Chris and Monika Matelski plan on celebrating Valentine’s a day early. Photo by Anna Dzieciol Photography

Sweet compromise: Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day. What’s a couple to do?

By 
  • February 13, 2018
Catholic couples will face a conundrum this Valentine’s Day.

For the first time since 1945, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14. — two traditions with clashing appetites. One launches a 40-day journey toward Easter which encourages fasting and abstinence. The other promotes indulging in chocolate and fancy dinners.

Dioceses across Canada have not issued a dispensation to help conflicted Catholics deal with the coincidence. Many couples may choose to celebrate on another date while others may get creative and celebrate both while still abiding by the fasting rules of Ash Wednesday.

“My advice would be to celebrate St. Valentine on the eve, Feb. 13,” said Fr. Jimmy Zammit, pastor at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Toronto. “For Catholics, Ash Wednesday is a priority. It will be easier to get a restaurant reservation as well.”

The modern rules of Ash Wednesday fasting permit able Catholics (save for small children and elderly) to consume one large or two small meals. Canon Law 1251 states that abstinence from meat and fasting are to be observed on both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday — ruling out a Valentine’s Day dinner at The Keg. The general guidelines for Lenten abstinence encourage Catholics to give up items like meat, television or indulgent desserts to symbolize Jesus’ sacrifice during the 40 days He spent in the desert enduring Satan’s temptation.

“It (Ash Wednesday) is a day of fasting and abstinence,” said Fr. Peter Turrone, pastor and executive director of the University of Toronto’s Newman Centre. “It marks the beginning of the season of Lent where we journey with Christ towards the fulfillment of the Paschal Mystery.

His sacrifice and His death on the cross is the ultimate symbol of sacrificial love — so we should stick with observing Ash Wednesday.”

For Frank and Rose Cuersma, who have been married 41 years and have two daughters, celebrating Valentine’s Day on another date was a no-brainer.

“As Catholics, Ash Wednesday is our first priority,” said Frank, a member of St. Justin Martyr Parish in Markham. “We went out for our Valentine’s Day dinner last Saturday night instead."

Valentine’s Day’s Christian roots have become buried under Hallmark cards and heart-shaped confetti. The Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of St. Valentine to honour the third century saint who was killed for performing Christian marriage ceremonies in the Roman Empire.

“I’ve been seeing a lot of memes on Facebook that point out the strangeness of how Valentine’s Day has evolved into a commercial holiday,” said Monika Matelski. “St. Valentine is saying ‘I was beheaded and you commemorate my martyrdom by giving each other chocolates?'”

She and her husband Chris have opted to celebrate Valentine’s Day the day before as to give their full attention to Ash Wednesday.

“I think even St. Valentine would agree that the Lord still trumps the holiday of love.”

Couples like the Matelskis may want to opt for pancakes instead of a steak dinner — Feb. 13 is Shrove Tuesday.

Derived from the word shrive, meaning to absolve, Shrove Tuesday is meant to be a day of reflection prior to the Lenten season. So how did this pancake business come to be? For Catholics needing to use up rich foods like butter, eggs and milk before diving into a sparser Lenten diet, pancakes were the way to go.

The Matelskis will celebrate Shrove Tuesday and Valentine’s Day with a romantic lunch and time with their five children. Keeping with a 12-year-long tradition, Chris will also give Monika flowers.

“You can always have a nice dinner on the weekend,” said Turrone.

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