By Gladys Serafica
DARAGA, Albay – In case you haven’t checked your February 2024 calendar yet, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day.
With two seemingly contrasting holidays sharing the same date—as the start of the liturgical 40-day season of Lent requires fasting and abstinence while the most romantic day of the year encourages luxurious indulgences—this year’s February 14th is bound to test people’s priorities.
The February 14 conundrum
For the Catholic faithful and other Christian denominations who observe Lent, this year’s calendar mash-up provides a challenging conundrum.
Because Ash Wednesday officially starts the 40-day period of prayer, fasting, and alms giving in preparation for the celebration of Christ’s Paschal Mystery, which is commemorated during the Holy Week, this sacred day, along with Good Friday, requires obligatory fasting and abstinence.
As such, Catholics over the age of 14 must abstain from consuming meat, while those aged 18 to 59 are permitted to eat only one full meal.
Fr. Kevin James Fonacier, parochial vicar at St. Jude Thaddeus Filipino-Chinese Personal Parish in Legazpi City, however, clarified that abstinence goes far beyond meat intake.
“Catholics are to give up not just meat but also other indulgences to unite one’s self to the sacrifice of Jesus on the desert, which is the inspiration of the celebration of the season of Lent,” he said.
Aside from prayer, fasting, and abstinence, Catholics are also encouraged to spend time helping those in need.
But in a country known for its penchant for excessive consumerism and romantic indulgences, the ethos and ascetic practices of Ash Wednesday seemingly stand in stark contrast with the obsessive materialism of Valentine’s Day.
In fact, renowned anthropologist Nestor Castro, who is an expert on Philippine culture, said Feb. 14 is often celebrated by couples and lovers with fancy dinners, bouquets of red roses, heart-shaped balloons, decadent chocolates, and grand displays of affection.
He believes that these Valentine’s Day practices will continue, even if it is Ash Wednesday, because “Filipinos differentiate religiosity with sexuality.” So how should Catholics observing Lent navigate the Valentine’s Day fever?
Fonacier said the solution lies in being “creative” when it comes to showing love for others.
For Maria Jira Apuya, a mother who has been married for 14 years, being “creative” means moving the celebration to a later date, going for meatless alternatives, and refraining from sweet treats.
“Ash Wednesday is a holy day, so it can’t be rescheduled. Valentine’s Day celebrations can wait,” she said.
This coming 14th, this special education teacher said receiving the cross of ashes on her forehead will be at the top of her list.
“Ash Wednesday calls for self-sacrifice,” she said, adding that instead of going on a family date, they intend to use the time for spiritual introspection.
Making the secular sacred
In 2018 and 1945, Ash Wednesday also coincided with Valentine’s Day. These two holidays are bound to overlap again in 2029 and 2096, just a few years before the century ends.
While it may seem contrapuntal to start the penitential season on the most romantic day of the year, Fr. Fonacier said observing Ash Wednesday on February 14 is a “very good opportunity for Catholic Christians to really reflect on the magnanimity of love.”
“The cross is the ultimate symbol of divine love. God, who so loved us, sent His only Son so that we might be saved. It is a love that is sacrificial as well as life-giving, a kind of love that everyone should aspire to do,” he said.
In navigating this calendar collision this 2024, he reminds the faithful to keep the start of the Lent season a priority.
As an American cartoon strip cleverly puts it, “Valentines are red, Wednesday’s ashes are gray. You can’t spell Valentine without “lent” on this day.” (PNA)
ASH WEDNESDAY. A Catholic priest puts ash on the forehead of an elderly woman during the observance of Ash Wednesday at the St. Peter Parish: Shrine of Leaders in Quezon City in this file photo. Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of the Lenten season, falls on Valentines Day this year. (PNA photo by Joey O. Razon)