Only, in a curious way, this impression Lent makes on us is the exact opposite of what the Church intends. Lent ought to pass like a flash, with a sense of desperate hurry. Good Heavens! The second Sunday already and so little to show for it! Lent is the sacramental expression of the brief life we spend here, a life of probation, without a moment in it we can afford to waste. That is why it begins with St Paul's metaphor of an ambassador delivering an ultimatum; we have only a few "days of grace" to make our peace with God. Ash Wednesday recalls our ignominious, earthy origins, Easter looks forward to our eternity. The space between is not, if we look at it properly, a sluggish declension; it is a mill-race.
Which is why, saving the better judgement of the Church, I always encourage my friends, when Lent comes round, not to do without something but to get something done. For many of us, it would be something if that pile of unanswered letters on the writing-table - with all the background of disappointment, distress and inconvenience - could disappear by the time Easter comes. The manuscript we promised to read, the aunts we promised to visit - if only we could cheat ourselves into the feeling that these forty days were our last chance, how quickly they would run their course!'
from Lightning Meditations, 1959, by Mgr Ronald Knox, 1888-1957
'Lent is not for the fey. That is because Christianity is not for them, either. Sentimentalists who are Catholics on their own jerry-built terms have no place for Lent. Cafeteria Catholicism, their fast-food version of the heavenly banquet, is neither feast nor fast. Its pastiche of Catholicism has become an anthropological vignette whose day is already past. The felt banners and ceramic butterflies that replaced crucifixes in the late 1960s and 1970s are fading away to the land of kitsch - detritus of the liturgical Martha Stewarts of their day.
I live in the middle of Manhattan, where Ash Wednesday is perhaps the most popular religious day of the year... Thousands come to the Catholic Churches for ashes, many without full knowledge of what the ritual really is but as least palpably aware that we are dust. Even the bulimic syntax of the English translation of the rite cannot rob our sense of mortality of a pathetic majesty. We are an Easter people, and, as Saint Augustine was wont to say, Alleluia is our song. But without confession of our many morbid betrayals of the living God, the song becomes a ditty, and instead of the scarred bishops calling the people to repentance as at Nicaea, the Paschal landscape is festooned with harmless adults dressed as rabbits hiding eggs from bewildered children.
Thomas Merton recalled in The Seven Storey Mountain that before he became a Catholic, his Easter consisted of an abbreviated service of Morning Prayer followed by an egg hunt on a manicured lawn. Such Easters are like the festivals in the twilight of imperial Rome when, as Suetonius records, the great men spoke of the gods but secretly consulted the stars. Some have so lost confidence in the Resurrection of Christ that they keep little of Lent at all. There are places where there are Ash Wednesday and Easter and in between an extended Saint Patrick's Day. Great Patrick would be the first to cry out against their from the heights of Croagh Patrick, his fasting place for all forty days.
One could go to the other extreme and think of Easter as merely an interruption of a yearlong Lent. That is the piety of the rigourist for whom every silver lining has a cloud. Worse, there are certain Catholic types with the mottled spiritual complexion of the Jansenist nuns of Port Royal, who were "pure as angels and proud as devils". Patrick lit a Paschal fire, not a Lenten fire. All his fasts were for the feasts ahead, and he knew that fasting is not only for the self, since in the Christian community one also fasts for the dead.
First, fast to starve the devil, then feast with the saints'.
from He Spoke to Us: Discerning God in People and Places, 2016, by Fr George William Rutler
'Two mighty songs this week: the Benedicite, and the nightingale's - the latter on tape, for the singer is not yet due. But they disturb the universe. Each year I say the same thing: "We now have the Benedicite instead of the Te Deum, because it is springtime as well as Lent," and off we go, "Praise him and magnify him for ever!"
No cuts and nightingales, unless we include them in "All ye fowls of the air". But otherwise a pretty full litany of nature. And with "Ye spirits and souls of the righteous", departed congregations join in.
It is what the holy children sang to Nebuchadnezzar from the fire, and what Christians have sung from the earliest times; an earthy as well as a celestial song, which Saint Francis might well have had in mind when, in 1225, he sat in the garden of San Damiano at Assisi and wrote his "Canticle of the Sun". "Be thou praised, my Lord, with all thy creatures, above all Brother Sun."
And the March sun makes Aldeburgh glitter as we fill the Jubilee Hall for Richard Mabey's lecture on "The Barley Bird", i.e. the nightingale. He and I would sometimes listen to it at Tiger Hill, where I heard it as a boy; the long, operatic thread of notes from the hidden performer, the disturbed woodland, the silenced humanity.
Back home, the Flower Festival committee meets, its theme this year being - the Benedicite. One parish has a theme, the other does not, simply piling the blooms around. it is ingenuity and/or profusion, to avoid competition. O all ye Green Things upon the earth.
Back home, book proofs have arrived, and must be read with a fine-tooth comb lest some terrible word gets into print. The white cat and I check them with diligence, although she cannot spell. Animals like to find us at some mechanical task, breathing regularly, set in our ways. These are essays written long ago, so that I keep running into my previous self, sometimes with admiration, though not always.
Did the author of the Benedicite run through his list thinking, "Have I left something out? Yes, whales." Was the song a spontaneous invention by all three Children, verse after verse? Did crazy Nebuchadnezzar join in? Who couldn't? Did they all hear Mesopotamian nightingales?'
from Village Hours, 2012, by Ronald Blythe CBE
Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves:
keep us both inwardly in our bodies, and outwardly 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 from Divine Worship: The Missal
'The Collect for today is a beautiful, ancient prayer for God's protection. It encourages us to think of the purpose, reason, and effect of the Father's loving care.
The purpose is our complete salvation; and that salvation includes, somewhat unexpectedly, both body and soul. We ought not, in fact, to be surprised at this, for every time we kneel at the altar rail to receive our communion we hear the words: "Preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life." The body as well as the soul is to have a part in the glorious world of the life to come.
The reason why we pray for God's protection is that we recognise our own extreme helplessness. "We have no power of ourselves to help ourselves". We are like the people lying in bed after a bad attack of the flu, capable neither of summoning up sufficient initiative to bestir themselves, nor of persisting in any continuous effort once they have been induced to start it... The theological explanation of this incapacity is that it is the result of original sin. A poison has entered into our human constitution which, like the venom injected by some species of spiders into their prey, has affected our nerve centres and paralysed our springs of action... So we ask God to keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities that may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul.
The effect of our prayer then is to be even wider than we thought. There are not only two different elements in human nature but also two different kinds of evil. There are the adversities that may happen to the body as well as the evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul. The collect is strongly realist and recognises our desire for protection from bodily dangers as well as from moral ills.
We can thoroughly appreciate this consideration in times when we run daily dangers on the roads and when we are always on the brink of a third a still more deadly global war. More important is the evil that can happen to the soul. How do evil thoughts come in - from the up-rush of the unconscious or from the suggestions of our environment? Only the gift of grace can protect us against the dangers of an unstable attention or a too vivid imagination. But thanks be to God who is able to save us both body and soul to everlasting life'.
from Reflections on the Collects, 1964, by William Wand KCVO, 1885-1977 (Bishop of London 1945-1955)
Looking to change something this Lent? Cardinal Sarah has some wise words on how to approach the altar and encounter Our Lord in the Most Holy Sacrament of his Real Presence...
The liturgy is made up of many small rituals and gestures — each of them is capable of expressing these attitudes filled with love, filial respect and adoration toward God. That is precisely why it is appropriate to promote the beauty, fittingness and pastoral value of a practice which developed during the long life and tradition of the Church, that is, the act of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue and kneeling. The greatness and nobility of man, as well as the highest expression of his love for his Creator, consists in kneeling before God. Jesus himself prayed on his knees in the presence of the Father.
Why do we insist on receiving Communion standing and on the hand? Why this attitude of lack of submission to the signs of God? May no priest dare to impose his authority in this matter by refusing or mistreating those who wish to receive Communion kneeling and on the tongue. Let us come as children and humbly receive the Body of Christ on our knees and on our tongue. The saints give us the example. They are the models to be imitated that God offers us!
I hope there can be a rediscovery and promotion of the beauty and pastoral value of this method. In my opinion and judgement, this is an important question on which the Church today must reflect. This is a further act of adoration and love that each of us can offer to Jesus Christ.’
Robert, Cardinal Sarah, from his preface to a new work on the reception of Holy Communion, La distribuzione della comunione sulla mano. Profili storici, giuridici e pastorali, by Don Federico Bortoli
Today is the feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, the Solemnity of Title in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, the Ordinariate in which I am incardinated. Please offer a prayer today for Bishop Steven Lopes, and the clergy, parishes, communities, and faithful of the Ordinariate in the United States and Canada.
'We are founded on Christ in our faith and our hopes, because, O glorious Prince of the Apostles! we are founded on thee, who art the Rock he has set. We are the sheep of the flock of Jesus, because we obey thee as our shepherd. By following thee, O Peter! we are made sure of our being admitted into the kingdom of heaven, because our Lord gave the Keys of his kingdom to thee. Having the happiness of being thy members, we may also count ourselves as the members of Jesus Christ himself; for He, the invisible Head of the Church, recognises none as his members, save those that are members of the visible Head whom he appointed. So too, when we adhere to the faith of the Roman Pontiff and obey his orders — we are professing thy faith, O Peter, we are following thy commands; for if Christ teaches and governs by thee, thou teachest and governest by the Roman Pontiff.
Eternal thanks, then, to our Emmanuel for that he has not left us orphans; but before returning to heaven, vouchsafed to provide us with a Father and a Shepherd, even to the end of time! On the evening before his passion, keeping up his love for us even to the end, he left us his sacred Body and Blood for our food. After his glorious Resurrection, and a few hours before ascending to the right hand of his Father, he called his Apostles around him, and constituted his Church (his Fold), and said to Peter: Feed my Lambs, Feed my Sheep. Thus, dear Jesus! didst thou secure perpetuity to thy Church; thou gavest her Unity, for that alone could preserve her and defend her from both external and internal enemies. Glory be to thee, O Divine Architect! for that thou didst build the House of thy Church on the Rock which was never to be shaken, that is, on Peter! Winds and storms and waves have beat upon that house, but it hath stood, for it was built on a Rock.
O Rome! on this day, when the whole Church proclaims thy glory by blessing God for having built her on thy Rock — receive the renewal of our promise to love thee and be faithful to thee. Thou shalt ever be our Mother and our Mistress, our guide and our hope. Thy faith shall ever be ours; for he that is not with thee is not with Jesus Christ. In thee, all men are Brethren. Thou art not a foreign City to us; nor is thy Pontiff a foreign Sovereign to us, for he is our Father. It is by thee that we live the spiritual life, the life of both heart and intellect; and thou it is that preparest us to dwell one day in that other City of which thou art the image — the City of Heaven, into which men enter by thee'.
from The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger OSB, 1805-1875
Continuing the Welsh theme, here is George Herbert's poem Lent. Herbert was born at Montgomery in the season of Lent in 1593, and died on the Friday of Quinquagesima, the week before the beginning of Lent, in 1633. The poem was published in the collection The Temple, in the year of his death.
Welcome dear feast of Lent: who loves not thee,
He loves not Temperance, or Authority,
But is compos’d of passion.
The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church says, now:
Give to thy Mother, what thou wouldst allow
To ev’ry Corporation.
Who goeth in the way which Christ hath gone,
Is much more sure to meet with him, than one
That travelleth by-ways:
Perhaps my God, though he be far before,
May turn and take me by the hand, and more:
May strengthen my decays.
Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast
By starving sin and taking such repast,
As may our faults control:
That ev’ry man may revel at his door,
Not in his parlour; banqueting the poor,
And among those his soul.
The hymn below is most commonly sung to the tune 'Abridge', composed c.1770 by Isaac Smith. By way of context, Williams' biographer, writing in 1907, says the following of the collection in which this hymn is found: 'Hymns on the Catechism was written at Bisley and published in 1842. Its object was strictly practical; it was intended as "an aid towards following out that catechetical instruction which is so essential a part of the church system." It cannot be said that these hymns are likely to be so attractive to children, as, for example, those of Mrs Alexander, but they are suitable for congregational, or at any rate, for Sunday school use, and one of them, "Be Thou my Guardian and my Guide," has found its way deservedly into most collections.'
176 years on, and in every Anglican - and Ordinariate - context I have known, the following hymn remains, deservedly, part of the repertoire.
Be thou my guardian and my guide,
And hear me when I call;
Let not my slippery footsteps slide,
And hold me lest I fall.
The world, the flesh, and Satan dwell
Around the path I tread;
O save me from the snares of hell,
Thou quickener of the dead.
And if I tempted am to sin,
And outward things are strong,
Do thou, O Lord, keep watch within,
And save my soul from wrong.
Still let me ever watch and pray,
And feel that I am frail;
That if the tempter cross my way,
Yet he may not prevail.
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 from Divine Worship: The Missal
[T]he purpose of our fasting is that our flesh may be subdued to the spirit. St Paul seems to have thought of the flesh and the spirit as two highly ratified but still corporate entities, each striving for the mastery of the individual personality. The flesh was the seat of the lower emotions, selfishness and egotism; the spirit was the seat of the higher, the desire to serve both God and man.
Our fasting is not, as it sometimes suggested, intended to help us to achieve some kind of semi-ecstatic condition in which we appear to float off into the region of spirit. It is intended as a reminder of the difference between the two worlds of flesh and spirit and to give us a greater expertise in the latter.
The reason why we wish to bring the flesh under the control of the spirit is that we may with greater readiness obey Christ's "godly motions in righteousness and true holiness." The "motions" are the impulses, the incentives, the interior movements of the affections and will, started in us by God, when by his prevenient grace he directs our thoughts to some good end. There is always the question whether we shall follow his lead or not. Our prayer is that by our Lenten rule we may so quicken our power of spiritual perception that we shall not be held back by any apathy, slothfulness or rebellion of the flesh.
The end will be righteousness and true holiness... a real active intention to serve God and our fellows. It is that which will truly redound to the glory of Christ.'
from Reflections on the Collects, 1964, by William Wand KCVO, 1885-1977 (Bishop of London 1945-1955)
A Lenten Pastoral Letter from the Bishop of Shrewsbury
In this Eucharistic Year for the Diocese I am inviting us all to reflect more deeply on the mystery and reality of the Eucharist. My Advent Letter was an invitation to recognise with renewed faith and love the Blessed Sacrament of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ at the heart of all our churches. At the beginning of Lent, I want to draw your gaze especially towards the Altar where Christ’s Sacrifice, by which He loved us to the end, is made present anew (cf Jn 13:1). In Lent we think of the many sacrifices we are all called to make; yet Saint Peter draws our attention today to the one Sacrifice by which “Christ himself, innocent though he was, died once for sins, died for the guilty to lead us to God” (I Peter 3:18).
At the Altar this one Sacrifice of the Cross is made present for us anew in the offering of every Mass. As the Second Vatican Council taught, “At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages until he should come again…” (Sacrosanctum Concilium n 47). Lest we should lose sight of this, the Liturgy requires that there should be “a cross with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, either on the Altar or near it… a cross clearly visible to the assembled people… so as to call to mind… the saving Passion of the Lord” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal n 308).
It is our Catholic faith that “Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present” in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar and that the Sacrifice of Christ, made once on the Cross, is truly made present and its grace applied in the Sacrifice of the Altar (CCC 1374, 1366). This, the Church’s Catechism explains, is “manifested in the very words of institution ‘This is my Body given for you’ and ‘This chalice which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my Blood’” (CCC n 1365).
Yet, we might ask ourselves whether we have allowed the Mass to become reduced in our minds to merely a communal meal and celebration rather than the paschal banquet, the supper of the Lamb of God sacrificed for us? Have we thereby allowed new generations to become bored and uninterested in the Mass, by not allowing them to glimpse the awesome reality of this Sacrifice and Sacrament? Might we also fail to appreciate why the Second Vatican Council taught so clearly that the Eucharistic Sacrifice is the source and summit of the whole Christian life because in every Mass the central event of salvation becomes really present and the work of redemption is carried out (cf Lumen Gentium n 11, 3).
As Saint John Paul II explained in his last letter to the Church, “This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after he had left us a means of sharing in it… What more could Jesus have done for us? Truly, in the Eucharist, he shows us a love which goes ‘to the end’, a love which knows no measure” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia n 11). How, then, could our hearts ever remain unmoved by this love beyond all others? At the Altar, we learn love and sacrifice not only by imitation, but we receive the grace and power to live sacrificial lives in the service of Christ and one another in all of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. In the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we find the grace and power to live every Christian vocation which leads us to make before the Altar the promises of marriage, of ordination or of the consecrated life.
This year, I pray we may each come to appreciate more deeply why Saint John Vianney declared that: “if we glimpsed for a moment what the Holy Eucharist truly is, we would die not out of fear but out of love!” In turning our gaze towards the Altar and the Cross, let us pray that we may recognise with faith and ever growing wonder the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
United with you in this Eucharistic faith and prayer,
Bishop of Shrewsbury
Dean Milner-White authored several collections of prayers and, in my experience, their use in the context of public worship - at the Offices, and at Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, especially - has always greatly enriched and deepened the dignity and character of the extraordinary encounter with God in Christ in prayerful intercession and adoration. Milner-White's words speak engagingly and fervidly and, in the best tradition of the Book of Common Prayer, to heart, mind, and soul, whilst avoiding any hint of sentimentality. As one biographer put it, 'He filled a great need for occasional prayers, and their literary quality is what it is because of their author's deep understanding of Anglican spirituality.'
That spirituality shines brightly in this Lenten prayer, composed at York in 1954, from Milner-White's collection My God, My Glory: Aspirations, Acts and Prayers on the Desire for God.
Lord, bless to me this Lent.
Lord, let me fast most truly and profitably,
by feeding in prayer on thy Spirit:
reveal me to myself
in the light of thy holiness.
Suffer me never to think
that I have knowledge enough to need no teaching,
wisdom enough to need no correction,
talents enough to need no progress,
humility enough to need no repentance,
devotion enough to need no quickening,
strength sufficient without thy Spirit;
lest, standing still, I fall back for evermore.
Shew me the desires that should be disciplined,
and sloths to be slain.
Shew me the omissions to be made up
and the habits to be mended.
And behind these, weaken, humble and annihilate in me
self-will, self-righteousness, self-satisfaction,
self-sufficiency, self-assertion, vainglory.
May my whole effort be to return to thee;
O make it serious and sincere
persevering and fruitful in result,
by the help of thy Holy Spirit
and to thy glory,
my Lord and my God.
'The element of renunciation, of mortification and self-denial, an inescapable element in the Christian life, must always be seen in the context of the baptismal covenant and of the Paschal mystery... No form of self-denial is of any value whatever - it can often be the reverse - if it is not directed to the love and service of God and our neighbour. Our model here must be Christ the Servant, laying aside his garments to wash the feet of his disciples. In our Lenten discipline we strip off our garments, not because there is anything wrong or sinful about them, but because we do not want anything to hinder or limit our service. It is a true instinct which has led to the recovery in our own days of the ancient link between fasting and sharing one's food with the hungry... We say no to self only in order to be able to say yes to God and to our neighbour; to say yes more meaningfully and more authentically by attacking at the roots all the obstacles to self-surrender. So in baptism we are called upon to say no to the Devil so that we may say yes to God; we are made to die with Christ to the old Adam so that we may rise with him to the glory of the new humanity. Our whole observance of Lent must help us to be conformed more closely to the death and resurrection of Christ in the Easter mystery. Right at the beginning of Lent we need to have set before us the truth expressed so clearly by Père Louis Bouyer:
"The Pasch is not a mere commemoration: it is the cross and the empty tomb rendered actual. But it is no longer the Head who must stretch himself upon the cross in order to rise from the tomb: it is his Body the Church, and of this Body we are members"'.
from The Sacrament of Easter: An Introduction to the Liturgy of Holy Week, 1965, by Roger Greenacre, 1930-2011
Let us make a deliberate effort to pray, to think, to do, as we really 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'.
from Meditations for Every Day: Thursday after Quinquagesima by Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946.
Fr Lee Kenyon
Priest, Husband, Father, Lancastrian, Mancunian