesday prayers may include saying the rosary. In addition to fasting and attending Mass (or a service where ashes are distributed), you can observe Ash Wednesday through prayer and almsgiving—the other two pillars of Lenten observance.

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