‘We want to come to our prayer in the spirit of a disciple. Always saying the same prayers just as a matter of duty will be to lack the spirit of discipleship in prayer. The disciple will always have something to bring to the Master. There is the day’s work behind him, for which he wants criticism, correction, forgiveness, and teaching; there is the day's work before him, for which he wants guidance and direction. Therefore in his prayer there will be much listening and expectant silence, and obedient readiness for alteration or abandonment, so the holiest way of the Master may be communicated to his listening spirit. It makes the whole difference if, instead of bringing a plan to Him and asking Him to bless it, we come to Him as disciples to learn what His best plan may be, quite ready to abandon our own plan and to have all our idea altered as we kneel before Him. Perhaps we were going to ask Him how we should do or say something: we find it would be much better not to do or say anything at all. When the Master has finished giving us His advice, as in simple prayer and meditation we lay our souls before Him, we shall not get up immediately and go away, but in meditation we shall contemplate the Master’s own work, His skill in doing the thing we have bungled. Then we shall cease from looking even at the Master’s work and contemplate the Master Himself. Himself - myself - my work - His work - Himself. That will be the kind of order in which we bring ourselves and our interests to Him.
If we really love God we shall not be saying that we have not time for prayer. People do not talk like that when they are in love. Romeo had to haunt the house of Juliet, and Juliet could not have said that she had no time to see Romeo. They could not help coming together. A disciple will find the time for prayer to the Master; and the more we pray, the more precious does prayer become. Throughout the day we want to keep the spirit of recollection, in other words, the remembrance of vocation. The boat that meets the storm is the same boat that lay quietly at anchor. It came to harbour that it might go forth again; it goes forth that it may come back: but the captain was with it in port or at sea. We must keep in our life this sense of going out from Jesus and returning to Him, and yet keeping Him with us all the day’.
from The Way of Victory: Meditations for Lent and After by Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
‘Temptations do not make a man evil, but they show what he is. Temptations are the occasions by which also the power of God may be shown in those who will live in his power. And as they live in his power, they are taken up into the glory of his holiness. In the world we are then in the midst of continual temptations, and these temptations are the very means by which our spiritual life is perfected.
Whenever God permits us to experience some great temptation, we must humble ourselves before him; but along with the humiliation we must always have more confidence, for he giveth more grace.
Satan tries to persuade us when he tempts us that we cannot come to Jesus because of the temptation, - that it makes us unfit to come. But oh! that is the very reason why we should come. Temptations should form the very closest bond between us and our divine Lord, because they are a bond which makes us sure of the divine sympathy.
Even if we feel that we cannot come because of our halfheartedness, because of fear that we have connived with Satan by reason of our sinfulness; we must still remember that it is only by coming to Jesus that we can be cleansed from our halfheartedness, and that we can only be washed from our sinfulness by plunging into the ocean of his love.
God will not reject us because we have borne many wounds in coming to him, and are bleeding in the fight. He rejoices to see us longing for himself above all. He owns us as his children when the violence of Satan does not stay not stifle us, but evokes from the depth of love a fresh tide of grateful song. We must press onward through these adverse circumstances to the glory of the Father’s throne. Angels will guard, the Holy Spirit will strengthen us. The defilement will turn to glory amidst the welcome of heaven’.
Richard Meux Benson SSJE, 1824-1915
‘Most people’s wilderness is inside them, not outside. Thinking of it as outside is generally a trick we play upon ourselves - a trick to hide from us what we really are, not comfortingly wicked, but incapable, for the time being, of establishing communion. Our wilderness, then, is an inner isolation. It’s an absence of contact. It’s a sense of being alone - boringly alone, or saddeningly alone, or terrifyingly alone.
Our isolation is really us - inwardly without sight or hearing or taste or touch. But it doesn’t seem like that. Oh no. I ask myself what I’m isolated from, and the answer looks agonisingly easy enough. I feel isolated from Betty whom I love desperately and is just the sort of woman who could never could love me. And so to feel love, I think, must be at the same time to feel rejection. Or I feel isolated from the social people who, if noise the index of happiness, must be very happy indeed on Saturday evenings. Or I feel isolated from the competent people, the success-boys who manage to get themselves into print without getting themselves into court. Or I feel isolated, in some curious way, from my work. I find it dull and uninviting. It’s meant - it used - to enliven me and wake me up. Now it deadens me and sends me to sleep.
Is it to go on always like now, just - tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow - a slow process of dusty greyish events with a lot of forced laughter, committee laughter, cocktail laughter, and streaks of downright pain?
This then is our Lent, our going with Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. And we might apply to it some words from the First Epistle of St Peter: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice, insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed”’.
HA Williams CR, 1919-2006
‘Every year readers write to the Telegraph pointing out that the mid-Sunday in Lent is not “Mother’s Day” but “Mothering Sunday”. Many blame America for introducing the former and making it commercial.
In America, of course, Mother’s Day is the second Sunday in May, as proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914. It is marked on that day because it was the result of a campaign by Anna Jarvis (1864–1948), whose own mother had died on 9th May.
This is where the British tradition grows a little complicated. For the revival of Mothering Sunday must be attributed to Constance Smith (1878–1938), and she was inspired in 1913 by reading a newspaper report of Anna Jarvis’s campaign in America.
A big difference was that Constance Smith was a High Anglican who believed that “a day in praise of mothers” was fully expressed in the liturgy of the Church of England for the Fourth Sunday in Lent. This is not entirely the case, for the Collect on that Sunday traditionally asks God that “we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved”. That doesn’t sound specifically maternal.
It is only the traditional Lesson for the day that declares: “Jerusalem which is above is free; which is the mother of us all,” a day known by another title, Laetare Sunday, from the Introit, the first prayer of the Mass, which says: “Rejoice ye with Jerusalem: and be ye glad for her, all ye that delight in her: exult and sing for joy with her, all ye that in sadness mourn for her… and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolation.” A third title, Refreshment Sunday, evokes this imagery, and echoes the anticipatory joy of the day, which points towards the fulness of Easter joy in the new Jersualem, and this is expressed through the use of rose vestments, flowers, and the resumption of the organ at Mass.
Laetare Sunday’s connections with mothers came through it being the day to visit the mother church or cathedral. Some customs of the day outlived the Reformation. These included making a simnel cake and taking it to Mother. “I’ll to thee a Simnel bring, / Gainst thou go’st a Mothering,” wrote the celebratory poet Robert Herrick in the mid 17th century.
Constance Smith reconnected simnel cakes and what local customs of the day that survived with the honouring of mothers. Under the pen-name C. Penswick Smith she published a booklet The Revival of Mothering Sunday in 1920. Things snowballed, impelled by feelings consequent on the loss by many mothers of their sons in the First World War.
Constance Smith’s idea was not that Mothering Sunday should be limited to one Christian denomination, and its popularity spread through such open organisations as the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. “By 1938,” wrote Cordelia Moyse, the modern historian of the Mothers’ Union, “it was claimed that Mothering Sunday was celebrated in every parish in Britain and in every country of the Empire.”
Neither Constance Smith nor Anna Jarvis ever became mothers themselves. Anna Jarvis regretted the growing commercialisation of the day, even to disapproving of pre-printed Mother’s Day cards. “A printed card means nothing,” she said, “except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world”’.
Christopher Howse in The Daily Telegraph
‘Easter will soon be here! That is the new theme which permeates this Sunday’s liturgy. From it all other motifs and topics take their inspiration. Christ, the new Moses, provides heavenly manna, the Eucharist, for his disciples. He leads them to the heavenly Jerusalem, the Church, and makes them God’s free children.
This Sunday has a unique distinction in the Church year - a day of joy in the season of penance and sorrow! All the Mass texts ring with joy: the entrance song is a joyous shout, “Laetare - rejoice!”
Clear and loud like a bugle call, the Introit heralds its message to rejoice because the “mourning” of Lent will soon be over. New children will soon be born (through baptism) and nourished “at the breast of Mother Church” (the Eucharist). Psalm 121 is an excellent song for a procession approaching the altar, its sentiments will be on the lips of the white-robed catechumens on Holy Saturday, and on ours when at death we pass into the heavenly Jerusalem.
It may perhaps seem strange to find the Church in a mood so devoid of sadness and penance during this season of austerity and mortification. Nevertheless today, the fourth Sunday of Lent, the last before Passiontide, she is ringingly jubilant... Nor is this any way unnatural because joy and sorrow so often are very close together in the human heart! How frequently joy is born of suffering’.
from The Church’s Year of Grace, 1953, by Pius Parsch, 1884-1954
Charles Wesley wrote this hymn following an experience of evangelical conversion in London on Whitsunday in 1738. It expresses his deep and total commitment to God and of his desire to be renewed in body and soul, as expressed by the Psalmist’s words, ‘Make me a clean heart, O GOD, and renew a right Spirit within me’. (Ps. 51:10).
Charles Wesley, 1707-1788
Antiphon. Behold, now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation: in these days therefore let us approve ourselves as the servants of God, in much patience, in fastings, in watchings, and by love unfeigned.
V. God shall give his Angels charge concerning thee.
R. To keep thee in all thy ways.
O GOD, who dost purify the Church in the yearly observance of these forty days: grant unto this thy family; that as by abstinence we strive after thy blessings, so we may receive them from thee as the fruit of good works. 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.
O LORD Jesu Christ, Maker, Redeemer, Lover and Benefactor of mankind, who graciously hearest those who earnestly call upon thee, have mercy upon me. Cleanse me, I beseech thee, by thy most holy Incarnation and passion from all sin. Cast down in me all haughtiness of pride; destroy all arrogance; break in pieces and utterly crush all hardness of spirit which is contrary to sincere love. Calm the troubled risings of impatience. Repress and quell the wild impulse and madness of anger; extinguish the wrong desire of vain glory. Root out and destroy the evil motions of wicked lusts. Take from me whatever in me displeaseth thee, and give me what is pleasing unto thee. Teach, enlighten, direct, assist, protect and keep me every moment and hour of my life, that I may do those things which are pleasing to thee, and rest secure in thee for ever. Amen.
from A Manual of Catholic Devotion for Members of the Church of England, 1950
‘At times during our lives, like Our Lord, we too need to live for forty days in the desert, to attend more closely to God and to purify our hearts. Each year we penetrate more deeply, and share more fully, the mystery of divine life and love revealed in the death, resurrection and ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ. During Lent we reflect on the mystery by recalling the three temptations of Our Lord after his forty days of fasting and prayer.
The temptations of Christ reveal the human condition. They tell us something about faith and hope and the sovereignty of God over the whole of creation. First, the devil took advantage of Jesus' hunger after forty days of fasting to tempt him to limit his concern to the relief of physical human need: giving bread to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, housing the homeless. These are vital concerns and God cares about them, but they cannot be the sole concern of the Saviour or of the Church which continues his mission. We need too a reason for living, a sense of purpose, a vision. We need the bread of life, the word of truth which comes from God. The best gift to the world is the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
The second temptation was to seek a sign from the Father, a dramatic intervention to overwhelm all disbelief and opposition. On Calvary there was an echo of the same temptation: “Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him” (Matthew 27:42). But miraculous escape is a delusion. The children of God have to be prepared to wait in faith and enduring hope. We realise, like Christ, that love alone will conquer hate and that life is found only in the experience of death. In darkness we have faith in the light, we hope for life without end. Despair paralyses the human will. Instead, we are offered the inspiration of hope and new life.
The final temptation is to use earthly power and strength to enforce the good we wish to achieve. But whatever the motive, we must follow the path God the Father has shown us in the life of his Son. In faith and hope we must be content with weakness and apparent failure. The blessing we bring to our world is the message of Jesus Christ, a message that we must communicate and put into practice. It is the only answer to the unbelief and moral anarchy that causes so much misery.
It is our task to witness to the truth and commit ourselves to the Gospel of reconciliation, peace, unity and love of others. We must be consistent and wholehearted in our service of God’.
from The Mystery of the Cross, 1998, by Basil, Cardinal Hume OSB, 1923-1999
‘The Lenten journey, in which we are invited to contemplate the Mystery of the Cross, is meant to reproduce within us “the pattern of his death” (Ph 3:10), so as to effect a deep conversion in our lives; that we may be transformed by the action of the Holy Spirit, like Saint Paul on the road to Damascus; that we may firmly orient our existence according to the will of God; that we may be freed of our egoism, overcoming the instinct to dominate others and opening us to the love of Christ. The Lenten period is a favourable time to recognise our weakness and to accept, through a sincere inventory of our life, the renewing Grace of the Sacrament of Penance, and walk resolutely towards Christ.
Through the personal encounter with our Redeemer and through fasting, almsgiving and prayer, the journey of conversion towards Easter leads us to rediscover our Baptism. This Lent, let us renew our acceptance of the Grace that God bestowed upon us at that moment, so that it may illuminate and guide all of our actions. What the Sacrament signifies and realises, we are called to experience every day by following Christ in an ever more generous and authentic manner. In this our itinerary, let us us entrust ourselves to the Virgin Mary, who generated the Word of God in faith and in the flesh, so that we may immerse ourselves - just as she did - in the death and resurrection of her Son Jesus, and possess eternal life’.
from Rediscovering our Baptism: Message for Lent 2011, given at the Vatican by Pope Benedict XVI
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 from Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘The importance of recognising one’s enemies is very great. There appears to be a certain combative or competitive instinct in human nature which, if properly developed, can be of real service in the formation of character. On the other hand, it can be the instrument of terrible evil. It is said that Hitler... deliberately stirred up the hatred of his people for the Jews in order to strengthen their unity and toughen their aggressive quality.
The collect for today assumes that we know who are our enemies. Certainly it would give no encouragement to Hitler’s dastardly choice of an innocent race on which to sharpen the edge of his followers' brutality. The enemies it has in view are the adversaries of. the soul, the treacherous assailants so neatly summed up in the three-fold division of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Of these perhaps the world is the most difficult to recognise, because the term itself is ambiguous. Here what is intended is not just the physical universe, but society organised apart from God, or, perhaps more accurately, everything in our environment that would lead us away from God.
The ‘flesh’ is easier to understand, although... we must not make the mistake of thinking that our physical nature is wholly bad. Perhaps we can think of it more easily as the world within ourselves, everything that would take the ordinary and natural instincts and turn their satisfaction into mere means of self-gratification without any thought of God or of others... It applies to any extravagant desire: greed, ambition, gluttony, miserliness, or the mere covetousness which Saint Paul so often warns us against... We are innately self-centred and consider everything in relation to ourselves. All that is a “temptation of the flesh”. It is an enemy to be resisted and subdued. Every desire must be brought under bondage to Christ. This is a war in which there is no discharge.
The third enemy is the devil. He is the very principle of evil, generally conceived as personal because of the subtlety and ingenuity with which he makes his assaults on the citadel of the soul... [His] power is manifested not only in rash impulses and insensate rages, but in sly suggestions and unworthy doubts. It is seen in both the hasty word and the cowardly silence. Those of us who are familiar with the story of the passion and crucifixion of Jesus will remember that it was Satan who entered into the heart of Judas and induced him to betray his Master.
It is from such enemies that we have a “hearty desire” to be delivered. We recognise that it is a really serious matter, a matter of life and death. But we have no need for fear, or anxiety, or even of small worries. God's right hand is more powerful than that of any devil. Jesus is depicted by Saint Mark as the victor over the whole universe of demonic powers. In him we are safe: our victory has been won... If we see our enemies clearly and trust fully in the power of God, we destroy every foe and reign with Christ for ever’.
from Reflections on the Collects, 1964
by William Wand KCVO, 1885-1977 (Bishop of London 1945-1955)
‘It has become a tradition with many of us to give up something during Lent. That, surely, is what “fasting” means? And if, for one reason or another, the holy season finds our breakfast-tables no less generously spread than they were wont to be, we make compensation for it by doing without some little daily luxury. The effect of this is to produce a gratifying sense of irritation; such is our human make-up that the grasshopper can become a burden, and a deliberate abstention, though it be only from sweets or the cinema, pricks like a hairshirt. Which is why the forty days of Lent seem to pass so slowly; will it never be Easter Day? And no doubt it is good for us.
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)
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.
The humble soul compos’d of love and fear
Begins at home, and lays the burden there,
When doctrines disagree,
He says, in things which use hath justly got,
I am a scandal to the Church, and not
The Church is so to me.
True Christians should be glad of an occasion
To use their temperance, seeking no evasion,
When good is seasonable;
Unless Authority, which should increase
The obligation in us, make it less,
And Power itself disable.
Besides the cleanness of sweet abstinence,
Quick thoughts and motions at a small expense,
A face not fearing light:
Whereas in fulness there are sluttish fumes,
Sour exhalations, and dishonest rheums,
Revenging the delight.
Then those same pendant profits, which the spring
And Easter intimate, enlarge the thing,
And goodness of the deed.
Neither ought other men’s abuse of Lent
Spoil the good use; lest by that argument
We forfeit all our Creed.
It’s true, we cannot reach Christ’s forti’eth day;
Yet to go part of that religious way,
Is better than to rest:
We cannot reach our Saviour’s purity;
Yet we are bid, ‘Be holy ev’n as he,’
In both let’s do our best.
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.
George Herbert, 1593-1633
Since I am presently in Wales, the ‘land of song’- choral singing and congregational hymnody, in particular - I share one of my favourite hymns, appropriate for the Lenten season.
Be thou my guardian and my guide was written by the Tractarian cleric, The Reverend Isaac Williams, who was born at Cwmcynfelin in Cardiganshire in 1802. His first curacy was served in Gloucestershire, close to John Keble’s parish at Fairford, and was followed by curacies at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, under John Henry Newman, and at Littlemore. Williams was a prolific writer, responsible for Tracts 80, 86 and 87 of Tracts for the Times, and was the author of many devotional and catechetical works, and a translator of Latin hymns from the Parisian Breviary.
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.
‘On the first Sunday in Lent we are reminded of our Lord’s own forty days’ fast, on which this season of Lent, having begun with the preparation of candidates for baptism, was modelled. With a view, no doubt, to the proper framing of our own Lent rule, we are invited to pray that we may observe the right kind of fasting, and that whatever we do may issue in true holiness to the glory of God.
Following [Jesus’] example we are to see to it that our Lent rule has a definite objective and that our fast is observed for the right purpose. It is not, of course, just for show: it is not to let people see how good and serious we are. Indeed, it is not at all necessary that other people should know what our private rule is. Enough if they see us following the public rule of the Church.
[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,
+ Mark, Bishop of Shrewsbury
The Very Reverend Eric Milner-White, Dean of York from 1941 until his death in 1963, was one of the most remarkable and accomplished Anglican clergymen of the last century. A committed Anglo-Catholic, he founded the Oratory of the Good Shepherd at Cambridge in 1913, and as Dean of King’s College from 1918 to 1941 he skilfully adapted Bishop Benson of Truro’s Christmas Eve service of Nine Lessons and Carols for use in the college chapel. That festal service, with its familiar structure of well-crafted and chosen prayers, lessons, choral music, and congregational hymnody, is now a firm fixture in the liturgical and musical calendars of Anglican parishes and cathedrals the world over. But it is also a much cherished part of Anglican liturgical and pastoral patrimony that those who have entered the Ordinariate now seek to preserve - and promote - within the Catholic Church, as a version of it included in the Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham bears witness.
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
‘Lent brings before us the vision of 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 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 by Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
‘Lent... is the time of salvation par excellence not only for catechumens and penitents, but for the faithful as well. The catechumens attain their goal in baptism on Holy Saturday, the penitents theirs in the reconciliation of Holy Thursday. Lent is designed to aid them in preparing. And through daily Mass the faithful have the divine life within them enriched and perfected. By Holy Thursday they should be free from all sin and cleansed of guilt so as to appear in the full maturity and perfection of grace on Holy Saturday.
I view Lent, indeed the whole Easter cycle, from the approach of a life filled with God. The Christmas cycle was dominated by the idea of the kingdom of God, a kingdom that was expected during Advent and established at Christmas and Epiphany. Dominating the Easter cycle, however, is the theme of supernatural life engendered, renewed, and perfected’.
from The Church’s Year of Grace, 1953, by Pius Parsch, 1884-1954
Dr Parsch says of the image: ‘The design summarises the main thoughts of [Ash Wednesday] well. At the bottom we see the first sad Ash Wednesday, when God said to Adam and Eve: You are dust, and to dust you will return. Death would be their lot. The middle section shows the station church of Saint Sabina; the two soldiers remind us that we are entering upon the great battle of Lent. Our efforts should bear fruit in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Above, a monk is sitting, one who “meditates upon the law of God day and night” (Psalm 1). He is a figure of what we should be doing during Lent. We cast the anchor of our little storm-tossed boat around the Cross, putting all our trust in God’s mercy. Already the fruit of our Lenten efforts is ripening’.
Fr Lee Kenyon
A Treasure to be Shared
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