Our pastor said yesterday in his homily at Mass that this is the first time Valentine’s Day has fallen on Ash Wednesday since 1945! That’s the first time in 73 years! No wonder I didn’t remember it ever happening before. I am not yet 70 years old!
In the Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday is a day of fast and abstinence. This means that, in order to help us on our path to our heavenly home, our beloved Church has declared that we must fast and refrain from eating meat on that day, the first day of Lent. The fasting requirement means no snacks between meals and only one full meal. The abstinence requirement means that the meals must not include any meat, such as beef, pork, chicken, turkey, etc. Catholics must settle for cheese products, eggs, or fish, etc., for the main course in any meal.
But what about the fact that it was Valentine’s Day this year? It is a day when we especially enjoy a celebratory breakfast, lunch and/or dinner with our spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend. How should that play out? First, I understand that the Bishops decided not to grant a dispensation from the requirement. Okay, so we must fast and abstain. My wife fixed a nice breakfast of hot cereal and fruit. It was good, but, other than lit candles, nicer placemats, and greeting cards on the table, it was nothing out of the ordinary. Then, for lunch, we enjoyed a filet-o-fish sandwich and a local McDonalds. I hadn’t had their fish sandwich in quite some time and forgot how good they are! Okay, then dinner was to be our one full meal. My wife again came to the rescue … she prepared salmon filets with a vegetable and fruit. No dessert. How good it was!
One of my Facebook friends lamented in a post yesterday the fact that one of her friends saw the situation as an opportunity to go out and enjoy a nice lobster dinner at a fancy seafood restaurant. It was one of those “What’s wrong with this picture?” moments. An expensive dinner that is more exciting that any steak, pork chop or fried chicken is not my idea, nor hers, of an observance of Ash Wednesday!
But, aside from all of this, I think it is important to stop and consider what all of Lent is about for us devoted Catholics. It is not just a time to punish our bodies by eating less or by avoiding eating certain foods. It is about preparation … mental preparation for what is going to happen at the end of the self-sacrificing agony … Holy Week and Easter. The self-denial , and almsgiving too, makes us aware of the world around us. It is about becoming aware of people in need and how it feels to live day-to-day not knowing where our next meal is coming from. And then it makes us more aware of the great sacrifice that Jesus Christ accomplished for us through his horrific crucifixion and how our faith is affirmed through his glorious Resurrection.
So this year, let us fast, abstain, make personal sacrifices, and give alms to prepare our minds and hearts for the celebration to follow. Easter will then be a glorious day indeed!