This weekend we will be celebrating the feast of St. Valentine. There are varied opinions as to if this saint really did exist. A lot of fluff, flowers and candy have descended from the story. When you come to church this weekend should you then expect to see a lovely pink altar cloth embroidered with red hearts? Hopefully not.
We are in our last weekend of Ordinary Time before Lent begins. Green (new life) will still be the primary liturgical color. Some parishes do celebrate this final Sunday before Lent with a bit of the Christian Mardi Gras flavor, so you may also see some purple (a reminder that Lent is at hand), gold (Epiphany) and perhaps peacock feathers (Christ in his triumphant glory) added to the environment.
Interestingly, Christians celebrated “love” long before Valentine’s Day was ever promoted. We are told that in the early church people gathered for the Agape, the “love feast,” which was followed by preaching and the Eucharist. Through the centuries the actual feast itself gave way to celebrating the Eucharist as the love feast of Christ and his people.
How many of you have seen the candy conversation hearts that are so popular on Valentine’s Day? They have interesting phrases like “luv u” printed on them. This weekend I would invite those of you who receive Eucharist in the hand, to take a moment to look at the host before you consume it. Most hosts come with a symbol embossed on them, usually a cross. In a sense, that embossed host is Jesus’ version of a conversation heart — saying to you “This is my body — see how much I love you.”
Ash Wednesday, another day of celebration, is coming up next week. Ash Wednesday has never been a holy day on the church calendar, but it is the one day so many Christians make an effort to attend Mass and to be signed by the cross.
The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are derived from burning dried palms. In some parishes, parishioners bring in their old palms from last Palm Sunday. Someone at the parish burns the palms in a proper manner and either prepares them for use on Ash Wednesday or disposes of them appropriately. Parishes also have the option of purchasing palm ash from their local religious goods supply store. For whatever reason, “store bought ashes” are much blacker and have more grit in them than those we obtain from burning our own palms. In any case, Christians with humble pride, wear that cross upon their forehead all of Ash Wednesday that we may publicly proclaim “we have been ransomed by Christ and saved through his death upon a cross.”
Zahorik is director of worship at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Oshkosh. She has a master’s degree in liturgical studies.