Thursday, March 3, 2011

Lent in the Rule of St Benedict II - Refrain from sin and apply ourselves to prayer

So to continue this little mini-series on Lent in the Rule of St Benedict, a look at Chapter 49 in the Rule, which is entitled the 'Of Observance of Lent'.

The chapter recaps the idea of extra reading (covered in the previous part of this series), and mentions abstaining from food and drink, which I'll come back to in the third part of this series.  But its main focus is on prayer and other forms of offering we can make during this period.

Chapter 49: Of the Observance of Lent

Here is the relevant text of the Rule (trans J McCann):

"The life of a monk ought at all times to be lenten in its character; but since few have the strength for that, we therefore urge that in these days of Lent the brethren should lead lives of great purity, and should also in this sacred season expiate the negligences of other times.

This will be worthily done if we refrain from all sin and apply ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart, and to abstinence.

In these days, therefore, let us add something beyond the wonted measure of our service, such as private prayers and abstinence in food and drink. Let each one, over and above the measure prescribed for him, offer God something of his own free will in the joy of the Holy Spirit.

That is to say, let him stint himself of food, drink, sleep, talk, and jesting, and look forward with the joy of spiritual longing to the holy feast of Easter.

Let each one, however, tell his abbot what he is offering, and let it be done with his consent and blessing; because what is done without the permission of the spiritual father shall be ascribed to presumption and vainglory and not reckoned meritorious. Everything, therefore, is to be done with the approval of the abbot."

Approval of a spiritual director or confessor?

The Rule mentions that whatever should be done, should be done with the approval of the abbot.  That is consistent with the whole Benedictine concept that for the monk, obedience is the higher virtue.

So ideally lay people too, should consult their spiritual director.

That isn't always possible though, and perhaps isn't necessary if what is chosen is something moderate and appropriate to one's state of life.  Stinting one's self of sleep, for example, might be possible and even desirable if you are in a monastery - but rather less so if you are a truck driver!  But many of us could for example decide to get up half an hour earlier and, say pray the penitential psalms, even if we then go to bed earlier to compensate.

Stirring up that compunction of heart

There are of course any number of things you could do by way of a suitable offering here, such as giving up or cutting back on tv or other leisure activities.  But I think St Benedict's injunction to focus on compunction of heart, or contrition, is well worth keeping in mind, and a very good positive way of achieving that is to pray the penitential psalms.

So, just in case anyone is interesting in praying the penitential psalms during Lent (you could for example just do one a day...), I plan to offer a series on them here, focusing on one a week...

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