The Legend of St. Valentine and World Marriage Day
“Loving is not just looking at each other, it’s looking in the same direction.”
Antoine de Saint-Expuery, Wind, Sand, and Stars, 1939
St. Valentine’s Day, February 14
Last week our STARS delivered Valentine’s Day “Candy Grams” to several schools in the Archdiocese, a gesture of friendship, hope, and young love. The tradition of the hand-made valentine dates all the way back to the early 1700s, with the first mass-produced valentines being produced in the 1840s. It is estimated that over 145 million cards are mailed each Valentine’s Day (second only to Christmas).
Around the turn of the century, the chocolatiers wanted into the game, and so began the heart-shaped chocolate boxes and candy roses. But candy purchased for Valentine’s Day didn’t stop there. We are all familiar with “conversation hearts”, and of course, today every box of kid cards comes complete with any imaginable candy. To add an “aside” to the story, we all know that there’s nothing to make one feel better, particularly to mend a broken heart (no really, just ask any physician in the 1800s), than chocolate.
But before the cards and candy comes the story (and the murky legends) behind Valentine, the person. The Church recognizes at least three different martyred saints named Valentine or Valentinus, who all died during a two-year period towards the end of the third century. No matter which you read about, all the stories emphasize his appeal as sympathetic, heroic and, most importantly, romantic.
While the history of Valentine’s Day, along with the stories of its patron saint, is shrouded in mystery, we do recognize February as a month which celebrates romance and that St. Valentine’s Day contains both Christian and Roman traditions. Around the world today, there are many different popular traditions associated with the day!
Then there are those who say that there was no romantic intention surrounding St. Valentine’s feast day until Geoffrey Chaucer put his pen to paper and recorded the first St. Valentine’s Day poem in 1375. The 699-line poem, “The Parlement of Foulys”, is about a parliament, or assembly, of birds who have gathered to choose their mates (and is considered the impetus for the beginning of the $20 billion holiday industry). The famous lines read, “For this was on seynt Volantynys day / Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make” or in modern English, “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird came to choose his mate.”
And then there’s the story of Cupid and his arrival on the Valentine’s Day scene, but that will have to wait until next year! Instead, let’s put some focus on World Marriage Day, celebrated on the second Sunday of February (which this year is February 14), and National Marriage Week which is February 7 – 14. Their observance is an opportunity to focus on building a culture of life and love that begins with supporting and promoting marriage and the family. Its purpose is declared to be: “World Marriage Day honors husband and wife as the foundation of the family, the basic unit of society. It salutes the beauty of their faithfulness, sacrifice, and joy in daily married life.” My parish priest makes a special invitation to all married couples celebrating a 1st, 5th, 10th, 15th (you see the pattern) wedding anniversary to come to the altar for a special blessing and to receive a red rose.
Prayer for Married Couples
Almighty and eternal God, You blessed the union of married couples so that they might reflect the union of Christ with his Church: look with kindness on them.
Renew their marriage covenant, increase your love in them, and strengthen their bond of peace so that, with their children, they may always rejoice in the gift of your blessing. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen
~ United States Conference of Catholic Bishops