I welcome all of you to the Shrine of St. Valentine here in Whitefriar Street Church. Why are we here on Monday, isn’t St. Valentine’s Day on Wednesday, you might ask? Well Wednesday also happens to be Ash Wednesday. We have had that clash of dates before, most recently in 2018, and before that in 1945. So the choice on Wednesday is ‘romance’ or ‘penance’! We are anticipating Wednesday by our gathering this day.
In 1945 when Ash Wednesday and St. Valentine’s Day previously clashed, the relics of St. Valentine were not yet enshrined here. They were brought to this location during a church renovation in the 1950’s. They had come much earlier when the Carmelite Fr. John Spratt, brought the relics here, gifted to him by Pope Gregory XVI while on a visit to Rome in 1835. Over the years thousands of couples like Sinéad & Darren and Siobhan & Kieran have come to have their engagement rings blessed, to light a candle, to pray for an intention.
So who was St. Valentine? And why his association with love? Valentine was martyred in Rome in 269 after secretly marrying two Christians. It was a time when weddings were prohibited by the Emperor. Valentine defied the emperors orders and secretly married couples to spare the husbands being conscripted to serve in war. The relic here in Whitefriar Street is a vessel tinged with his blood in addition to some of the other Saints artifacts. The correct veneration of relics looks beyond what is visible and material to God’s love at work in the saint. While we may look down, we also need to look up!
I have just returned from an International Conference on the Ongoing Formation for Priests in Rome. A number of speakers didn’t like that phrase ‘ongoing formation’, preferring the phrase ‘accompaniment’. Just as we need to accompany our priests, so too we need to accompany couples like Sinéad & Darren and Siobhan & Kieran on their preparation journey for marriage and into their early years of marriage. This theme is so close to Pope Francis in his exhortation Amoris Laetitia and the more recent Catechumenal Pathways for Married Life.
We have to go back to November 2017 when an initial meeting took place to begin the process of looking at the Accord Programme of Preparation and how it might be improved. The last time such a review happened was in 2004. The programme we launch today is a legacy of the World Meeting of Families hosted in Dublin in 2018. I’m delighted with the end result.
I think of the first course I was involved on the team presenting in Mullingar 35 years ago and the revised and updated programme I joined last month in Carlow. I have seen how Accord has grown and developed over those years. Today is a very proud day for our Executive Directors Tony and Jennifer, our Specialists, our Facilitators and most of all the many couples like Sinéad & Darren and Siobhan & Kieran who will continue to benefit from the sacramental preparation Accord now offers.
Accord realises the programme of preparation it is launching today is a significant pathway of preparation, but there will always be a need for other supports. The Irish Episcopal Conference Council for Marriage and the Family are also delighted to offer a resource called ‘Marriage Movements Accompanying Couples’, where sixteen movements are listed as a further support for couples preparing for sacramental marriage and those who are married.
But today is about Sinéad & Darren and Siobhan & Kieran who like thousands before them have come to the Shrine of St. Valentine for a blessing, as they continue their preparation for marriage. We pray for them and all couples preparing for the sacrament at this time.