The holy season of Lent is underway. Lent: that 40 day period (excluding Sundays) leading up to the celebration of Christ’s victory over sin and death. Traditionally these 40 days are a time when holy Mother Church calls her children throughout the world to an intensification of the usual disciplines of the Christian life: prayer, fasting and alms-giving. What follows are several examples of how we might intensify the spiritual discipline of prayer during this Lenten season and beyond.
During the Lenten season most Catholic parishes increase the number of opportunities to celebrate Mass during the week. Some parishes add one additional Mass per week; some parishes add several. The parish I attend adds a total of seven additional Masses each week! Consider attending Mass as often as you can during the Lenten season.
If you are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church you are still welcome to attend Mass; with the exception of receiving the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, you are welcome to participate fully in every other way.
Every one of us can make it our special intention during the Lenten season to pray for the reunion of the Church, East and West, and for the return of all the separated sisters and brothers of the various sects and ecclesial communities to return to full unity for which Our Blessed Lord prayed, “may they all be one.”
Liturgy of the Hours (LOTH):
Ordained ministers of the Church and those in consecrated life are obligated to pray daily the Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the Church. Many lay men and women also pray the LOTH.
If you are interested in praying the LOTH and have access to the internet, there are several reliable versions of the LOTH available online. The websites ibreviary.org/en, universalis.com, and divineoffice.org are all helpful tools to guide you in praying the LOTH.
Lectio Divina (Divine Reading):
A way of reading sacred Scripture that has developed in the Church over the centuries is known as Lectio Divina. Through Lectio Divina we are invited to engage with the Scriptures in such a way that by God’s grace we are transformed ever more deeply by the Word into His image and likeness.
Here is one form of Lectio Divina I learned as a young man in my formation in consecrated life (we called it Contemplative Bible Study). Use it as illustrated or adapt it in whatever way the Spirit leads you.
1) Choose a passage from Scripture. Some people use one of the daily Mass readings; many people use the Gospel for the upcoming Sunday Mass.
2) Open with prayer. The prayer I most often begin with is a prayer for discernment by St. Francis of Assisi. “Most High and Glorious God, bring light to the darkness of my heart. Give me right faith, certain hope and perfect charity. Lord, give me insight and wisdom that I might always discern your holy and true will. Amen.”
3) Read the chosen Scripture passage slowly, out loud if possible, so you can actually hear the Word of the Lord. As you read the passage be very attentive to the words you are reading. When the words of Scripture are proclaimed, the Lord Himself is speaking. As the Church’s instructions for the reading of the Scriptures at Mass tell us, “When the Scriptures are read…God himself is speaking to his people and Christ, present in his own word, is proclaiming the Gospel.”
(If you are in a group: Read the passage loud enough for all to hear.)
4) After you have read the passage sit in silence for a few minutes (five or more). As you sit silently before the Word of God, ask yourself what word or phrase the Holy Spirit brought to your attention in the reading? Slowly repeat that word or phrase several times. Don’t analyze the word(s) or yourself. Simply repeat the word or phrase several times.
(If you are in a group: Rather than repeating the word phrase several times, go around the room and allow each person to share his or her word or phrase without commentary from the individual or other people in the group.)
5) Read the passage slowly a second time. Again as you read the passage be attentive to the words you are reading. The Word speaks to us through the words of sacred Scripture. At the end of the reading sit silently for a few minutes (five or more). As you sit silently, humbly before the Word of God, what word or phrase did the Holy Spirit bring to your attention this time? Perhaps it is the same word or phrase; perhaps it is an altogether different word or phrase.
In either case, ask the Lord to reveal to you why this certain word or phrase holds particular meaning for you at this time in your journey. What is it about you, your past, your present, or your anticipated future that makes this particular word or phrase from Scripture meaningful to you? How does it speak to your condition? Prayerfully consider this question as you sit in silence before God in Christ for as long as the Holy Spirit holds you there.
(If you are in a group: Invite each person to share the answers to the above questions, as much as they feel comfortable sharing. After each person has had an opportunity to share, continue with step #6.)
6) Read the passage over a third and final time slowly, prayerfully. After you have finished reading the passage consider any insights you have gained in the previous steps. Now ask God to enlighten your mind and heart to the ways He is inviting or perhaps challenging you to grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ.
(If in a group: Invite each person to share how God is inviting or challenging him or her to grow in relationship with Jesus Christ.)
7) End your time of Lectio Divina by thanking God for revealing Himself to you through the words of sacred Scripture. I often close with the prayer traditionally attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
(If you are in a group: An alternative step before closing with the “prayer of St. Francis” is to go around the circle and beginning with yourself have each member pray out loud the intention of the person to her or his right. The intention would be what the person had just revealed as the way the Lord was inviting or challenging the person to grow in his or her relationship with Christ.)
I hope these several examples of how you might go about deepening your discipline of prayer during Lent have been helpful. My personal prayer for you throughout this holy season of Lent and beyond is that you will submit every part of your life ever more fully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Please pray for me, a sinner.