A Book for Lent

One of St Benedict’s directives for Lent is that we should each be given a book that we should read straight through, in its entirety (cf RB 48). Debate has raged over whether a book of the bible is meant or some other volume. I myself have always inclined to the former view. Lent is a time for deepening our knowledge of Christ through reading the scriptures. Of course, we do that every day, but Lent has a special intensity and focus about it; and the fact that we do not choose for ourselves is important. Our Lent Book comes to us as a gift — sometimes a demanding or uncongenial one — and like all gifts has surprises in store for us.

In previous years, when I have suggested different books to different people, I have been heartened by the number who wrote afterwards, sometimes long afterwards, ‘I did not understand, but now I do! A Lent book does not reveal all its secrets at once. It works upon the soul slowly, agonisingly slowly at times. This year in community we are reading the Book of Psalms as our Lent Book. Given that we recite the whole of the psalter every week, including those psalms some more polite people think ‘not quite nice’ in the mouths of Christians, you may wonder why. The answer is simple. The psalter is the prayer-book of the early Church and, indeed, of Christ himself. It has psalms for every mood, including those we try to hide from ourselves or deny that we feel. Lent is about coming closer to God, and that means taking down the barriers we erect to try to keep him at a distance. So we pray the psalms and admit our desire to curse and rage and grumble just as often as we desire to give thanks and praise. The psalms show us ourselves as we are and the mercy God pours out upon us unceasingly. No wonder St Augustine exclaimed, ‘Psalterium meum, gaudium meum!’ (My psalter, my joy!)

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9 thoughts on “A Book for Lent”

  1. To me, the Psalms may not be expressing how I am feeling at that time. Some may be, others not so, but they enable me to pray for those who are experiencing those exact feelings right now. It really is an excellent prayer book, and yes, on some occasions I have used the cursing psalms and felt their help.

  2. Nice choise! A friend of mine said that in the Scriptures Psalms are immediately after Gospel! And I love to chant Psalms! My Lent book is a classic, Jeremiah, two chapter every day. Have a good Lent!

  3. Read The Psalms for Lent; Excellent suggestion, & I liked the idea that we do something; like Easter Hampers for those doing it hard, rather than just give up buying alcohol, as our homily today suggested.

  4. When I first began praying the Psalms in the Divine Office, I prayed them as if I myself were speaking, and tried to apply the words to my own needs. But now I more often find myself praying them as the voice of the universal Church as she goes through all her present trials and joys, scandals and triumphs. This has been a great help to me, and widens the scope of my prayers beyond the “me, me, me.” I find myself praying more and more for the Church, not just for myself.

    • Quite right. It is the tradition of the Church that we pray the psalms in persona Christi, and that can never be just a reflection of ourselves. (Just as well some days!) I think also that reading through the psalms in order, rather than as we pray them in the Divine Office, reminds us that the psalter is already an arranged book. Psalm 2 cannot be understood apart from psalm 1 or psalm 3, for example. May God bless your Lent and all who follow this discipline.

      • Thank you for suggesting reading the Psalms in order; I’ve never thought to do that, though I do know some of the “groupings,” such as the first few, and the penitential psalms, and of course the gradual psalms. I’ll try this Lent to read and study them in order. God bless you as well, Sister!

  5. I am reading Daniel at moment and I have a St Ignatius Lent book with readings for each day of Lent. I love getting closer to Jesus by reading scripture it helps in the dash of daily life.

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