Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday fell on the same day this year, and for Bel Air couple Frank and Kourtney Orcel, having a day dedicated to love at the start of the Lenten season is a good reminder of the mandate for Christians to show love for God and each other.
“It’s a good way to kick it off,” Kourtney Orcel said after an Ash Wednesday morning Mass at Saint Margaret Church in Bel Air.
Orcel attended the 8:30 a.m. service with her husband and their 3-year-old daughter, Saylor. The little girl wore a blue shirt covered with pink, white and purple hearts.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of the 40-day season of Lent, a time of prayer, fasting, charity work and good deeds leading to Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the latter being the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ after his death on the cross.
“Today is so focused on loving each other, and that's how we should continue over the next 40 days and beyond,” Frank Orcel said of the confluence of Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. “It's an extra reminder on loving and caring.”
He and his wife had small crosses of ash on their foreheads. They, along with the other parishioners who filled the main Saint Margaret sanctuary — many were students from Saint Margaret School — received ashes on their foreheads and communion during the Mass.
The Rev. Nicodemus Konza, the parish’s associate pastor, and Deacon Jim DeCapite led the service.
Konza reminded the faithful of the season’s principles such as kindness, seeking and accepting forgiveness, generosity and seeking reconciliation.
“It's imitating Christ and conforming to what he taught us,” Konza said.
People usually give up something they enjoy for Lent — Kourtney Orcel said she usually gives up sweets. She and her family would not eat meat Wednesday, they said.
The Orcels said they also try make self-improvements during Lent. They plan to be more positive with their comments, thoughts and actions.
Frank said he plans to say more prayers, too.
“Eliminate the bad and the negative,” he said.
The Rev. Monsignor Kevin Schenning, the Saint Margaret pastor, said Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting and abstinence, but he encourages people to “still celebrate the love that you have for one another,” either before or after Wednesday.
“This day is, in a sense, about rediscovering ourselves and our way to Jesus,” he said after the morning Mass.
Schenning said Catholics “journey to Jesus” during Lent, and Jesus’ “great love” was the sacrifice of his life.
“He showed us these things, so what better way to celebrate Valentine’s and Ash Wednesday together, because both show an action of great love and sacrifice,” Schenning said.
He said people can show love during the season by reaching out to the poor, forgiving each other, praying more and fasting.
“You take something away so you can hunger for the Lord,” he said.
Bel Air businesses that provide goods and services related to Valentine’s Day stayed busy Wednesday, even in a season of sacrifice, although some customers did make adjustments in recognition of Lent.
Linda Bohdel, manager of the Wockenfuss Candies store on Fulford Avenue, said many customers were coming in Wednesday, even some people with ash crosses on their foreheads.
People who planned to give up chocolate for Lent came in last week to purchase sweets, she said.
“The ones that were planning on giving it up celebrated this past weekend... that way they could still be safe with God,” Bohdel said.
Mario Buontempo, general manager of the Main Street Tower restaurant downtown, is a practicing Catholic. He said late Wednesday morning that he planned to work that night, while his brother and the restaurant owner, Renato, would go to church in the evening. Mario Buontempo said he might give up wine for Lent.
Buontempo said he expected the Tower to be “pretty busy” for Valentine’s Day. The restaurant has offered specials throughout the week, such as the "Couple's Love Package," a dinner for two. A $10 all-you-can-eat oyster special started last Friday, and customers had consumed about 2,000 Chincoteague oysters as of Wednesday, he said.
Buontempo said he had noticed customers making early dinner reservations for Wednesday, such as 4 p.m., so they can eat and then go to church. People usually make reservations for 6 through 9 p.m. on Valentine’s Day, he said.
“People don’t forget the house of God,” he said.