Bishop: Catholics should reschedule Valentine’s Day plans because of Ash Wednesday

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — If you’re a Catholic and you had a steak dinner planned for your loved one on Valentine’s Day, you may have to put it off.

Valentine’s Day is on the same day as Ash Wednesday this year, for the first time since 1945. If you’re Catholic, this means you must abstain from meat, as well as fast, which boils down to eating only one full meal or two smaller meals.

Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin pointed out the conflict in his column in The Rhode Island Catholic newspaper last week. “Ash Wednesday belongs to God, and it shouldn’t be taken away from him,” he wrote.

“There are other options to celebrate Valentine’s Day, whereas Ash Wednesday cannot be moved,” the bishop said in an interview Monday.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, memorializing how Jesus Christ fasted in the desert for 40 days while enduring temptation by Satan. The faithful receive ashes marking a cross on their forehead to note repentance. Researchers at Georgetown University have found it is one of the highest churchgoing days of the year for American Catholics.

“Any Christian, any Catholic, worth their name keeps Ash Wednesday in a special way,” Tobin said.

Rather than indulging in an opulent dinner on Ash Wednesday, when the faithful must show penance, Tobin argued the answer is to mark the day of love the night before, the night after, “or some other enchanted evening.” That goes for flowers, chocolates, presents or other trapping, too.

“You can get flowers, of course – but present them the night before,” Tobin said.

Last year, Tobin offered local Catholics a special dispensation so they could eat corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day, even though it fell on a Friday during Lent. “The difference, of course, even though the Fridays of Lent are very important days of fast and abstinence for Catholics, they don’t have the same prominence as Ash Wednesday has,” he said.

Studies have consistently shown Rhode Island has the highest percentage of Catholics in any state. Tobin will preside over a noontime Mass on Wednesday at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter & Paul in Providence where ashes will be distributed.

And if you’re planning ahead, the next time Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day will be the same day is 2024.