Poor Saint Valentine

This morning, picking myself up off the ground and climbing back on my horse yet again, I happened to glance a few pages back in my Magnificat, and take a look at the liturgical calendar.

David Teniers III. St. Valentine Kneeling in Supplcation. 1600s. (Wikipedia.)

David Teniers III. St. Valentine Kneeling in Supplcation. 1600s. (Wikipedia.)

In my anxiety to avoid all the glut and glurge of St. Valentine’s Day the other day, I had neglected to realize that St. Valentine’s Day, by far the most popularly known and universally celebrated saint’s day on the calendar — isn’t actually on the calendar. Or rather, it’s not on the general calendar. St. Valentine is not the saint that’s recommended for all churches to celebrate at Mass that day. Instead, that’s Saints Cyril and Methodius, two saints I’m rather fond of, and would have found a lot of comfort in commemorating. In addition to being great heroes of the faith, they invented an alphabet!

But St. Valentine. If you ask a typical Protestant to name a saint’s feast day, they will almost certainly name St. Valentine’s Day. It’s on most secular calendars. But not on ours, the place I would have expected to find it most prominently? My curiosity piqued, I turned to the place I knew would have an interesting and informative post: Brad at Southern Fried Catholicism.

The story was far richer, and more gratifying to a Valentine’s hater, than I could have imagined. As it turns out, there are more than a dozen saints named Valentine (the name, Valentinus, stemming from Latin valens, meaning “strong, powerful”), and popular culture celebrates entirely the wrong one on February 14, subjecting a perfectly innocent and worthy third century martyr to association with cheap love, cheesy cards, and mass-produced candy, thanks to a famous mistake involving Geoffrey Chaucer, King Richard II, and later lovestruck Victorians. With so much uncertainty and so much confusion (and, I like to think, a bit of Catholic disgust for the popular holiday, too), the Church under Pope Paul VI removed the festival from the general calendar in 1969. May St. Valentine — the real St. Valentine — any one of them, or all of them — please pray for us, and all the people left feeling lost and lonely by this unfortunate celebration.

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