Wednesday, February 14, 2024

On the observance of Lent

 Today is Ash Wednesday, and traditionally in monasteries, Chapter 49 of the Benedictine Rule, dealing with the observance of Lent is read, so here it is:

The life of a monk ought always to be a Lenten observance. However, since such virtue is that of few, we advise that during these days of Lent he guard his life with all purity and at the same time wash away during these holy days all the shortcomings of other times. This will then be worthily done, if we restrain ourselves from all vices. Let us devote ourselves to tearful prayers, to reading and compunction of heart, and to abstinence.

During these days, therefore, let us add something to the usual amount of our service, special prayers, abstinence from food and drink, that each one offer to God "with the joy of the Holy Ghost" (1 Thes 1:6), of his own accord, something above his prescribed measure; namely, let him withdraw from his body somewhat of food, drink, sleep, speech, merriment, and with the gladness of spiritual desire await holy Easter.

Let each one, however, make known to his Abbot what he offereth and let it be done with his approval and blessing; because what is done without permission of the spiritual father will be imputed to presumption and vain glory, and not to merit. Therefore, let all be done with the approval of the Abbot.

A few other chapters of the Rule also touch on Lent, covering fasting and additional sacred reading.

St Benedict's contemporary Caesarius of Arles gave a sermon (196) directed at the laity that echoes many of the same themes, so is well worth a read:

Caesarius of Arles' Sermon 196, directed at the laity, provides a useful perspective on the practice of Lent in this period:
My dear brothers and sisters, the season of Lent draws near through God’s mercy. And so I ask you, beloved, that with God’s help we may celebrate these days, which are healthful for the body and medicinal for the soul, in such a holy and spiritual way that our observance of this holy Lent may bring us not to judgement but to perfection. If we act negligently, if we become involved in too many activities, if we do not wish to be chaste, if we do not participate in fasting, vigils, and prayer, if we do not read or listen to others reading the holy Scriptures, then what should have been our medicine is turned into our wounds; what should have been our remedy becomes our judgement.
And so I ask you, my brothers and sisters, to rise up at an early hour for the vigils; gather especially for Terce, Sext, and None. May none remove themselves from this holy work unless sickness, public need, or what is clearly a great necessity occupy them. Nor is it enough that you hear the holy readings only in church; read them at home or have them read by others and gladly listen to them. Recall, my brothers and sisters, what our Lord said, “What will it profit them if they gain the whole world but give up their life?” Especially remember and constantly fear what is written: “The world’s burdens have made them miserable.” And so when at home act in such a way that you do not neglect your soul. Should you be incapable of more, at least try to labour as much for your soul as you do for your body.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, it is by fasting, reading, and prayer that we during these days of Lent should store up food for our souls as if for the whole year. For although you frequently and faithfully hear with God’s help the holy lessons throughout the whole year, during these days we should rest from the waters and waves of this world and have recourse to the port of Lent. Silently and quietly we should receive the holy readings into the receptacle of our hearts. 

No comments: