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3 Romantic Phrases for the Ash Wednesday—Valentine's Day Mash-Up

A cross of ashes mashed up with a heart made up of roses

Wednesday, February 14, 2018 is both Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day. This strange connection causes some problems for Roman Catholics and other Christians who celebrate Lent as a fast in the lead-up to Easter, but it also provides an incentive for holiday mash-up phrases.

The religious fast day Ash Wednesday commemorates the 40 days Jesus spent fasting during his temptation by Satan (recounted in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke). It marks the first day of Lent, a 40-day fasting period leading up to Easter, the day Christians in Western traditions celebrate Jesus' resurrection. Anglicans, some Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Roman Catholics celebrate Lent and Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday services often involve blessing ashes made from burning the palm fronds from the previous year's Palm Sunday, and spreading them on the foreheads of the faithful. This ceremony involves phrases such as "Repent and believe the Gospel," or "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," or "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Valentine's Day celebrates one of at least three different Saint Valentines, all of them martyrs, who are celebrated on February 14 in the Roman calendar. One served as a priest in Rome, another as a bishop in Interamna (modern Terni in Italy), and both were martyred in the late 200s and buried on the Flaminian Way in Rome. A third Saint Valentine was martyred in Africa with a number of companions.

According to tradition, Valentine the priest married people in Rome after the Emperor Claudius II banned marriage in the Eternal City. While in jail for this crime, Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer's daughter, and signed it, "From Your Valentine."

The day became associated with romantic love within the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer. By the 1700s in England, it became an occasion for lovers to express their love for one another. Since the 1800s, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards.eeeeeeee

Americans celebrate love and joy with lavish romantic dinners, flowers, and chocolates. This seems incompatible with the heavy, repentance-focused holiday of Ash Wednesday. Indeed, Roman Catholic bishops have urged parishioners to forego steak and chocolates for Valentine's this year, because Ash Wednesday is more important.

"What's a Catholic to do, many wonder," wrote Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. "The answer is that Ash Wednesday has precedence, and the coincidence of St. Valentine's Day would not lift for us the duty of fasting and self-denial."

Nevertheless, here are three suggestions for Ash Wednesday-themed "Valentines," for lovers who intend on celebrating Lent. Enjoy!

1. Ashes to Ashes, Heart to Heart.

"All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return," Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:20. When priests or pastors place ashes on believers' foreheads, they often say "ashes to ashes, dust to dust."