February 7, 2024 at 3:24 p.m.
ASH WEDNESDAY AND VALENTINE'S DAY
What should we do, especially if we were thinking of going out for dinner that night?
This artwork depicts Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day, both observed Feb. 14 this year. (OSV News illustration/Elizabeth Butterfield, Diocese of Erie)
(Courtesy photo of Elizabeth Butterfield)
This year, Ash Wednesday falls on Feb. 14, the same day, of course, as Valentine’s Day. Ash Wednesday is one of the few days in the Catholic calendar designated as a special day of fasting and abstinence. So what should we do, especially if we were thinking of going out for dinner that night?
There are several things we can recall. For (Latin Rite) Catholics, the rules of fasting are obligatory for those between the ages of 18 and 59, although many would still wish to observe this precept whatever their age. Abstinence (from meat) is obligatory for those over the age of 14. Fasting is defined as having two small meals or snacks during the day plus one main meal. So, it might be possible still to go out for that dinner. (For more details on the rationale and benefits of fasting, abstinence and other penitential practices, see the USCCB documents: “Penitential Practices for Catholics,” www. usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year-and-calendar/lent/ penitential-practices-for-todays-catholics and “Information on Lenten Fasting and Abstinence,” www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year-and-calendar/lent/catholic-information-on-lenten-fast-and-abstinence).
However, perhaps all this might be looking at things from just one perspective, or in a rather narrow way. We can, for example, remember the reason behind fasting. Fasting above all is very much associated with our ongoing journey of conversion and our need for penance. As the Catechism (n. 1434) summarizes, “fasting expresses conversion in relation to oneself, to God and to others.” Saint Augustine points out that fasting “purifies the soul, it lifts up the mind and it brings the body into subjection to the spirit. It makes the heart humble and contrite and enkindles the true light of charity.”
Pope Francis too has spoken about fasting on a number of occasions: “Fasting makes sense if it really chips away at our security and, as a consequence, benefits someone else, if it helps us cultivate the style of the good Samaritan, who bent down to his brother in need and took care of him.” Fasting should, he continued, “exercise the heart … it is a sign of becoming aware of and taking responsibility for injustice and oppression, especially of the poor and the least, and is a sign of the trust we place in God and his providence.” So, fasting can help us to refresh and to purify our relationships with God, others and self. It also reminds us that we ultimately depend on God and that all we have and are is a gift. It can be a living sign of our solidarity with those who have to fast each and every day not by choice, but by necessity.
We might summarize all this by saying that the very nature of true love and authentic love is sacrificial. After all, St. Valentine was an early Christian martyr and gave up his life in witness to his faith and love of Christ. So, perhaps this Valentine’s Day, we might volunteer that evening to help those in need, or to donate the money that we would have spent on a dinner out to some charity or to someone we know who is in need. That way, we can show our love for each other and for God, by showing our love for another, remembering that that “another” is, in fact, Christ (cf. Matthew 25: 31-46).
Father Barratt, STL, PhD, EV, ChM, is the director of the Office of Prayer and Worship, episcopal vicar for the Hudson Valley Vicariate, a member of the Presbyteral Council & College of Consultors and pastor at Holy Trinity Parish in Hudson-Germantown — all in the Diocese of Albany — and adjunct professor at Siena College and St. Bernard’s Postgraduate School of Theology and Ministry in Albany.