Dear OSJ Family,
On the 14th of this month the world will celebrate Valentine’s Day. This day, while currently celebrated as a secular holiday, was once solely a Catholic feast day in honor of an actual Christian saint. In truth, there were at least two or three St. Valentines, all of whom were likely martyrs of the early church. I say “likely” because much of what we know about them is attributed to legend and not history or fact. Given this ambiguity, this church feast day is no longer celebrated in our liturgical calendar as we are not even sure which Valentine we honor that day! All we do know is that a Saint Valentine existed. Notably, the secular holiday is now associated with love and romance (and greeting cards!)
Again, there were” likely” two or more St Valentines and we know that the first was a Roman priest martyred on the Flaminian Way under the Roman Emperor Claudius and the second was a bishop of Terni, who was taken to Rome and martyred in the public square. Again, the accounts of martyrdom of both St Valentines are legendary, although each legend possess some elements of truth. What we do know is that at least two Valentines were martyred, having suffered persecution and death for our faith. Accordingly, red, the Church’s liturgical color for martyrs, was used on St. Valentine’s Day to represent the blood that was spilled for God. Over time, the feast of these martyred saints grew in popularity and, eventually, began to be associated with love and romance. How and why that happened, no one is sure, but some scholars have speculated that the association with romantic love on Valentine’s Day is related to customs associated with the Roman celebration of Lupercalia, a festival of purification and fertility, which fell in mid-February.
Today, Saint Valentine’s Day customs and traditions, while devoid of their religious significance, are nonetheless rooted in the Catholic practices of old. For example, sending Valentine greetings or “prayer cards,” as well as the giving of candies, treats, and flowers were traditional ways that Catholics honored a person on their saint’s day or name day.
So while the Church no longer celebrates this mid- February day as a feast day, there is nothing to stop a Catholic from honoring—in prayer, word, or deed—one of the Saint Valentines on the 14th!
Fr Phil Florio,SJ