The Church sets aside two fasting days every year: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Catholics 18–59 years old are required to fast these days. Catholics over the age of 14 are also required to abstain from meat on those days, and on Lenten Fridays.
According to the USCCB: “When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal.”
This year, couples may want to consider celebrating Valentine’s Day on Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday — the day before Ash Wednesday, the last hurrah before Lent begins.
Ash Wednesday involves not only fasting and abstaining from meat but also almsgiving.
“When we fast from food, we save money,” Dought pointed out, adding: “And so the almsgiving of Lent is connected to the fasting of Lent. I think it could be another beautiful thing [for] a couple to make a charitable donation together.”
“We frequently can think of penance as an individual thing, but we see Ash Wednesday and all throughout Lent, really, it’s the Church doing penance as a body,” he explained. “And so I think that would be true also for a couple or for a family.”
When days of abstinence land on holidays, dioceses will sometimes make exceptions. For instance, on St. Patrick’s Day last year, 72.6% of dioceses gave some form of dispensation from the Lenten Friday fast of no meat, allowing many American Catholics to celebrate the holiday with traditional meals such as corned beef and shepherd’s pie.
But this is not usually the case for Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day, where meat and a large meal are not essential parts of the day.
“Lent is a time that we place things aside,” Dought explained. “And I think there is something helpful because we’re placing certain things aside, we can discover the meaning of the day more fully: the person of St. Valentine’s, the story of his life, because these other things that aren’t essential to the celebration of this day have been pushed away.”
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