While writing Unlocking the Feasts and Seasons of the Liturgical Year for Novalis several years ago, one aspect that really struck me was how much energy the Church has invested in romance. In Quebec this day is still Saint Valentin, there is even a municipality named for him with the appropriate festivities throughout the month of February. But for many of us the notion that today was a saint’s day is as lost as the Saint himself and as the reason why he is still the Saint for those who are in love. I remember the assistant to a curmudgeonly colleague of mine who would annually send a “Saints Cyril and Methodius Day” card to her boss, who would have nothing to do with Valentines.
The story of this particular Saint Valentine (there are several) has no historical documentation, which is why he was removed from the general calendar of the Church. But the legend is that the Roman Emperor – again we’re not sure which one – prohibited all young people from getting married, since married men were excused from the military draft. Valentine defied this order and was the official at a number of marriages, which led to his death. So he is the patron of romance.
Many of the customs around helping young people meet and fall in love come in the spring, so Saint Valentine is a bit early in the year.
Especially in May and June, depending on whether you are more Germanic/Anglo Saxon (and so go a-maying) or French (and so find the village fair on the mid-summer feast of St. John the Baptist in June), Catholic culture insists that falling in love, either with a religious vocation or more likely with another person, is an integral part of being alive. I still recall my grandfather singing Le ruban d’la mariée – a song about how it takes a village, including the pastor, to help people find love and get married. It starts out citing the feast, “Voici le Saint-Jean….”
In this days of distance, both because of the covid-19 virus but also because of the isolation of so many in this modern life, the Church, especially on the parish level, needs to discover practical ways to help people to fall in love. It is our tradition after all. And if you have already found love, celebrate your Valentine. It’s the Catholic thing to do!
Glenn Byer has been making music for the Mass for 40 years, and has been writing about and offering courses and workshops on liturgy for more than 30 years. He holds a Master’s in liturgy from the University of Notre Dame, and a doctorate in liturgy from the Pontifical Institute for Liturgy at the Atheneaum of Sant’Anselmo in Rome. Glenn has written numerous books, among them: 26 Ordinary Ways to Live the Liturgy, Unlocking the Feasts and Seasons of the Liturgical Year and Living the Liturgy of the Word.