I find Valentine’s Day to be a wonderful opportunity to talk about Catholic sacramentality. It is a day on which signs, symbols, gestures, and rituals are used to convey feelings of love and, when it comes to signs, symbols, gestures, and rituals, we Catholics are the experts!
Catholic sacramentality basically expresses our belief that the invisible God can be recognized and encountered through the physical world. That’s why we use water, oil, bread, wine, flame, etc. in our sacramental celebrations. Through these visible and tangible realities, we encounter and recognize the invisible and intangible God.
Catholics do this because it’s the human thing to do. Those things that are most profoundly human—including our sharing in the divine life of the Trinity—cannot be captured in words alone. When encountering that which is profound, we move beyond words into the realm of metaphor, signs, and symbols.
Some people dismiss Valentine’s Day as a “Hallmark holiday.” However, it is another opportunity for people in love to express that profound love through signs, symbols, gestures, and rituals. Flowers will be delivered, chocolates will be presented, cards and other gifts will be exchanged, romantic dinners will abound, and kisses will be shared—all gestures intended to convey a narrative of love. And that’s what symbolic actions do: they tell a story.
In my book, Living the Sacraments: Finding God at the Intersection of Heaven and Earth, I refer to symbolic actions as part of a “language of mystery”—a language that we Catholics use to express our encounters with the mysterious presence of the Divine in our midst. May Valentine’s Day remind us that true love is best expressed symbolically, through a language of mystery!
P.S. To teach children about the meaning of signs and symbols, be sure to look at Amy Welborn’s Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs & Symbols.