‘Our Lady said yes for the human race. Each one of us must echo that yes for our lives.
We are all asked if we will surrender what we are, our humanity, our flesh and blood to the Holy Spirit and allow Christ to fill the emptiness formed by the particular shape of our life.
The surrender that is asked of us includes complete and absolute trust; it must be like Our Lady’s surrender, without condition and without reservation.
What we shall be asked to give is our flesh and blood, our daily life, our thoughts, our service to one another, our affections and loves, our words, our intellect, our waking, working and sleeping, our ordinary human joys and sorrows - to God.
To surrender all that we are, as we are, to the Spirit of Love in order that our lives may bear Christ into the world - that is what we shall be asked.
Our Lady has made this possible. Her fiat was for herself and for us, but if we want God’s will to be completed in us as it was in her, we must echo her fiat’.
Caryll Houselander, 1901-1954
We beseech thee, O Lord, pour thy grace int our hearts: that, as we have known the Incarnation of thy Son Jesus Christ by the message of an Angel; so by his Cross and Passion we may be brought unto the glory of his Resurrection; through the same 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.
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
It was from Joseph first I learned
of love. Like me he was dismayed.
How easily he could have turned
me from his house; but, unafraid,
he put me not away from him
(O God-sent angel, pray for him).
Thus through his love was Love obeyed.
The Child’s first cry came like a bell:
God’s Word aloud, God’s Word in deed.
The angel spoke: so it befell,
and Joseph with me in my need.
O Child whose father came from heaven,
to you another gift was given,
your earthly father chosen well.
With Joseph I was always warmed
and cherished. Even in the stable
I knew that I would not be harmed.
And, though above the angels swarmed,
man’s love it was that made me able
to bear God’s love, wild, formidable,
to bear God’s will, through me performed.
‘O Sapientia’ by Madeleine L’Engle, 1918-2007
O God, who from the house of thy servant David didst raise up Saint Joseph to be the guardian of thine incarnate Son, and spouse of his Virgin Mother: give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to thy commands; 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.
‘After this the Priest says, Holy things to holy men. Holy are the gifts presented, having received the visitation of the Holy Ghost; holy are you also, having been deemed worthy of the Holy Ghost; the holy things therefore correspond to the holy persons. Then ye say, One is Holy, One is the Lord, Jesus Christ. For One is truly holy, by nature holy; we too are holy, but not by nature, only by participation, and discipline, and prayer.
After this ye hear the chanter inviting you with a sacred melody to the communion of the Holy Mysteries, and saying, O taste and see that the Lord is good. Trust not the judgment to your bodily palate no, but to faith unfaltering; for they who taste are bidden to taste, not bread and wine, but the anti-typical Body and Blood of Christ.
In approaching therefore, come not with your wrists extended, or your fingers spread; but make your left hand a throne for the right, as for that which is to receive a King. And having hollowed your palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying over it, Amen. So then after having carefully hallowed your eyes by the touch of the Holy Body, partake of it; giving heed lest you lose any portion thereof; for whatever you lose, is evidently a loss to you as it were from one of your own members. For tell me, if any one gave you grains of gold, would you not hold them with all carefulness, being on your guard against losing any of them, and suffering loss? Will you not then much more carefully keep watch, that not a crumb fall from you of what is more precious than gold and precious stones?
Then after you have partaken of the Body of Christ, draw near also to the Cup of His Blood; not stretching forth your hands, but bending , and saying with an air of worship and reverence, Amen, hallow yourself by partaking also of the Blood of Christ. And while the moisture is still upon your lips, touch it with your hands, and hallow your eyes and brow and the other organs of sense. Then wait for the prayer, and give thanks unto God, who has accounted you worthy of so great mysteries.
Hold fast these traditions undefiled and, keep yourselves free from offence. Sever not yourselves from the Communion; deprive not yourselves, through the pollution of sins, of these Holy and Spiritual Mysteries. And the God of peace sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit, and soul, and body be preserved entire without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23): To whom be glory and honour and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and world without end. Amen’.
On the Sacred Liturgy and Communion from Catechetical Lecture 23
by St Cyril of Jerusalem, c.313-386
Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that at the intercession of thy blessed Bishop Saint Cyril, we may learn to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent; that we may be found worthy to be numbered for ever among the sheep that hear his voice; through the same 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.
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.
‘Having for forty years led a most saintly life in the married state, upon which she entered when but twelve years of age, Frances retired from the world, where she had endured every sort of tribulation. But she had given her heart to her God long before she withdrew to the cloister. Her whole life had been spent in the exercise of the highest Christian perfection, and she had ever received from our Lord the sublimest spiritual favours. Her amiable disposition had won for her the love and admiration of her husband and children: the rich venerated her as their model, the poor respected her as their devoted benefactress and mother.
God recompensed her angelic virtues by these two special graces: the almost uninterrupted sight of her guardian angel, and the most sublime revelations. But there is one trait of her life which is particularly striking, and reminds us forcibly of St Elizabeth of Hungary, and of St Jane Frances Chantal: her austere practices of penance. Such an innocent, and yet such a mortified, life is full of instruction for us. How can we think of murmuring against the obligation of mortification when we find a saint like this practising it during her whole life? True, we are not bound to imitate her in the manner of her penance; but penance we must do, if we would confidently approach that God who readily pardons the sinner when he repents, but whose justice requires atonement and satisfaction’.
from The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger OSB, 1805-1875
O Frances, sublime model of every virtue! thou wast the glory of Christian Rome, and the ornament of thy sex. How insignificant are the pagan heroines of old compared with thee! Thy fidelity to the duties of thy state, all thy saintly actions, had God for their one single end and motive. The world looked on thee with amazement, as though heaven had lent one of its angels to this earth. Humility and penance put such energy into thy soul, that every trial was met and mastered. Thy love for those whom God Himself had given thee, thy calm resignation and interior joy under tribulation, thy simple and generous charity, to every neighbour – all was evidence of God’s dwelling within thy soul. Thy seeing and conversing with thy angel guardian, and the wonderful revelations granted thee of the secrets of the other world, how much these favours tell us of thy merits! Nature suspended her laws at thy bidding; she was subservient to thee, as to one that was already face to face with the sovereign Master, and had the power to command. We admire these privileges and gifts granted thee by our Lord; and now beseech thee to have pity on us, who are so far from being in that path in which thou didst so perseveringly walk. Pray for us, that we may be Christians, practically and earnestly; that we may cease to love the world and its vanities; that we may courageously take up the yoke of our Lord and do penance; that we may give our pride; that we may be patient and firm under temptation. Such was thy influence with our heavenly Father, that thou hadst but to pray, and a vine produced the richest clusters of fruit, even in the midst of winter. Our Jesus calls Himself the true Vine; ask Him to give us of the vine of His divine love, which His cross has so richly prepared for us. When we remember how frequently thou didst ask Him to let thee suffer, and accept thy sufferings for poor sinners, we feel encouraged to ask thee to offer thy merits to Him for us. Pray too for Rome, thy native city, that her people may be stanch to the faith, edifying by holiness of life, and loyal to the Church. May thy powerful intercession bring blessings on the faithful throughout the world, add to their number, and make them fervent as were our fathers of old.
‘On July 3, 1549, a fire broke out in the kitchen of the Royal hospital at Granada that had been founded by the Spanish king and queen, Ferdinand and Isabella. It threatened to spread to the large wards where hundreds of sick were lying. The storm and fire bells rang loudly. People rushed from all sides, John in the lead. The fire was beyond control, firemen and volunteers were unable to extinguish it. No one dared to enter the burning building from which came the pitiful cries of the sick in the agony of imminent and certain death. Fire and smoke choked the exits. Those who could still arise from their beds stood pleading at the windows. The scene was enough to drive a person insane.
John could not stand idly by. Disregarding smoke and flame, he rushed in among the sick, opened doors and windows, gave terse orders and directions as to how they who could might save themselves; some he led, others he dragged or carried into the open, often two at a time. When all the bedridden were safe, he wasted no time in throwing coverlets, bed clothing, chairs and other valuables out of the windows, thus saving the property of the poor.
Then he took an axe, climbed to the roof and began chopping away vigorously. Suddenly the liberated flames leapt up high beside him. He fled, only to continue his heroic work in another part of the building. There too a wave of fire soon stopped him. He was standing literally between two infernos. Moments passed, he was lost in the heat of the flames and the choking smoke. A quarter of an hour - loud cries of fear could be heard for the brave man - and then he sprang from the fire, blackened by smoke but unscathed except for singed eyebrows. Joyously the crowd surrounded him, congratulating the saviour of the sick. John’s modesty, however, prevented him from accepting praise and honours’.
from The Life of St John of God by Bihlmeyer
quoted in The Church’s Year of Grace, 1953, by Pius Parsch, 1884-1954
O God, who didst cause blessed John, by the fire of thy love, to pass unhurt amid the flames, and through him didst enrich thy Church with a new offspring: grant, by the pleading of his merits that our vices may be healed by the fire of thy charity, and that we may obtain thine eternal healing; 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.
‘Vibia Perpetua, a well-to-do young woman and mother, and Felicitas, a slave who gave birth to a child three days before suffering a martyr’s death, were catechumens. Against such prospective converts the persecution of Septimius Severus was particularly severe. These two holy women suffered death on the seventh of March in Carthage. The Breviary relates the following touching episode:
“Now the day had arrived when they were to be thrown to the wild beasts. Felicitas began to be sorrowful because she feared she would have to wait longer than her companions. For eight months she had been pregnant and therefore, according to Roman law, could not be executed before the birth of the child. But the prayers of her fellow sufferers hastened her time and she gave birth to a baby girl.
While she was suffering from the pains of childbirth, one of the guards called out to her, ‘If you are suffering so much now, what will you do when you are thrown to the wild beasts?’ ‘Now I suffer’, she answered, ‘but there Another will be in me, who will suffer for me, because I will suffer for Him’. When she was in travail she had sorrow, but when she was set before the wild beasts she rejoiced (Martyrology)”.
Finally, on the seventh of March, these heroic women were led into the amphitheatre and severely scourged. Then they were tossed about by an exceptionally wild cow, gored, and thrown to the ground’.
from The Church’s Year of Grace, 1953, by Pius Parsch, 1884-1954
O holy God, who gavest great courage to Saints Perpetua, Felicitas and their Companions: grant that, through their prayers, we may be worthy to climb the ladder of sacrifice, and be received into the garden of peace; 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.
‘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
‘St Casimir, to whom the Poles gave the title of “The Peace-maker”, was the third of the thirteen children of Casimir IV, King of Poland, and of Elizabeth of Austria, daughter of the Emperor Albert II... Devout from his infancy, the boy gave himself up to devotion and penance, and had a horror of anything approaching softness or self-indulgence. His bed was often the ground, and he was wont to spend a great part of the night in prayer and meditation, chiefly on the passion of our Saviour. His clothes were plain, and under them he wore a hair shirt. Living always in the presence of God, he was invariably serene and cheerful, and pleasant to all. The saint’s love of God showed itself in his love of the poor who are Christ’s members, and for the relief of these the young prince gave all he possessed, using in their behalf the influence he had with his father and with his brother Ladislaus when he became king of Bohemia.
…The nobles of Hungary, dissatisfied with their king, Matthias Corvinus, in 1471 begged the King of Poland to allow them to place his son Casimir on the throne. The saint, at that time not fifteen years old, was very unwilling to consent, but in obedience to his father he went to the frontier at the head of an army. There, hearing that Matthias had himself assembled a large body of troops, and finding that his own soldiers were deserting in large numbers because they could not get their pay, he decided upon the advice of his officers to return home. The knowledge that Pope Sixtus IV had sent an embassy to his father to deter him from the expedition made the young prince carry out his resolution with the firmer conviction that he was acting rightly. King Casimir, however, was greatly incensed at the failure of his ambitious projects and would not permit his son to return to Cracow, but relegated him to the castle of Dobzki. The young man obeyed and remained in confinement there for three months. Convinced of the injustice of the war upon which he had so nearly embarked, and determined to have no further part in these internecine conflicts which only facilitated the further progress into Europe of the Turks, St Casimir could never again be persuaded to take up arms though urged to do so by his father and invited once more by the disaffected Hungarian magnates. He returned to his studies and his prayers, though for a time he was viceroy in Poland during an absence of his father. An attempt was made to induce him to marry a daughter of the Emperor Frederick III, but he refused to relax the celibacy he had imposed on himself.
St Casimir’s austerities did nothing to help the lung trouble from which he suffered, and he died at the age of twenty-six in 1484 and was buried at Vilna, where his relics still rest in the church of St Stanislaus. Miracles were reported at his tomb, and he was canonised in 1521’.
from The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints by Fr Alban Butler, 1710-1773
O God, who, amidst the pleasures of a temporal kingdom, didst endue thy blessed Saint Casimir with constancy to resist all temptations: grant, we beseech thee, that by his intercession, thy faithful people may learn to despise all things earthly, and to seek earnestly after all things heavenly; 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.
O Lord, who has taught us that all our doings without charity are nothing worth: send thy Holy Ghost, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before thee; 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.
‘This most lovely collect was introduced into the Prayer Book in 1549 to set before us in the plainest terms our proper aim in the forthcoming season of Lent. We are to use this opportunity not in order to acquire some of the more rare and exquisite graces of the Christian life, but to make sure of our competence in the most fundamental virtue of all.
We are not left in any doubt about the unique importance of charity. Both the beginning and the ending of the collect assure us of that. Jesus himself has taught us that “all our doings without charity are nothing worth”, and we know that without it an otherwise healthy person is reckoned as dead in the eyes of Christ.
It would be difficult to find words that put more strongly the position that for Christians the law of charity is the primary law of life, the standard to which all other regulations must conform. No other success in the sphere of living is of any lasting value unless it is permeated by the spirit of charity.
…One would be terrified if one felt that this charity was something one had to acquire for oneself: the consequences of not attaining it are so disastrous. Happily, however, we are told that this is not something we must win for ourselves. It is a gift. All we have to do is to reach out our hands and accept it, and then let it have its way with us. And so we pray that the Holy Spirit may pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity’.
from Reflections on the Collects, 1964
by William Wand KCVO, 1885-1977 (Bishop of London 1945-1955)
For Saturday: A prayer against weakness in well-doing
I. O My God, merciful and gracious, my soul groans under the loads of its own infirmity, when my spirit is willing, my flesh is weak; my understanding foolish and imperfect, my will peevish and listless, my affections wandring after strange objects, my fancy wilde and unfixed, all my senses minister to folly and vanity; and though they were all made for Religion, yet they least of all delight in that. O my God pity me, and hear me when I pray, and make that I may pray acceptably. Give me a love to Religion, an unwearied spirit in the things of God. Let me not relish or delight in the things of the world, in sensual objects, and transitory possessions; but make my eyes look up to thee, my soul be filled with thee, my spirit ravished with thy love, my understanding imployed in the meditation of thy Law, all my powers and faculties of soul and body wholly serving thee, and delighting in such holy ministeries.
II. O Most gracious God, what greater favour is there then that I may, and what easier imployment can there be then to pray thee, to be admitted into thy presence, and to represent our needs, and that we have our needs supplied onely for asking and desiring passionately and humbly. But we rather quit our hopes of heaven, then buy it at the cheapest rate of humble prayer. This, O God, is the greatest infirmity and infelicity of man, and hath an intolerable cause, and is an unsufferable evil.
III. O Relieve my spirit with thy graciousness, take from me all tediousness of spirit, and give me a laboriousness that will not be tired, a hope that shall never fail a desire of holiness not to be satisfied till it possesses, a charity that will alwayes increase; that I making Religion the business of my whole life, may turn all things into Religion, doing all to thy glory, and by the measures of thy Word and of thy Spirit, that when thou shalt call me from this deliciousness of imployment, and the holy ministeries of grace, I may pass into the imployment of Saints and Angels, whose work it is with eternal joy and thanksgiving to sing praises to the mercies of the great Redeemer of Men, and Saviour of Men and Angels, Jesus Christ our Lord: To whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and worship, all service and thanks, all Glory and Dominon for ever and ever. Amen.
from The Golden Grove or A Manuall of Daily Prayers and Letanies, 1655
by Jeremy Taylor, 1613-1667 (Anglican Bishop of Down and Connor 1661-1667)
On Tuesday the first day of March in the grave
to die he went to lie.
There were on his grave, good end,
fine clergy singing a gloria,
angels of heaven on the bank of a stream
after his funeral.
The soul of a man who is buried
in the cemetery of David of Menevia
above all other land, it is not vain,
will not be condemned to the pit of hell;
no filthy devil will ever tread
on his land for all the world’s wealth.
If there were in a book of paper
every day as on a long summer’s day
one of the same nature as a public notary
with ink and steel-tipped pen
writing, it was profit,
his famous life,
hardly, however good he were,
would he ever manage to write
in three days and a full year
all the miracles which he performed.
from Mawl i Ddewi Sant: In praise of Saint David, c.1380-1400
by Iolo Goch (1320-1398), edited by Dafydd Johnston (b.1955)
O Almighty God, who in thy providence didst choose thy servant David to be an apostle to the people of Wales, to bring those who were wandering in darkness and error to the true light and knowledge of thee: grant us, by his intercession, so to walk in that light; that we may come at last to the light of everlasting life; 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.
Fr Lee Kenyon
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