The Roman priest Valentine was imprisoned for courageously professing his Christian Faith, and helping other Christians to do so, during the persecutions of Claudius the Goth about the year 269.
One account of the circumstances of his end has it that as he could not be with his congregation, he never ceased to think about them and pray for them. He wished to communicate the Christian message to them, but was unable to get a message out of the prison.
Miraculously, a dove landed on the window of his cell. Trusting in God, St. Valentine placed a note in the mouth of the dove, the symbol of the Holy Ghost, which carried the message to St. Valentine's congregation. From this it may be that the custom derives of exchanging greetings on this day.
St. Valentine was eventually martyred. The prefect of Rome commanded that he be beaten with clubs and afterwards beheaded. The martyr was buried on the Flaminian Way, one of the great roads leading out of the city of Rome. It is known that a catacomb was constructed near the area of St. Valentine's tomb.
In Latin, the name for a dovecot, also applied to the little niches in which bodies were placed in a catacomb, is columbarium, where the doves, the columbae, made their nests. It may be that the truth of the story of the dove is embedded in the historical reality of the catacomb. Later a basilica was built over the spot.
Far from representing mere sentimentalism, the red color and the hearts that are so prevalent this day recall the fact that St. Valentine gave his red heart and his life's blood for his faith.
It would not be out of place today for us, when the bell rings at the Sanctus and we kneel to adore the Lord God of Hosts, to utter a Hosanna in our hearts in gratitude to our Lord for the great gift of the Roman Catholic Faith that we have received. When the priest utters at the Communicantes the names of those early martyrs to recall how much blood the millions of courageous Catholic martyrs shed to purchase that precious Faith for us.