Tuesday, 14 February 2023

Remembering St Valentine and celebrating romantic love

Marty and I chose that passage, chapter 2 of the Song of Songs in the OT, to read together at a service to bless our marriage here in Killodiernan church back in 1995. And it is a delight to read it together again, nearly 30 years on!

It seems particularly apt for St Valentine’s Day tomorrow, when this service will be streamed. The Song of Songs is a great celebration of romantic love, love between two people who desire each other and long to be together, lovers who are in love. 

Historically, the Church has often found physical desire and its sexual expression to be a bit difficult, a bit embarrassing perhaps. In both the Hebrew and the Christian tradition, many have preferred to interpret the Song of Songs as about the love between God and his people Israel, or the love between Christ and his Church. But I suggest this is being a bit po faced. The Song of Songs has been included in the Biblical canon, I suggest, to signify God’s blessing upon all of us who have experienced the delight of being in love with another in a committed relationship.

Some years ago, Marty and I found ourselves in Dublin on St Valentine’s Day, and we decided to attend a Mass in Whitefriar Street Church, which since 1836 has held a reputed relic of the saint, given by Pope Gregory XVI to an Irish Carmelite preacher called John Spratt. The atmosphere in the church was quite emotional, packed as it was with loving couples young and old, and single people longing for love.

St Valentine was a 3rd Century Roman priest or bishop martyred on February 14th AD269 on the orders the emperor Claudius II. He is an early hero of the Roman church who refused to renounce his faith and acknowledge the emperor as divine. But how did he come to be associated with romantic love? The reason is quite obscure, but there are legends that Valentine defied the orders of Claudius II by secretly marrying couples, allowing the husbands to escape conscription into the pagan army, and that to remind them of their vows he gave them hearts cut from parchment. 

Whatever the truth of this, by the time of Chaucer in the 14th Century his feast day was already recognised as a day for romance and devotion. And this continues to our own day – intensified if anything by those who wish to market cards and flowers and intimate meals to couples in love

As we remember St Valentine on his feast day, let us also use the day to celebrate romantic love as a gift from God, and pray for loving couples everywhere.

Gracious God, we pray at this time for loving couples. We thank you for uniting their lives and for giving them to each other in the fulfilment of love. Watch over them at all times, guide and protect them, and give them faith and patience, that as they hold each other’s hand in yours, they may draw strength from you and from each other; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

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