HARTFORD, Conn. -- Bad news for Connecticut Roman Catholics hoping to enjoy a steak dinner, wine or chocolate on Valentine's Day: There won't be a pass on the obligations that begin that day with the start of Lent.
This year Ash Wednesday, the holy day that marks the beginning of the penitential 40-day season of Lent, falls on Valentine's Day.
And although Feb. 14 marks the day that Roman Catholics honor a third-century martyr, Archbishop Leonard P. Blair explained that Ash Wednesday takes precedence because it is an obligatory day of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. Therefore, no dispensation, or special exception, will be granted for that day in the Archdiocese of Hartford.
"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 said. "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."
Catholics over the age of 14 are required to fast and abstain -- meaning, they should eat only one full meal and two smaller meals, and should not eat meat -- on both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, which this year is on March 30.
Blair noted that Catholics may wish to celebrate Valentine's Day the day or evening before, on Feb 13.
"Fasting is meant to be for our own spiritual well-being," Blair said. "It's meant to be a positive and good thing. In many religions ... not just for Catholics ... fasting is a form of spiritual exercise that's meant for our spiritual good."
Last year, Blair granted a dispensation for St. Patrick's Day, which fell on a regular Friday during Lent, when Catholics are only asked to abstain from eating meat.
For the second consecutive year, archdiocesan leaders are encouraging Catholics to go without their cellphones on Fridays this Lent. The "Phone Fast Friday" campaign is based on a similar initiative launched last year when the faithful were asked to fast from using their cellphones on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
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The archdiocese will also sponsor its Lenten confession initiative, for the sixth consecutive year, during which parishes will be open on Monday evenings to offer the sacrament of reconciliation. After a series of parish mergers and church building closures since last summer, pastors of parishes with multiple church buildings will determine the church where confessions will be heard. Times may vary from parish to parish, Blair said.
More information about Lenten confessions can be found at ConfessionMondays.com.
"Lent is ... not a negative giving up as much as it is a positive chance to grow in love of God and neighbor through prayer and fasting and charity," Blair said. "With confession, our goal here is to be welcoming.
"I hope people would understand this is ... to welcome them back into the confessional and give them, through absolution, the gift of God's forgiveness."
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