As Lent begins this year, let us make resolutions in order to live not for the earth but for heaven. Whether we like it or not, our present life has no other meaning. As soon as we accept this truth, as soon as we conform to it or at least do not reject it, our outlook on life changes. We consider earthly things from God’s point of view. Each one of us is responsible for his or her own soul. Let us profit from this Lenten season to think often about the responsibility that we have before God of working toward our sanctification. We are obliged to do so, since it is the will of God that we be saints. Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect, said Our Lord. (St. Matthew 5: 48)
Father John Gregory of the Trinity, O.D.M.

The Holy Season of Lent

Altar of the Chapel of Jesus Crucified – Monastery of the Apostles – Lent

The holy season of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday and concludes on Easter Sunday, was instituted by the Apostles in imitation of Our Lord’s forty-day fast in the desert.

“The day of His baptism, Jesus is proclaimed the well-beloved Son of the Father, the Master to be followed and imitated; then, prompted by the Spirit of God, He goes to spend forty days and forty nights in the desert. As the Head of sinful humanity, He wants to show us the way of penance. Certainly He is sanctity personified; but He takes the burden of our iniquities upon Himself and shows us how we must expiate them. At the same time, He wants to pray and mortify Himself especially for those He will soon select as His disciples.”(1)

Lent, therefore, is a time of penance and purification, to beg for divine mercy and obtain forgiveness for our sins. And there is nothing more capable of inclining our heart to these holy exercises than the consideration of the sufferings Jesus consented to bear for our love, during His life and especially during His bitter Passion. While worldlings at the approach of Lent are seeking the often sinful distractions and diversions of Carnival, let us begin to meditate on the sufferings of our Saviour.

All the Saints knew that those who frequently consider the Passion of Christ are very pleasing to Him, so they were almost always occupied in meditating on the sorrows and scorn our most meek Redeemer suffered for us. According to Saint Augustine, nothing is so useful or suitable for leading us to eternal salvation as the daily consideration of the afflictions Jesus Christ has suffered for us.

“O admirable Passion, you make those who contemplate you heavenly!” exclaims Saint Bonaventure. One day Saint Thomas Aquinas asked him which book he had referred to the most in order to incorporate so many beautiful teachings in his works. Saint Bonaventure showed him his crucifix, which had become tarnished from his kissing it, and he replied, “In this book I find all that I write; He is the One who taught me what little I know.”

Saint Leonard of Port Maurice propagated a very special devotion for the Passion of our divine Redeemer. He wrote, “The best way to sanctify the Catholic people and deliver them from the tyranny of Satan is to do everything we can to help the faithful to think often of the Saviour’s Passion and always have it engraved in their hearts. I would willingly contribute to this cause at the cost of all my blood, my last breath and my life.”(2)

“All the Saints became skillful in the art of loving God by studying the crucifix — Jesus Crucified, that must be our book. If, like all these Saints, we read it diligently, we will learn on the one hand to fear sin, and on the other to burn with love for such a loving God; for in His wounds we see the marks of the malice of sin — which condemned a God to suffer such a cruel death to satisfy divine justice — and the pledges of love the Saviour has given us by suffering so many pains, precisely to make us understand how much He loves us.”(3)

In order for this Lent to be a propitious time for our purification and our sanctification, let us try to make a meditation or do some spiritual reading every day, using the narrative of the Passion in the Gospel or a book on the subject, or the very salutary exercise of the Way of the Cross.

O.D.M.

  1.    Fr. Adolphe Tanquerey, P.S.S., La vie de Jésus dans l’Église (The Life of Jesus in the Church), pp. 9-10.
  2.    Fr. D’Ormea, Life of Saint Leonard.
  3.    Fr. Paul Wittebolle, C.SS.R., Le Carême sanctifié (L.J. Demers: Quebec City, 1899), p. 11.

This article is drawn from the Magnificat Magazine of January-February 2002

Let us ask God for the spirit of penance. And
if we cannot embrace voluntary austerities to chastise ourselves, at least
let us willingly accept the pains, labors, accidents and sacrifices that Providence imposes upon us.
Father Theodore Ratisbonne

Ash Wednesday

Following the example of the Ninivites, who did penance in sackcloth and ashes, the Church puts ashes on our heads to humble our pride and to remind us of the sentence of death that we must suffer as the result of sin, accompanying the gesture with the inspired words, Remember, O man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return. We come from dust, and unto it we shall return. That is a thought capable of leveling our pride. Ashes are the symbol of penance; the blessing of the Church makes them a sacramental that inclines us to develop the spirit of humility and sacrifice. This ceremony is what remains of an older one, used in the imposition of public penances on those guilty of very grievous sins. On Ash Wednesday, the Bishop blessed the hairshirts these penitents were to wear during the Forty Days and sprinkled over them ashes made from the palms of the previous year. Then, while the faithful chanted the Penitential Psalms, the penitents were turned out of the holy place because of their sins, as Adam, the first man, was turned out of Paradise on account of his disobedience. They did not remove their penitential garments and were not allowed into the church again until Holy Thursday, after having been reconciled by their forty days’ penance and sacramental absolution.

The ceremony of the blessing and imposition of the Ashes is a generalization of this practice; its first traces in the Roman liturgy go back to the 11th century, when Pope Urban II at the Council of Benevento (1091) prescribed that ashes be imposed upon the simple faithful. In order that this powerful sacramental may obtain from God the graces which the Church implores in blessing them, we should receive them in a spirit of humility and penance.

The liturgy of Ash Wednesday reminds us that God pardons the sins of men for the sake of repentance. (Intr.) He is rich in mercy toward those who are converted to Him with all their heart, in fasting, in weeping and in mourning… We must not rend our garments as a sign of sorrow, as the Pharisees did, but our hearts, (Ep.) for we should appear not to men as fasting, but to our Father who sees in secret, and who will repay us. (Gosp.)

Dom Gaspar Lefebvre, Missel quotidien et vespéral (St. Andrew’s Abbey Bruges, 1932), pp. 631-632.

This article was published in the Magnificat Magazine, March 1991

Recommended Reading for Lent:

  • THE PASSION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST related by Himself to Sister Josefa Menendez. Jesus reveals the sentiments of His Heart during His Passion.
  • ON THE WAY TO CALVARY, Way of the Cross meditated by Father John Gregory of the Trinity.
  • WAY OF THE CROSS meditated by Father John Gregory of the Trinity.
  • THE FIFTEEN PRAYERS revealed by Our Lord to Saint Bridget of Sweden.

Available from Editions Magnificat

ODM