Putting Valentine back in Valentine’s Day

St. Valentine, whose commemoration day is celebrated tomorrow without reference to him, was honored as a noted martyr, having been put to death in the Roman persecutions for his Christian faith. From Aardvark Alley:

Some ancient accounts record a physician and priest living in Rome during the rule of the Emperor Claudius II. This Valentine become one of the noted martyrs of the third century. It seems that his main “crime” was joining couples in marriage. Specifically, Valentine married Roman soldiers. Evidently, Claudius thought that single men made better soldiers while Valentine and the Church resisted the immorality of less-permanent relationships.

The commemoration of his death, thought to have occurred during the year 270, became part of the calendar of remembrance in the early Western Church. Tradition suggests that on the day of his execution for his Christian faith, he left a note of encouragement for a child of his jailer. The note was written on an irregularly-shaped piece of paper which suggested the shape of a heart. This greeting became a pattern for millions of written expressions of love and caring that now are the highlight of Valentine’s Day in many nations.

In the liturgical calendar, there are special Bible readings and a collect–a prayer of the church–for his day:


Psalm 95:1-7a
Ezekiel 18:1-9
1 Peter 4:12-19
John 2:1-11


Almighty and everlasting God, who kindled the flame of Your love in the heart of Your holy martyr Valentine, grant to us, Your humble servants, a like faith and power of love, that we who rejoice in his triumph may profit by his example; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Love and martyrdom! Those go together like roses and chocolate! Any ideas how this holiday could be re-Christianized?

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  • mamaof2

    A simple idea would be to share a cozy book with your favorite pint-sized valentine! Several good children’s books about St. Valentine are: _Saint Valentine_ by Robert Sabuda and _The Story of Saint Valentine: More than Cards and Candied Hearts_. I will read these to my kids tomorrow to help our family to refocus on ‘true love’ and its connection to sacrifice.

  • The Other William

    I don’t imagine that you would need to change much at the familial level. Why not incorporate a short reading of the life of St. Valentine just before or during dinner, and then proceed with normal Valentine’s Day traditions, such as a romantic dinner with your loved one, or if in the presence of a larger family, have everybody write a short (preferably kindly) message on a red heart-shaped paper for each other? These can then be read either in private or in public at dinner.

    The key, of course, being that you remind your co-celebrants that the day was not merely a Hallmark, candy-maker, and florist collusion.

  • Yes, self-sacrifice seems to be a key theme of St. Valentine’s life. Self-sacrifice is certainly key to romantic love, as it should be, and marriage. I’ve been studying the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers as it relates to the doctrine of vocation. One thing I’ve found is that we exercise our priesthood–an office that, specifically, offers sacrifices (not having to do with the pastoral office at all, really, contrary to Rome’s idea that the priest offers up the sacrifice in the mass)–when we present our bodies as a living sacrifice in our vocations. We bear our cross–sacrificing ourselves for others–in the way we love and serve our neighbors in our callings, including marriage and parenthood. So St. Valentine’s Day can be a time to reflect on this and put it into practice.

  • Narr

    Didn’t the R Catholic church remove Valentine from its list of saints in the ’60s because so little was known of him? I wonder if it’s wise to make so much of what may well be a myth (perhaps based on a smattering of facts, but not enough to arrive at definitive conclusions).

  • Ryan

    Please produce the “ancient sources”, besides lists of martyrs (several Valentines, two notably on 2/14) there is nothing about Valentine until more than 1000 years later.

    The stories are nice, but unlike Nicholas and Patrick we can say little but that Valentine loved the Lord to the point of death because his Lord loved him first to the point of the cross, and indeed Valentine, all of them, have received the crown of life.

  • Very interesting about Valentine. I’d like to find some sources or references about him. I have one book of saints but just about all it has to say is that little is known about Valentine or that he ever really existed.

  • A History Channel account says that this holiday is a Christianizing of the pagan Lupercalia festival. This involved all kinds of pagan practices. Now there are probably a couple of reasons to do such a thing. The first is that a holiday is so popular, you probably couldn’t get rid of it, so Christianizing just keeps people from dangerous mayhem. The second is that there is something natural being celebrated that has a kind of Christian parallel.

    The Lupercalia festival was in part about fertility. Practices were related to purification and sacrificial blood. Not sure exactly what we might do, but the themes can be found in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

    The romantic pairing “lottery” that they practiced was considered evil because these were likely temporary marriages. I wonder if they could have been “cleaned up” in another way. The idea seems to have a lot of cultural resonance when we consider shows like The Bachelor.

    The key problem with the practice now is that it is a woman’s holiday. Any attempt by the church to use it will likely only make the church seem more feminine, unless the practices go strongly in the other direction. You might draw men to church if the activities practiced made it so they could escape celebrating the holiday in the romantic ways. Then again, after the first year, I think angry hordes of women might burn down our churches if we tried it. Though that might make a fun game. The husbands come to church and hide, but their wives can be taken out for an expensive dinner if they can find them. Everyone will visit someone else’s parish where they play the game, too, making it more challenging. The husbands can pool for really nice gifts for the first few men that are found. This way some wives really make a good haul.