Christians planning to observe Ash Wednesday might want to pencil in their Valentine's indulgences today.
For the first time since 1945, Ash Wednesday, a holy day of fasting for many Western Christians, falls on the same day as Valentine's Day, a day of wining and dining for many couples.
The two would seem to be on opposite sides of the emotional fence, with Ash Wednesday being the first day of Lent, the nearly six-week period before Easter, when Christians cleanse themselves through prayer and abstinence.
During Lent, many believers give up something they love, such as eating chocolates or other sweets, as a way of replicating Christ's journey into the desert for 40 days.
Valentine's Day, on the other hand, is the day when giving chocolates, as well as flowers or cards, to a loved one is a traditional sign of love.
It's a tradition that dates back to around the year A.D. 269, when St. Valentine was arrested and beheaded for disobeying a ban from Emperor Claudius II on marriages and engagements. Claudius was having difficulty getting men to enlist in his army and attributed it to men being reluctant to leave their wives and families.
St. Valentine, a priest in Rome, continued to perform marriages, and it cost him his life.
Ash Wednesday is observed by many Western Christian religions, including Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians, but it is especially significant for Roman Catholics, who see it as a day of fasting and prayer. Catholics around the country are being advised to celebrate Valentine's Day some other time.
"Bishop Richard F. Stika will not issue a dispensation releasing Catholics in the Diocese of Knoxville [which includes Chattanooga] from the solemn observances of Ash Wednesday," writes Jim Wogan, director of communications for the diocese in an email.
"This includes abstaining from eating meat and following Catholic guidelines on fasting. The bishop recognizes the significance of Valentine's Day in our culture, but also suggests that the faithful celebrate on another day, perhaps Tuesday, the day before our Lenten observance begins."
Catholic bishops from Illinois to Alabama have issued similar positions on the matter. A statement from the Archdiocese of Chicago states, "The obligation of fast and abstinence must naturally be the priority in the Catholic community.
"Valentine's Day can appropriately be celebrated the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which also happens to be Mardi Gras, a traditionally festive time before beginning our Lenten observance."
Bishop Robert J. Baker, head of the Catholic Diocese of Birmingham, writes in a letter to his diocese, "The good Lord, who suffered so much out of love for us, will surely reward our fidelity and sacrifice."
Ash Wednesday will fall on Feb. 14 again in 2024 and 2029.
But dates conflicting in tone and tenor fall much sooner than that. Easter Sunday is April 1.
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.