This Valentine’s Day could prove tricky for Catholics.
That’s because the holiday for lovers will also fall on Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting and prayer that starts off the 40-day Lenten season.
Along with receiving ashes on their forehead — signifying that “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” — Catholics are expected to eat just one normal meal and two smaller ones as a part of their fasting, according to The New York Times.
In the past, many Catholics have been given a pass when St. Patrick’s Day and a Lenten Friday have fallen on the same date, The New York Times wrote. You’re not supposed to eat meat during those Fridays, but the Irish holiday is known as a day to indulge in some corned beef.
Still, the Catholic Church isn’t doing that for Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, said Archbishop Leonard Blair of the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut.
“The church doesn’t really require us to do very much fasting during the year, but one of the prime days is Ash Wednesday,” Blair told the Hartford Courant. “Ash Wednesday is very particular. St. Valentine’s Day is not in the same real universal importance as Ash Wednesday. It’s not the kind of day when we would give a dispensation.”
So what’s a good Catholic to do?
You could celebrate Valentine’s Day a bit earlier, the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, told the Scranton Times-Tribune.
“In view of the significance of Ash Wednesday, the obligations of fast and abstinence are naturally the priority in the Catholic community,” the diocese said. “Valentine’s Day can appropriately be celebrated on another day while Ash Wednesday retains its appropriate significance as a holy day.”
Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, New York, told his fellow Catholics in a video posted Friday that “those who are accustomed to celebrating Valentine’s Day might do so the day before.”
But Cardinal Joseph Tobin, archbishop of Newark, said you don’t have to choose between the two holidays. He suggested taking “your heartthrob to a small-plates place.”
That way you can enjoy time out with your loved one but still adhere to your faith.
“Fasting in the Catholic Church doesn’t mean that you go without, or with just water,” he told The New York Times. “It’s the kind of dilemma you might have if your grandmother’s birthday and Valentine’s Day fell on the same day.
“They are both values for you, so you conjugate them; you try to figure out how to do it.”
There might even be a way to quickly get the ashes smeared on your forehead as you head to that small-plate dinner.
Usually, you have to attend an Ash Wednesday Mass to get the ashes, NJ.com reported. But some churches in New Jersey are starting to do “drive-thru ashes,” where people can stop at a bus stop, coffee shop or another predetermined location to get those ashes while on the go. The idea has even spread to Ireland.
Even if you decide to abstain from feasting on Valentine’s Day, New York Archbishop Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan says you can still celebrate the holiday with an act of love.
“Why don’t we do an act of charity for somebody else?” he told The New York Times. “Why don’t we do an act of penance for one another as a sign of our love?”