‘We are now approaching that most sacred day when we commemorate Christ’s passion and death. Let us try to fix our minds upon this great thought. Let us try, what is so very difficult, to put off other thoughts, to clear our minds of things transitory, temporal, and earthly, and to occupy them with the contemplation of the Eternal Priest and His one ever-enduring Sacrifice;—that Sacrifice which, though completed once for all on Calvary, yet ever abideth, and, in its power and its grace, is ever present among us, and is at all times gratefully and awfully to be commemorated, but now especially, when the time of year is come at which it was made. Let us look upon Him who was lifted up that He might draw us to Him; and, by being drawn one and all to Him, let us be drawn to each other, so that we may understand and feel that He has redeemed us one and all, and that, unless we love one another, we cannot really have love to Him who laid down His life for us’.
St John Henry Newman, 1801-1890
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.
‘We are here pleading with God not on the ground of anything that we have done, or any merit or deserving of our own, but on the ground of our hearty desires, the desires which come straight from the heart. The earnest desire of a loving heart is what God regards, but we are unable through our weakness to bring these desires to their fruition.
Not only are our hearty desires to be the ground of our appeal, but they must be the desires of thy humble servants. He who is humble possesses the passport to the Heart of God. “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” God refuses nothing to the meek and lowly in heart. If at any time it seems that God’s response to our cry is slow, let us ask ourselves searchingly, “Am I walking humbly before my God?” It is promised: “He shall exalt the humble and meek.”
If we recognise the call of God in the promptings of conscience, and faithfully seek to follow that call, but fail through no fault of our own, God credits us with our good intention. In no case can we achieve anything save through His help. Let us pray with St Augustine: “Give what thou commandest and command what Thou wilt.”
This thought is a great comfort, and so wonderful is it that it scarcely seems credible, yet it must be true. Our Lord commands, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” He is never unreasonable, and this would be so if it were not that all He requires is that I do what I can, and leave the rest with Him.
So trusting in this, we ask Him: stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty to be our defence. He will protect and nourish us with a Father's loving care; He will accept our blundering efforts. The blessing of our hearty desires will be upon what we do, and, poor as may be our effort, God will direct it and it will stand for us in the great day of reckoning’.
Shirley Carter Hughson OHC, 1867-1949
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. - Collect for the First Sunday in Lent, Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘As members of Him who was tempted and conquered, as united to “One that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin,” let us bravely and confidently meet all trials and face all temptations, enduring and vanquishing them in union with our Lord’s endurance of and victory over every seduction of the devil. Then, in correspondence with His grace, in imitation of His example, shall we find ourselves, in Him, “more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” May the commencement of another Lent, to be spent with Christ, apart from the world and its pleasures and associations, recall us to the realisation of our baptismal privileges and obligations. “We receive this child into the congregation of Christ’s flock, and do sign him with the sign of the cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under His banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end.”
Lent is a call, year by year, to realise our sonship in Christ, to put our baptismal grace and endowments to their own proper use. In times of stress and temptation we are not to fall into a panic of hopelessness or despair, but to draw upon the grace of God, first bestowed in Holy Baptism, strengthened and increased in Confirmation, and continually renewed in Holy Communion. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way to escape, that ye may be able to endure it.” And, finally, “He hath said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My power is made perfect in weakness.”’
Vernon Staley, 1852-1933
On! all ye fair and radiant things,
That born of earth to earth decay,
Frail children of the vanished springs,
On you we sprinkle dust today!
Colour and scent and form allied
In garden gay and woodland bough,
The maiden’s blush, the athlete’s pride,
Ashes and dust your portion now!
What were ye but God’s vesture bright
A moment worn and cast away?
Your only loveliness the light
His Spirit caused to dance and play.
And we? We saw, but saw not Him:
We heard, but not the tireless note
Of His exulting seraphim
Above earth’s scrannel music float.
Now on deaf ears, and hearts of sin,
The pride of life, and the eye’s lust
To see, but not to see within,
Today - today we sprinkle dust.
Ash Wednesday by W.J. Ferrar
Although the following was penned 137 ago this Lent, Edward King’s words, especially in the first paragraph, seem almost prophetic. A reminder, perhaps, that the feelings and emotions associated with the present abnormality in our domestic, social, educational, working, and ecclesiastical lives, is nothing new, and that in all and through all there remains an abiding, unchanging, and objective joy underpinning all things and events in our individual and corporate lives. Can we, then, see this time as an opportunity to give up ourselves and so grow in trustfulness and hopefulness?
‘[Y]ear after year, as Passiontide after Passiontide goes round, and we see people getting old around us, and more nervously distrustful, and more melancholy, and undergoing all the manifold sufferings of this world, getting out of spirits, and feeling themselves failing, and that they cannot enjoy things as they used; money and pleasure will not do what they used for them; they feel physically used up – we feel that all this is not so with the spiritual nature. The nearer we get to God the more we see of Him; the more satiated we are with love for Him; the more spiritual power we receive; the more strength comes to us. And all this grows, as year after year in Passiontide we gain an ever-increasing trust in the death of Christ. And whether it is a wet or fine Easter; whether we have a fine service here in London, or a dull one all alone down in the country, this unchanging joy is the same in our hearts, the joy which makes Good Friday indeed good, and Easter Day exceedingly bright, the one thought, He died for me!
When we really realise this, we dare think of His coming again in great glory, we dare look forward to the Judgement Day, and on to heaven beyond!
We ought, each one of us, to be growing in this spirit of even trustfulness and hopefulness, for we know there is nothing of our own to trust in, but only the merits of Christ. And this spirit would be growing in each one of us, if we did not shrink from availing ourselves of all the helps He has provided for us in His Church. We should be able to say, “The Precious Blood of Christ cleanses me from all sin. It is mine. It marks my soul”.
… Do not let Passiontide come and go this year, as if the Atonement was a distant thing – with no particular application to yourself – but try and bring it home in this way to your own soul, and you will find an ever-increasing and abiding peace.
He gave up all, and died for me; the very least we can do is to give up ourselves entirely to Him. Do not go and use this means of grace selfishly, in order that we may say, “Oh, I feel so happy; I am cleansed from all my sins!” But what must follow? We must give ourselves to Him. Let this one act be our chief devotional exercise this Passiontide – to reconsecrate ourselves, for the rest of our lives to His service’.
from an address given in Lent 1883 by Edward King, 1829-1910
(Anglican Bishop of Lincoln, 1885-1910)
Some timely words by the great Father Andrew, a monk of the Anglican religious community, the Society of Divine Compassion.
‘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... 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’.
- Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
Trying to settle into a new pattern I’m not altogether enthusiastic about is a challenge; especially for those of us who are priests, and particularly when one stumbles upon - or almost over - the large box propped up against the front door containing palms of varying dramatic size and purpose for two Sundays hence. It wasn’t the most welcome reminder of the weirdness of this time, or of the context-to-be of my first Holy Week in a new parochial setting. Oh well. Into the cool of the garage the box goes for now, its contents waiting to adorn - unintentionally and, I’m sure, flamboyantly - the inadequately sized domestic oratory on the second Sunday of the Passion.
The ‘work from home’ prescription doesn’t quite gel with the job description of a clergyman, especially beyond the confines of a monastic house... Nonetheless, like my cloistered brethren, I am grateful for the anchor that the Divine Office and Mass afford in gathering up into God not only the prayers and aspirations of my absent fold, but of my own desires and longings also. I feel kept on the straight and narrow: purposeful and useful, if only in the fulfilling of the very minimum of my priestly life.
How to find that anchor beyond the altar and the prie dieu, especially if, for a time, one no longer has access to it? Being creative with how to keep folk together - in touch, in communion, in sacris - is a test for priests and lay folk alike in these odd days of Minding the Gap. Social media helps to a degree, so too live streaming Masses and the like, but there may be a risk in the novelty of such things. I don’t know. Perhaps it will usher in a re-awakening of man’s lost love. We can certainly hope. All the same, we might, usefully, use this time - and its attendant hunger and thirst - for more intentional prayer, deeper self-examination and reflection of the things of the Spirit, inspired and out of the ordinary acts of charity, study, self-denial, sacrifice... in short, the things of Lent. Because seemingly in spite of all else, that hasn’t been cancelled. Our lives may yet be framed by its disciplines, themes, and challenges so that out of the chaos and confusion of those things to which we might it find difficult to adjust, accept, or believe, God may bring order, purpose, and meaning.
‘In order to try you, God puts before you things which are difficult to believe. St Thomas’ faith was tried; so is yours. He said “My Lord and My God”. You say so too. Bring your proud intellect into subjection. Believe what you cannot see, what you cannot understand, what you cannot explain, what you cannot prove, when God says it”. - St John Henry Newman.
An overcast Mothering Sunday today, in more ways than one, brightened a little by the use of an old rose Low Mass set in the Spanish style. This set, used only once a year, was given to me almost two decades ago by my then-Anglican parish priest in Manchester. He had, in turn, been given it by his confessor, a monk of the Anglican Benedictine community at Nashdom. So, a nice bit a patrimony on this most patrimonial of Sundays.
Had normal service been in operation we would have enjoyed the return of the organ, flowers at the altar, beautiful Marian hymns, rosa mystica incense, and the distribution of daffodils and simnel cake. Alas. Our opening hymn for the Solemn Mass was to have been The God of love my Shepherd is - the 23rd psalm - appointed for this ‘Refreshment Sunday’ in the English Hymnal. Words by Herbert, music by Dr Charles Collignon, who taught anatomy, of all things, at the University of Cambridge in the second half of the 18th century. His tune is thus called ‘University’. I think it sublime and deeply fitting for this time.
1. The God of love my Shepherd is,
And he that doth me feed;
While he is mine and I am his,
What can I want or need?
2. He leads me to the tender grass,
Where I both feed and rest;
Then to the streams that gently pass:
In both I have the best.
3. Or if I stray, he doth convert,
And bring my mind in frame,
And all this not for my desert,
But for his holy name.
4. Yea, in death’s shady black abode
Well may I walk, not fear;
For thou art with me, and thy rod
To guide, thy staff to bear.
5. Surely thy sweet and wondrous love
Shall measure all my days;
And, as it never shall remove,
So neither shall my praise.
George Herbert, 1593-1633
‘Life among other things is a great choice. Hell and heaven have to do with the individual will and that will’s choice. Each one must make his own choice. “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light” (St John 3.19). There is a story of a tyrant who made a man forge the chain with which he bound him. Our fatal choices are links in the chain that our will forges. Again, each one in holding to his choice will grow like that which he has chosen. Forgiveness does not mean that God says, “We will let the matter drop”, but that the will of the penitent effectively chooses the will of God. God’s mercy can never be indulgence for sin. God will abide by that choice which He has revealed to us in the character of the Beloved Son in Whom He is well pleased’.
Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
It is my Lent to break my Lent,
To eat when I would fast,
To know when slender strength is spent,
Take shelter from the blast
When I would run with wind and rain,
To sleep when I would watch.
It is my Lent to smile at pain
But not ignore its touch.
It is my Lent to listen well
When I would be alone,
To talk when I would rather dwell
In silence, turn from none
Who call on me, to try to see
That what is truly meant
Is not my choice. If Christ’s I’d be
It’s thus I’ll keep my Lent.
‘For Lent, 1966’ by Madeleine L’Engle, 1918-2007
‘As E.L. Mascall points out, it is the devil’s work which is always manifested in useless activity. Who as “a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour…” He does not need to devour anything because he is not hungry; he just cannot keep still, and I suspect that we can get Satan into something of a diabolic panic if we show him that we can keep still. “Whom resist steadfast in the faith;” the stand-up fight has to come in the end, but it was Jesus’ forty days of silent preparation that got Satan bewildered and groggy in the first place.
…Lenten discipline is not for seeking the Lord, but for adopting the position where he can find us, in silence and solitude, in patient waiting not in hectic activity’.
Martin Thornton OGS, 1915-1986
‘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’.
Peter Toon, 1939-2009
Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of 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. Amen. - Collect for The Second Sunday in Lent, Divine Worship: The Missal.
O Holy and ever-blessed Jesu, who being the eternal Son of God and most high in the glory of the Father, didst vouchsafe in love for us sinners to be born of a pure virgin, and didst humble thyself unto death, even the death of the cross: Deepen within us, we beseech thee, a due sense of thy infinite love; that adoring a believing in thee as our Lord and Saviour, we may trust in thy infinite merits, imitate thy holy example, obey thy commands, and finally enjoy thy promises; who with the Father and the Holy Ghost livest and reignest, one God, world without end. Amen.
John Wesley, 1703-1791
Come down, O Christ, and help me! reach Thy hand,
For I am drowning in a stormier sea
Than Simon on Thy lake of Galilee:
The wine of life is spilt upon the sand,
My heart is as some famine-murdered land
Whence all good things have perished utterly,
And well I know my soul in Hell must lie
If I this night before God’s throne should stand.
‘He sleeps perchance, or rideth to the chase,
Like Baal, when his prophets howled that name
From morn to noon on Carmel’s smitten height’.
Nay, peace, I shall behold, before the night,
The feet of brass, the robe more white than flame,
The wounded hands, the weary human face.
Oscar Wilde, 1854-1900
‘After the Sacraments and liturgical worship I am convinced there is no practise more fruitful for our souls than the Way of the Cross made with devotion. Its supernatural efficacy is sovereign. The Passion is the “holy of holies” among the mysteries of Jesus, the preeminent work of our Supreme High Priest; it is there above all that his virtues shine forth, and when we contemplate him in his sufferings he gives us according to the measure of our faith, the grace to practise the virtues that he manifested during these holy hours… At each station Our Divine Saviour presents himself to us in this triple character: as the Mediator who saves us by his merits, the perfect Model of sublime virtues, and the efficacious Cause who can, through his Divine Omnipotence, produce in our souls the virtues of which he gives us the example’.
Blessed Columba Marmion OSB, 1858-1923
‘The time of Lent now approaching, which has been anciently and very Christianly set apart, for penitential humiliation of Soul and Body, for Fasting and Weeping and Praying, all which you know are very frequently inculcated in Holy Scripture, as the most effectual means we can use, to avert those Judgments our sins have deserved; I thought it most agreeable to that Character which, unworthy as I am, I sustain, to call you and all my Brethren of the Clergy to mourning; to mourning for your own sins, and to mourning for the sins of the Nation.
In making such an address to you as this, I follow the example of St Cyprian, that blessed Bishop and Martyr, who from his retirement wrote an excellent Epistle to his Clergy, most worthy of your serious perusal, exhorting them, by publick Prayers and Tears to appease the Anger of God, which they then actually felt, and which we may justly fear.
...That you may perform the office of publick Intercessour the more assiduously, I beg of you to say daily in your Closet, or in your Family, or rather in both, all this time of Abstinence, the 51st Psalm, and the other Prayers which follow it in the Commination. I could wish also that you would frequently read and meditate on the Lamentations of Jeremy, which Holy Gregory Nazianzen was wont to doe, and the reading of which melted him into the like Lamentations, as affected the Prophet himself when he Pennd them.
But your greatest Zeal must be spent for the Public Prayers, in the constant devout use of which, the Publick Safety both of Church and State is highly concerned: be sure then to offer up to God every day the Morning and Evening Prayer; offer it up in your Family at least, or rather as far as your circumstances may possibly permit, offer it up in the Church, especially if you live in a great Town, and say over the Litany every Morning during the whole Lent. This I might enjoyn you to doe, on your Canonical Obedience, but for Love’s sake I rather beseech you, and I cannot recommend to you a more devout and comprehensive Form, of penitent and publick Intercession than that, or more proper for the Season.
Be not discouraged if but few come to the Solemn Assemblies, but go to the House of Prayer, where God is well known for a sure Refuge: Go, though you go alone, or but with one besides your self; and there as you are God’s Remembrancer, keep not silence, and give Him no rest, till He establish, till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth’.
from ‘A Pastoral Letter from the Bishop of Bath and Wells (Thomas Ken) to his Clergy Concerning their Behaviour during Lent’, 1688.
‘Forgiveness is what matters most of all; to be forgiven, to be contrite for mortal sin is the most tremendous thing that could happen to you in your life. So of course it is very easy. You do not have to work at being forgiven; you only have to accept it, to believe in the forgiveness of God in Christ, in his eternal unconditional love for you.
But sin, any sin, even venial sin, has given you a kind of addiction to lesser things, the things of this world. So besides being forgiven we need to break out of this addiction. For the only way to God is in Christ, and Christ’s way to God was through crucifixion and death to the resurrection. There is no other way. The only way to God is through death. Christ did not die for us instead of us. He died to make it possible for us to die and rise again in him. And this is hard.
We have to go through the crucifixion, too…We have to go through the painful process of curing the addiction, kicking the habit, “drying out” or “cold turkey”, or whatever.
And this is what Lent is for. It reminds us that we come through death to life, through denial of self to our true selves, and it helps us to start the process – so that we may be ready for the final Easter when we rise in glory and freedom to live for eternity in the love of God’.
Herbert McCabe OP, 1926-2001
‘God beholds thee individually, whoever thou art. He “calls thee by name”. He sees thee, and understands thee, as he made thee. He knows what is in thee, all thy own peculiar feelings and thoughts, thy dispositions and likings, thy strength and thy weakness. He views thee in thy day of rejoicing, and thy day of sorrow. He sympathises in thy hopes and thy temptations. He interests himself in all thy anxieties and remembrances, all the risings and fallings of the spirit. He has numbered the very hairs of thy head and the cubits of thy stature. He compasses thee round and bears thee up and sets thee down.
…Thou art not only his creature (though for the very sparrows he has a care, and pitied the “much cattle” of Nineveh), thou art man redeemed and sanctified, his adopted son, favoured with a portion of that glory and blessedness which flows from him everlastingly unto the Only-begotten’.
St John Henry Newman, 1801-1890
‘Lent brings before us the vision of the One Who deliberately chose to pursue the perfect way at all costs, and Who followed the perfect way that He had chosen at the cost of a lonely death upon the gallows. To some people the main point about Lent is that it gives them the chance of listening to eloquent preachers. To other people Lent is a time to accept discomfort and especially to consider our Lord’s suffering. Perhaps we shall go deeper still if we realise that the secret of our Lord’s suffering and all the value of His Passion lay in the perfection of His obedience to the law of love which was expressed in the deliberate choice of His human will.
It is only our Lord Who could die deliberately in the divinest way, but you and I can try to live deliberately in the best human way we can. Whatever we do not do, there is something we must do this Lent, and that is to try to deepen our prayer life. The Church calls us in Lent to express our Christian faith in a threefold sacrifice: first, a sacrifice for God, that is prayer; secondly, a sacrifice for others, that is almsgiving; thirdly, a sacrifice for our own self-discipline, and that is fasting.
Let us make a deliberate effort to pray, to think, to do, as we really do believe in our deepest and best selves that the God Who created us, died for us, cared for us, would have us do. Our Lord quite deliberately lived and died for us at His own expense. How often do we live heedlessly for ourselves at His expense? A daily dying to self-love will be our best answer to the appeal of Calvary’.
Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
‘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
Fr Lee Kenyon