Valentine's Day is the busiest restaurant day of the year
after Mother's Day. Couples vie with each other to share
protestations of love. Grade school children share Valentines
far and wide. How did this public demonstration of love get
to be associated with St. Valentine? Who was he? What might
it mean for us today?
Valentine is the name of two saints, one a bishop and one a
priest, who were martyred in the middle of the third century
and honored on Feb. 14. According to the life of one of them,
he sent letters of encouragement to people. The Bollandists,
Jesuit scholars who have studied the calendar of saints for
centuries, are of the opinion that in fact there is only one
St. Valentine who ended up being celebrated in two different
Because the facts of these lives are very sketchy, St.
Valentine's Day was not included in the most recent version
of the calendar of saints. Feb. 14 is now the memorial of
Saints Cyril and Methodius, the apostles to the Slavs and the
subject of an encyclical of Saint John Paul II.
The more likely association between lovers and St. Valentine
is the medieval belief that birds would choose their partner
on his day. Chaucer explores this conceit in his poem, "The
Parliament of Fowls." From that reference until now, St.
Valentine's Day has been associated with the idea that it is
a good thing for two people in love to affirm that to each
other - and to tell the world too!
Although the idea that Valentine's Day is for lovers is based
on medieval conceptions of animal behavior and a chance
mention in a poem, the actual focus on telling others that
they are loved is something that emerges from a scriptural
truth: God is love. While it isn't in keeping with Gospel
simplicity to spend hundreds of dollars (or more) on roses,
rubies, and repasts, to spend the day telling others they are
loved is a good thing. So, too, would be to meditate on how
God's love permeates our world, perhaps by reading
Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical Deus Caritas Est - God
Rev. Michael Witczak is an associate professor of liturgical
studies and an expert on saints at Catholic University in