‘Our pilgrim life on earth cannot be without temptation for it is through temptation that we make progress and it is only by being tempted that we come to know ourselves. We cannot win our crown unless we overcome, and we cannot overcome unless we enter the contest and there is no contest unless we have an enemy and the temptations he brings.
…When [Jesus] willed to be tempted by the devil, he figuratively transferred us into himself. We have just read in the gospel that our Lord Jesus Christ was tempted in the desert by the devil and this is exactly what happened. In Christ you were being tempted because Christ had his human flesh from you, just as he won salvation for you from himself. He received death from you, just as he gained life from himself for you. From you he received reproaches and from himself for you he gained glory and honour. In the same way he suffered the temptation for you and he won from himself the victory for you.
If we have been tempted in him, in him we conquer the devil. Do you notice that Christ has been tempted and fail to notice that he overcame the temptation? Recognise your own self, tempted in him and conquering also in him. He might have avoided the devil completely but, had he not been tempted, he would have failed to give you the lesson of conquering when you are tempted’.
from the Discourses on the Psalms by St Augustine of Hippo, 354-430
O what a cunning guest
Is this same grief! within my heart I made
Closets; and in them many a chest;
And, like a master in my trade,
In those chests, boxes; in each box, a till:
Yet grief knows all, and enters when he will.
No screw, no piercer can
Into a piece of timber work and wind,
As God’s afflictions into man,
When he a torture hath designed.
They are too subtle for the subtlest hearts;
And fall, like rheums, upon the tend’rest parts.
We are the earth; and they,
Like moles within us, heave, and cast about:
And till they foot and clutch their prey,
They never cool, much less give out.
No smith can make such locks but they have keys:
Closets are halls to them; and hearts, high-ways.
Only an open breast
Doth shut them out, so that they cannot enter;
Or, if they enter, cannot rest,
But quickly seek some new adventure.
Smooth open hearts no fast’ning have; but fiction
Doth give a hold and handle to affliction.
Wherefore my faults and sins,
Lord, I acknowledge; take thy plagues away:
For since confession pardon wins,
I challenge here the brightest day,
The clearest diamond: let them do their best,
They shall be thick and cloudy to my breast.
George Herbert, 1593-1633
Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace, may mercifully be relieved; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. – Collect for Lætare Sunday, Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘There seems almost to be a suggestion of pious, cloistered humour in the collect for Mid-Lent Sunday. As this is Refreshment Sunday our forefathers in the faith, while recognising their responsibility for the sin that made necessary the austerity of the season, yet claim some momentary relief before they enter on the special rigour of passiontide. If that is so, they certainly pass on from the thought of the particular relief to the more general consideration of final redemption and its release from the consequence of sin.
The attitude of the prayer is one of complete sincerity before God. We recognise our true condition. There is no attempt to offer excuses. We do not begin, as so many poor things have done when faced with the imminence of severe illness, bereavement, or death: “But I’ve done no wrong: why should this happen to me?” We admit our evil deeds and the justice of our punishment. We throw ourselves on God’s mercy. We admit that we worthily deserve to be punished.
Is this sincerity true of us individually as we repeat the prayer? How conscious are we of our own guilt? It is very easy to listen to the words as they are said or sung by the priest. We can even in a fashion accept them without letting them penetrate very deeply into our consciousness. All our responsibility and conventionality toughen the fibre of our self-respect and make it really difficult for such sentiments to pierce through to the heart. We need therefore to examine ourselves seriously as to our own state of mind.
To what evil deeds are we confessing? Mere peccadilloes, for which we excuse ourselves as soon as they are committed? Or real faults, for which we know in our heart of hearts there is no adequate excuse? Certainly, if we look deep enough, we shall find much of which we must honestly say, “My fault, my own fault, my own most grievous fault”. We feel guilty both for what we have done and probably more for what we have left undone.
…For all this we acknowledge that we “worthily deserve to be punished”. No doubt we are talking in rather childish language. But as this is Mothering Sunday it is perhaps natural that we should revert to the language of the nursery, where, after all, the foundations of our moral life were laid. In any case there is an honesty and simplicity about it that is very refreshing. It is better than much of the psychology of today, which would put the blame for our bad dispositions on our environment, heredity, or childhood misadventures’.
from Reflections on the Collects, 1964
by William Wand KCVO, 1885-1977 (Bishop of London 1945-1955)
Bishop Synesius, 375-430, translated by A.W. Chatfield, 1808-1896
The English Hymnal no.77
‘In Lent we gaze at the divine figure of our Lord, and two things are brought specially before us, His temptation in the wilderness, and His suffering and death at Jerusalem. For Him, as for us and for every one, the real religious conflict must be fought in solitude. We see this conflict fought out in our Lord’s life of prayer; proved in His contacts with life and with people; consummated by His Passion and death upon the Cross. Lent calls each one of us personally to imitate our Lord’s retirement into the wilderness by the deepening of our own spiritual adventure, to honour His Passion by bringing into our lives deliberate self-denial, to expect that the reality of our faith and prayer will have its proving in the common contacts and experiences of life. The Christian’s faith issues in the Christian’s life; the Christian’s life is proved by the Christian’s sacrifice. We have to fight out our own spiritual battle in solitude and silence, and the result will be proved in our contacts with people, and consummated in the ultimate sacrifice wherein we yield up our life to God’.
Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
‘Lent prepares us to commemorate the death of our Lord on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter morning.
But what do we mean by commemorate? Not just remembering an ancient story but finding how the death of Jesus can mean more to us than ever before, and how the risen life of Jesus is something in which we may actually be sharing. Start by putting our aim into a prayer: Thanks be to thee, O Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits thou hast won for me, for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me: most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly.
Realising the meaning of his death, sharing in his risen life: that is our goal. Our way will include our prayer, our sharing in the Holy Communion, our reading… But this will not be in a vacuum, but in the midst of the world around us. In the terrible suffering of our time Jesus suffers. By the cruelties and evil of our time Jesus suffers. So, linking our Lent with the world around us, pray now for some who suffer whether near or far; and pray now for some near or far whose cruelty or callousness is wounding Jesus’.
A.M. Ramsey, Lord Ramsey of Canterbury, 1904-1988 (Archbishop of Canterbury, 1961-1974)
Congratulations to my colleague Monsignor Carl Reid (second from right, above), who was yesterday named as the new Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of the Southern Cross in Australia, in succession to Mgr Harry Entwistle (who, like myself, was once of the Anglican Diocese of Blackburn). Mgr Reid is presently the Administrator of Blessed John Henry Newman, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, and will be installed as Ordinary at the end of August. I was privileged to be present for his ordination to the priesthood in Ottawa in 2013 and honoured to be asked to preach at his First Mass. Australia and its Ordinariate will be greatly blessed by this appointment.
‘You are invited to a sterner discipline than merely giving up sugar for Lent! It is the discipline of a pilgrimage, a journey into scripture, a journey into your deepest self, a journey into God. Like all good disciplines, positive good emerges with accompanying joy, and closer proximity to that union in Love which is the goal of all our journeyings. We are all on pilgrimage anyway – from the cradle to the grave, and through the gateway of death into eternity. So any smaller pilgrimages on this larger journey which can infuse meaning and joy into life’s twisting and (hopefully) ascending pathway, should be treasured.
It is in the nature of life’s journey to include days of spring sunshine where bounding life and vitality initiate the adventure, running into summer days of lingering on plateaux of shared work and play, sustained by the bread and wine of loving communion and spurred on by personal and corporate vision. The pathway becomes more difficult and yet more rewarding in the autumn mists of unknowing, with the fruitful contemplative vistas of mature understanding. Then there are the wintry blasts of icy wind and freezing fog which we have to suffer for ourselves or on behalf of our loved ones.
Yet the path does not decline into the valley of the shadow of death, but is meant to be gently ascending into the greater mystery and deeper awareness of the divine Love. It is a personal and corporate journey, but whether alone or with others, we are called into the deeper fellowship of Christ our Saviour, Friend and Brother.
Indeed, the whole pilgrimage is centred upon him. He is our fellow pilgrim who accompanies us on the way, and dwells within us on the journey. We tread in the footsteps of the historical Jesus, and we commune in mystical vision with the indwelling Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who makes the Christ personal and real to us on this pilgrimage, and it is toward the glory of the Father that we move. The scriptures are our map and the sacraments sustain us on the way from earth to heaven’.
Brother Ramon SSF, 1936-2000
We beseech thee, Almighty God: look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of thy majesty, to be our defence against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for the Third Sunday in Lent, Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘[T]he Collect, Epistle and Gospel [in the Prayer Book] are the same as in the Roman rite, and are derived from ancient sources. Our Collect adds “hearty” to desires and in place of “the humble” puts “Thy humble servants”. The old Collect ends at “defence” whilst our Collect adds “against all our enemies”.
Again we have a warning against those terrible sins of uncleanness. Again the Epistle implores us to avoid them; and the Gospel shows us Who alone can expel the unclean spirit. The Collect takes up this thought and prays that God will stretch forth the right hand of His Majesty to be our defence. The Collect suggests that our prayer to avoid this danger and for His help comes from our “Hearty desires”, or heartfelt desires.
…The Collect assumes that we do not want to leave the house of our soul empty, that we want to cast out all uncleanness and put the love of God into our souls. So it speaks of our desires for cleanness as being “hearty desires”… which come from the heart. Unless they are hearty desires we shall never conquer evil”.
from Teaching the Collects, 1965, by H.E. Sheen
O MOST HOLY MOTHER, Queen of Sorrows,
who didst follow thy beloved Son through all the Way of the Cross,
and whose Heart was pierced with a fresh sword of grief
at all the Stations of that most sorrowful journey,
obtain for us, we beseech thee, O most loving Mother,
a perpetual remembrance of our Blessed Saviour's Cross and Death,
and a true and tender devotion to all the mysteries of His most holy Passion.
Obtain for us the grace to hate sin,
even as He hated it in the agony in the garden;
to endure wrong and insult with all patience
as He endured them in the judgement hall;
to be meek and humble in all our trials
as He was before His judges;
to love our enemies even as He loved his murderers,
and prayed for them upon the Cross;
and to glorify God and to do good to our neighbour,
even as He did in every mystery of His suffering.
O Queen of Martyrs,
who by the Dolours of thy Immaculate Heart on Calvary,
didst merit to share the Passion of Our Most Holy Redeemer,
obtain for us some portion of thy compassion,
that for love of Jesus crucified,
we may be crucified to the world in this life,
and in the life to come may,
by His infinite merits and thy most powerful intercession,
reign with Him in glory everlasting.
1. My God, who could have imagined, by any light of nature, that it was one of Thy attributes to lower Thyself, and to work out Thy purposes by Thy own humiliation and suffering? Thou hadst lived from eternity in ineffable blessedness. My God, I might have understood as much as this, viz. that, when Thou didst begin to create and surround Thyself with a world of creatures, that these attributes would show themselves in Thee which before had no exercise. Thou couldest not show Thy power when there was nothing whatever to exercise it. Then too, Thou didst begin to show thy wonderful and tender providence, Thy faithfulness, Thy solicitous care for those whom Thou hadst created. But who could have fancied that Thy creation of the universe implied and involved in it Thy humiliation? O my great God, Thou hast humbled Thyself, Thou hast stooped to take our flesh and blood, and hast been lifted up upon the tree! I praise and glorify Thee tenfold the more, because Thou hast shown Thy power by means of Thy suffering, than hadst Thou carried on Thy work without it. It is worthy of Thy infinitude thus to surpass and transcend all our thoughts.
2. O my Lord Jesu, I believe, and by Thy grace will ever believe and hold, and I know that it is true, and will be true to the end of the world, that nothing great is done without suffering, without humiliation, and that all things are possible by means of it. I believe, O my God, that poverty is better than riches, pain better than pleasure, obscurity and contempt than name, and ignominy and reproach than honour. My Lord, I do not ask Thee to bring these trials on me, for I know not if I could face them; but at least, O Lord, whether I be in prosperity or adversity, I will believe that it is as I have said. I will never have faith in riches, rank, power, or reputation. I will never set my heart on worldly success or on worldly advantages. I will never wish for what men call the prizes of life. I will ever, with Thy grace, make much of those who are despised or neglected, honour the poor, revere the suffering, and admire and venerate Thy saints and confessors, and take my part with them in spite of the world.
3. And lastly, O my dear Lord, though I am so very weak that I am not fit to ask Thee for suffering as a gift, and have not strength to do so, at least I will beg of Thee grace to meet suffering well, when Thou in Thy love and wisdom dost bring it upon me. Let me bear pain, reproach, disappointment, slander, anxiety, suspense, as Thou wouldest have me, O my Jesu, and as Thou by Thy own suffering hast taught me, when it comes. And I promise too, with Thy grace, that I will never set myself up, never seek pre-eminence, never court any great thing of the world, never prefer myself to others. I wish to bear insult meekly, and to return good for evil. I wish to humble myself in all things, and to be silent when I am ill-used, and to be patient when sorrow or pain is prolonged, and all for the love of Thee, and Thy Cross, knowing that in this way I shall gain the promise both of this life and of the next.
Blessed John Henry Newman, 1801-1890
Ex more docti mystico
c. 6th century, translated by John Mason Neale, 1818-1866
The English Hymnal no.65
‘Lent is no time to sit at ease in Sion (Amos vi. 1) content with a few additional pious practices and sermon tasting, nor are we meant to turn our grace inwardly upon ourselves, wasting this precious season in useless laments upon the past or raking over the dustheap of our sins in the vain belief that this is penitence. We have confessed our sins, we have made our act of contrition, we have heard the Divine word of absolution, word which accomplishes that which it says, and now we are called to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance (Luke iii. 8), to arise from the dead and Christ shall give thee light (Eph. v. 14), to lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and to run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith (Heb. xii. 1, 2).
Come unto Me. It is our one need; all our victory over temptation, all our progress in virtue, all our hope of eternal life lies in this alone. There is no more deep-seated root of our failures than that which tempts us to discouragement and anger with ourselves, which would persuade us to remain in the far country lamenting our evil state instead of acting upon the word God puts within our hearts, I will arise and go to my Father (Luke xv. 18). There is no greater foolishness than to yield to the pride which tells us that we must make ourselves fit to come to God, that the way of return is long and difficult, that we need anything more than to fling ourselves upon the Divine Mercy with but one word, “My Jesus, I am sorry”’.
Dom Bede Frost OSB, 1877-1961
Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves to help ourselves: keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘If there is one time in the Church Year when we ought to feel the need to exercise faith and to pray fervently in faith… it is Lent.
The usual tendency in our prayers is to ask God to help us, to aid us, to assist us and to strengthen us. All well and good, but sometimes hidden in such verbal requests is the general idea that we can do so much for ourselves and we only need God to come along and give us the extra push, to top up our strength. But in this prayer we begin by recognising as we meditate before almighty God our Father, who is the Omnipotent One, that in fact we need more than a push and a topping up: we need his help, power, grace and strength completely and wholly. For we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves in the real battles of life against adversaries much stronger than we are.
Therefore, from the position of total dependency upon God’s gracious power we ask the Father in the name of his well beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, that in body and soul we may be daily preserved and protected from all forms of evil and sin. We cannot predict as each day begins what bad things can and will happen to our body, from accident, disease, carelessness, or the evil will of others. Further, and significantly, we cannot predict what can and will happen to our soul – our mind, emotions and will – as it is open to testing and temptation. Evil thoughts, desires and imaginations can be generated within our souls by all kinds of stimuli, by the world and the devil.
This prayer of wholehearted submission to the Almighty Father is entirely suitable for Lent as we engage in self-examination, fast inwardly and outwardly in union with our blessed Lord (who himself fasted forty days and forty nights) and look forward to the Victory of Christ at Easter over the world, the flesh and the devil in which, by union with him, we share’.
Peter Toon, 1939-2009
‘Alas, the holy seasons of the Ember Days, which recur four times a year at the beginning of spring, summer, fall and winter, are no longer observed as they were in the old Church, namely as days of ordination of our priests when the Church wants her faithful to remember her priests by prayer and sacrifice. Nowadays, we have “Priest’s Saturday”, which takes, somewhat, the place of those very holy seasons. Ember Saturday, which was the day of the final ordinations, is the day when we might explain the sacrament of Holy Orders to the children. On the evenings of these Saturdays, after preparation for the Mass, we could tell them about the holiness of priesthood and sisterhood, about our Holy Father, the Pope, about the cardinals and bishops, and particularly about our own bishop — our true representative of Christ. We could remind them to remember the Pope, the bishop, and all the priests in their daily prayers. If it is at all possible, we might have them participate in the yearly ordination ceremonies, a great liturgical experience’.
from Around the Year with the Trapp Family, 1955, by Maria Von Trapp, 1905-1987
O God, who didst lead thy holy Apostles to ordain ministers in every place: grant that thy Church, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, may choose suitable men for the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and may uphold them in their work for the extension of thy kingdom; through him who is the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. – A collect for the Ember Saturday in Lent, Divine Worship: The Missal.
We beseech thee, O Lord, mercifully to have compassion on thy people: that they, who by thee are enabled to serve thee in all godliness, may ever be comforted by thy gracious and ready help; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. – Collect for Ember Friday in Lent, Divine Worship: The Missal
‘On Ember Friday [in Lent] we are reminded of the ancient Lenten discipline of the Church. We would frequently be at a loss to understand Her liturgy of this season, unless we picture Her to ourselves as preparing the public penitents for a renewed participation in the Sacred Mysteries. But first they must be reconciled to God, Whom they have offended. Their soul is dead by sin; can it be restored to life? Yes; we have God’s word for it. The Lesson from the prophet Ezechiel, which the Church began yesterday for the catechumens, is continued today for the benefit of the public penitents. If the wicked do penance for all his sins, which he hath committed, and keep all My commandments, and do judgment and justice; living he shall live, and shall not die. But his iniquities are upon him and rise up against him, crying to Heaven for eternal vengeance! And yet God, Who knows all things, and forgets nothing, assures us that He will not remember iniquities which have been redeemed by penance. Such is the affection of His Fatherly Heart, that He will forget the outrage offered Him by His child, if this child will but return to its duty. Thus then the penitents are to be reconciled; and on the Feast of the Resurrection they will be associated with the just, because God will have forgotten their iniquities; they themselves will be just men. Thus it is that the Liturgy, which never changes in its essentials, brings frequently before us the ancient discipline of public penance’.
from The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger OSB, 1805-1875
Robert Herrick, 1591-1674
We beseech thee, O Lord, that thou wouldest graciously hear our prayers: and stretch forth the right hand of thy majesty to be our defence against all adversities; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for Ember Wednesday in Lent, Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘The Lenten Ember days are the most recent of the four sets and do not have the same importance as the other three, since the whole of Lent is devoted to spiritual renewal. Doubtlessly the three days, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, formed part of the Lenten liturgy from its very beginning, as can be seen from the formulary content. Wednesday, devoted to our Lady, is a day of reflection and spiritual orientation; Friday emphasises conversion and penance; Saturday, a preview of Easter, marks the renewal of our baptismal covenant.
There may well be a relation between this week’s Ember day liturgy and that of the first Sunday of Lent. Christ fasts forty days and conquers the devil. Moses and Elias, representing the Old Testament, also fast forty days (even the paralytic’s thirty-eight years have an affinity to the number forty). On Ember Saturday, Christ, Moses, and Elias appear together on the Mount of Transfiguration. Thus the Ember days do not fail to contribute their share to the theology of Lent’.
from The Church’s Year of Grace, 1953, by Pius Parsch, 1884-1954
St Andrew of Crete, 660-732, translated by J. M. Neale, 1818-1866
The English Hymnal no.72
‘I see the figure of a man, whether young or old I cannot tell. He may be fifty, or he may be thirty. Sometimes he looks one, sometimes the other. There is something inexpressible about his face that I cannot solve. Perhaps, as he bears all burdens, he bears that of old age too. But so it is; his face is at once most venerable, yet most childlike, most calm, most sweet, most modest, beaming with sanctity and with loving kindness. His eyes rivet me and move my heart. His breath is all fragrant and transports me out of myself. Oh, I will look upon that face forever and will not cease.
And I see suddenly someone come to him and raise his hand and sharply strike him on that heavenly face. It is a hard hand, the hand of a rude man, and perhaps has iron upon it. It could not be so sudden as to take by surprise him who knows all things past and future, and he shows no sign of resentment, remaining calm and grave as before; but the expression of his face is marred; a great welt arises, and in a short time that all-gracious face is hidden from me by the effects of this indignity, as if a cloud came over it.
A hand was lifted up against the face of Christ. Whose hand was that? My conscience tells me: “You are the man”. I trust it is not so with me now. But, O my soul, contemplate the awful fact. Fancy Christ before you, and fancy yourself lifting up your hand and striking him! You will say, ‘It is impossible: I could not do so.’ Yes, you have done so. When you sinned wilfully, then you have done so. He is beyond pain now: still you have struck him, and had it been in the days of his flesh, he would have felt pain. Turn back in memory, and recollect the time, the day, the hour, when by wilful mortal sin, by scoffing at sacred things, or by profaneness, or by hard hatred of your brother, or by acts of impurity, or by deliberate rejection of God’s voice, or in any other devilish way known to you, you have struck the All-Holy One.
O injured Lord, what can I say? I am very guilty concerning you, my brother; and I shall sink in sullen despair if you do not raise me. I cannot look on you; I shrink from you; I throw my arms round my face; I crouch to the earth. Satan will pull me down if you do not take pity. It is terrible to turn to you; but oh, turn me, and so shall I be turned. It is a purgatory to endure the sight of you, the sight of myself – I most vile, you most holy. Yet make me look once more on you whom I have so incomprehensibly affronted, for your countenance is my only life, my only hope and health lies in looking on you whom I have pierced. So I put myself before you; I look on you again; I endure the pain in order to receive the purification.
O my God, how can I look you in the face when I think of my ingratitude, so deeply seated, so habitual, so immovable – or rather so awfully increasing! You load me day by day with your favours and feed me with yourself, as you did Judas, yet not only do I not profit thereby, but I do not even make any acknowledgment at the time. Lord, how long? When shall I be free of this real, this fatal captivity? He who made Judas his prey has got foothold of me in my old age, and I cannot get loose. It is the same day after day. When will you give me a still greater grace than you have given, the grace to profit by the graces that you give? When will you give me your effectual grace, which alone can give life and vigour to this effete, miserable, dying soul of mine? My God, I know not in what sense I can pain you in your glorified state; but I know that every fresh sin, every fresh ingratitude I now commit, was among the blows and stripes that once fell on you in your Passion. Oh, let me have as little share in those past sufferings as possible. Day by day goes, and I find I have been more and more, by the new sins of each day, the cause of them. I know that at best I have a real share of them all, but still it is shocking to find myself having a greater and greater share. Let others wound you – let not me. Let me not have to think that you would have had this or that pang of soul or body the less, except for me. O my God, I am so fast in prison that I cannot get out. O Mary, pray for me’.
Blessed John Henry Newman, 1801-1890
‘In His great spiritual conflict in the wilderness our Lord came in His human nature to that great conclusion, that “man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God doth man live”. That which He had known to proceed from the mouth of God was the great commandment of love, to love God above all things and His neighbour and Himself, and to go on loving God whatever the circumstances of His life might be, and His neighbour however evilly that neighbour might behave. It was in His own darkest hour that He gave to us the mystery of the Blessed Sacrament. We have all of us one day to meet our darkest hour, whatever it may be, and we know that we can meet it in the power of that Heavenly Bread which the Word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God made to be His Body and His Blood and the communication of His sacrificial love. In the Mass we bring our own difficulties and darknesses and present them to God in union with the everlasting Sacrifice of Christ. They enable us to understand That, and That enables us to consecrate them’.
from The Way of Victory: Meditations for Lent and After, by Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
O Lord, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights: give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness and true holiness, to thy honour and glory; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘On this day, marked by the austere symbol of ashes, we enter the Season of Lent, beginning a spiritual journey that prepares us for celebrating worthily the Easter Mysteries. The blessed ashes imposed upon our forehead are a sign that reminds us of our condition as creatures, that invites us to repent, and to intensify our commitment to convert, to follow the Lord ever more closely.
Lent is a journey, it means accompanying Jesus who goes up to Jerusalem, the place of the fulfilment of his mystery of Passion, death and Resurrection; it reminds us that Christian life is a “way” to take, not so much consistent with a law to observe as with the very Person of Christ, to encounter, to welcome, to follow.
Indeed, Jesus says to us: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). In other words he tells us that in order to attain, with him, the light and joy of the Resurrection, the victory of life, of love and of goodness, we too must take up our daily cross, as a beautiful passage from the Imitation of Christ urges us: “Take up your cross, therefore, and follow Jesus, and you shall enter eternal life. He himself opened the way before you in carrying his Cross (John 19:17), and upon it he died for you, that you too, might take up your cross and long to die upon it. If you die with him, you shall also live with him, and if you share his suffering, you shall also share his glory”.
…The Church knows that because of our weakness it is difficult to create silence in order to come before God and to acquire an awareness of our condition as creatures who depend on him, as sinners in need of his love. It is for this reason that in Lent she asks us to pray more faithfully, more intensely, and to prolong our meditation on the word of God.
St John Chrysostom urged: “Embellish your house with modesty and humility with the practice of prayer. Make your dwelling place shine with the light of justice; adorn its walls with good works, like a lustre of pure gold, and replace walls and precious stones with faith and supernatural magnanimity, putting prayer above all other things, high up in the gables, to give the whole complex decorum.
“You will thus prepare a worthy dwelling place for the Lord, you will welcome him in a splendid palace. He will grant you to transform your soul into a temple of his presence”.
Dear friends, on this Lenten journey let us be careful to accept Christ’s invitation to follow him more decisively and consistently, renewing the grace and commitments of our Baptism, to cast off the former person within us and put on Christ, in order to arrive at Easter renewed and able to say, with St Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). I wish you all a good Lenten journey!’
from a general audience, Ash Wednesday, 9 March 2011, by Pope Benedict XVI
Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent: create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Betwixt and between the delights of tossing - and then, all importantly, devouring - tasty pancakes on this day colloquially known in these islands as ‘Pancake Day’ a deeper spiritual significance is to be found. At the heart of this final day of Pre-Lenten Septuagesimatide preparation is of the essence. Though today is more widely known as Shrove Tuesday, it doesn’t immediately evoke in the popular mind its true origin in the ancient practise of confessing and being forgiven - being shriven - for one’s sins today. But that’s what today surely ought to be about for Christians, at least: the knowledge of the absolute necessity of being right with God before we enter into the great and solemn season of Lent; a time of reform and renewal, which, like any good endeavour, first requires proper preparation and planning. Whether North American pancakes with sausages and maple syrup, or English crepes with lemon and sugar, the point of such feasting is predicated on a joyful farewell to the delights of our usual condition before we get down to serious business. And sin - and the need to be shriven of it - is central to that. A clean slate, as it were, before we receive the blessed ash tomorrow and are reminded that dust we are, and unto dust we shall return. So if we truly wish to celebrate the culinary delights of this day’s merriment, our souls ought to be as willing as our bodies to receive those good things that God so desires us to have. Go to confession!
‘For our religious life Lent is a season of tremendous significance; it is the Church’s forty day retreat, the time par excellence for spiritual reform and interior renewal. As baptised penitents we enter the arena with Christ in order to share in His resurrection at Easter. The Lenten liturgy is as luxuriant as spring itself; no other season of the entire year is so rich in liturgical texts. We who wish to make the liturgy our guide to piety will devote ourselves during Lent to the task of intensifying our religious life in accordance with the spirit of Mother Church.
The purpose of Pre-Lent is to condition ourselves for the proper observance of Lent, since every good work needs due preparation. During the few days left before Ash Wednesday we should arrive at a definite answer to the serious question, “How am I going to keep Lent this year?” A liturgical parish will also take counsel with its leader on the problem, “What can we as a body do this Lent?” Perhaps a word of caution is needed here: do not undertake too much lest you find it impossible to continue after a brief but over-zealous beginning. No one cares to be like the man in the Gospel who began to build a tower and then could not finish it, thus incurring the scorn of his neighbours. Therefore, not too much; but some specific resolutions whereby this Lent will be different from previous years are necessary.
…What shall I do about fasting? Do not underestimate the value of this holy discipline; the liturgy speaks of it in terms of the highest respect… Each one should determine exactly how much and what he will eat at breakfast and supper; whether he can give up afternoon coffee; how often during the week he will abstain from desserts, and so on. Fasting in the wider sense – abstinence from our favourite action – should likewise be on the agenda.
…Closely related to fasting is almsgiving. Our alms for Christ’s poor brethren we lay upon the altar at the Offertory of the Mass. And what of our prayer life? Certainly we will devote more time to the Church’s official prayer book, the Breviary; perhaps it would be good to say certain Hours at very definite times and with special fervour’.
from The Church’s Year of Grace, 1953, by Pius Parsch, 1884-1954
‘The grave maternal voice of the Church will soon be heard, inviting us to the Lenten penance; but she wishes us to prepare for this laborious baptism by employing these three weeks in considering the deep wounds caused in our souls by sin. True the beauty and loveliness of the Little Child, born to us in Bethlehem, are great beyond measure; but our souls are so needy that they require other lessons than those He gave us of humility and simplicity. Our Jesus is the Victim of the divine justice, and he has now attained the fulness of his age; the altar, on which he is to be slain, is ready: and since it is for us that he is to be sacrificed, we should at once set ourselves to consider what are the debts we have contracted towards that infinite Justice, which is about to punish the Innocent One instead of us the guilty.
The mystery of a God becoming Incarnate for the love of his creature has opened to us the path of the Illuminative Way; but we have not yet seen the brightest of its Light. Let not our hearts be troubled; the divine wonders we witnessed at Bethlehem are to be surpassed by those that are to grace the day of our Jesus’ Triumph: but that our eye may contemplate these future mysteries it must be purified by courageously looking into the deep abyss of our own personal miseries. God will grant us his divine light for the discovery; and if we come to know ourselves, to understand the grievousness of original sin, to see the malice of our own sins, and to comprehend, at least in some degree, the infinite mercy of God towards us, we shall be prepared for the holy expiations of Lent, and for the ineffable joys of Easter.
The Season, then, of Septuagesima is one of most serious thought... [T]he Christian, who would spend Septuagesima according to the spirit of the Church, must make war upon that false security, that self-satisfaction, which are so common to effeminate and tepid souls, and produce spiritual barrenness. It is well for them, if these delusions do not insensibly lead them to the absolute loss of the true Christian spirit. He that thinks himself dispensed from that continual watchfulness, which is so strongly inculcated by our Divine Master, is already in the enemy’s power. He that feels no need of combat and of struggle in order to persevere and make progress in virtue (unless he have been honoured with a privilege, which is both rare and dangerous), should fear that he is not even on the road to that Kingdom of God, which is only to be won by violence. He that forgets the sins, which God’s mercy has forgiven him, should fear his being the victim of a dangerous delusion. Let us, during these days, which we are going to devote to the honest unflinching contemplation of our miseries, give glory to our God, and derive, from the knowledge of ourselves, fresh motives of confidence in Him, who, in spite of all our wretchedness and sin, humbled himself so low as to become one of us, in order that he might exalt us even to union with Himself’.
from The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger OSB, 1805-1875
‘We want to come to our prayer in the spirit of a disciple. Always saying the same prayers just as a matter of duty will be to lack the spirit of discipleship in prayer. The disciple will always have something to bring to the Master. There is the day’s work behind him, for which he wants criticism, correction, forgiveness, and teaching; there is the day's work before him, for which he wants guidance and direction. Therefore in his prayer there will be much listening and expectant silence, and obedient readiness for alteration or abandonment, so the holiest way of the Master may be communicated to his listening spirit. It makes the whole difference if, instead of bringing a plan to Him and asking Him to bless it, we come to Him as disciples to learn what His best plan may be, quite ready to abandon our own plan and to have all our idea altered as we kneel before Him. Perhaps we were going to ask Him how we should do or say something: we find it would be much better not to do or say anything at all. When the Master has finished giving us His advice, as in simple prayer and meditation we lay our souls before Him, we shall not get up immediately and go away, but in meditation we shall contemplate the Master’s own work, His skill in doing the thing we have bungled. Then we shall cease from looking even at the Master’s work and contemplate the Master Himself. Himself - myself - my work - His work - Himself. That will be the kind of order in which we bring ourselves and our interests to Him.
If we really love God we shall not be saying that we have not time for prayer. People do not talk like that when they are in love. Romeo had to haunt the house of Juliet, and Juliet could not have said that she had no time to see Romeo. They could not help coming together. A disciple will find the time for prayer to the Master; and the more we pray, the more precious does prayer become. Throughout the day we want to keep the spirit of recollection, in other words, the remembrance of vocation. The boat that meets the storm is the same boat that lay quietly at anchor. It came to harbour that it might go forth again; it goes forth that it may come back: but the captain was with it in port or at sea. We must keep in our life this sense of going out from Jesus and returning to Him, and yet keeping Him with us all the day’.
from The Way of Victory: Meditations for Lent and After by Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
Fr Lee Kenyon
A Treasure to be Shared
The Acolyte’s Toolbox