Electric Prayer

The Liturgy of the Hours, the Mass, and other things.

Lent 2019 newsletter

Posted by universalis on 7 March 2019

Happy Lent!

To many of us this greeting may sound odd, because isn’t Lent meant to be associated not with happiness but with gloom? That is a risky way of thinking because it risks valuing gloom for the sake of gloom. Yes, Lent is stern, but its sternness is because it is sorting us out and setting us more firmly on the path to glory. St Paul is fond of athletic similes, so perhaps one could think of Lent as a kind of getting back into training. Nobody likes getting up at six in the morning and going for a row in the pouring rain, but unpleasant though it is, it has value both in getting rid of the belly and pointing one in the right direction for the future.

A reading suggestion for Lent

By coincidence (although it is never clear whether Divine Providence does coincidences as such) I am half way through re-reading Dante’s Purgatorio, this time in Robin Kirkpatrick’s translation with (flatteringly for the reader) the Italian text printed opposite the English.

The Purgatorio is particularly apposite to Lent because of its clear-headedness about the relationship between sin and penance and joy. The pains of Purgatory are real pains and its penances are real penances, but not for a moment are the souls undergoing them sad about them. On the contrary, the penances are a joy because they are cleansing and purifying each heaven-directed soul and preparing it for glory.

If you have not read the Divine Comedy before, read ‘Purgatory’. If you have, then read ‘Purgatory’ again. Dante is a great poet, philosopher and theologian, and his work is suffused with the clear light of mediaeval rationality. His analysis of the seven deadly sins is alone worth the price of admission: as being forms of love, misdirected (pride, envy, anger), deficient (sloth) or excessive (avarice, gluttony, lust).

The translation by Dorothy L. Sayers is readily available. It has the merit of explaining the contemporary references and allusions as well as conveying the passion of someone overwhelmed by the work of a master story-teller. Sayers first read the Divine Comedy in London as bombs were falling all around, but try as she might, she could not bring herself to find the bombs interesting in comparison to the story which Dante was telling. Kirkpatrick (also easy to get hold of) is not a layman like Sayers but an experienced and learned academic who knows how to communicate, and his verse translation is much better as verse than Sayers’. But don’t get bogged down in deciding which ought to be the absolute best translation to use. Get whichever one is nearest, and read it.

The Revised Standard Version

While we are on the subject of translations, Universalis has always, in the Liturgy of the Hours, used the Jerusalem Bible for the readings. This is familiar in many parts of the English-speaking world because it is the translation used at Mass.

We have long wanted to be able to offer an alternative, and now we can. We have reached agreement with the copyright owners of the RSV, and the Revised Standard Version (Catholic Edition) is now available as an add-on to the Universalis apps. You can read all about the RSV add-on in this blog post.

The two-year cycle

The Office of Readings is notable for the large chunk of Scripture which it offers as a reading each day. That is why it has the name it has. The readings repeat themselves each year, but that was not the original intention. When the revised Liturgy of the Hours was first designed, it was intended to have not a yearly cycle but a two-year cycle, so that over the course of two years one would find oneself having read practically all the parts of the Bible that matter.

Practicalities got in the way, since two years’ worth of readings would have taken an enormous amount of space, and so all the printed breviaries use a yearly cycle. But the two-year cycle still does exist, and since doubling the amount of data does not make an app any heavier, we have for several years included the two-year cycle as an option in Universalis.

There was one exception: for copyright reasons to do with the Jerusalem Bible, people in the USA and Canada could not have access to the two-year cycle. Now that the Revised Standard Version add-on is available, there is a way round this restriction, by buying the add-on and using RSV in place of the Jerusalem Bible. This blog post has full explanations and instructions.

A Lenten exercise

It is possible to suffocate one’s virtuous impulses by being over-ambitious, rather like throwing too many leaves onto the bonfire all at once. In trying to avoid this kind of failure it is possible to do the opposite, and abandon any idea of effort: an attitude that is less obviously vicious than simple honest sloth but just as pernicious.

If you are caught between those extremes, a good thing is to go forward less ambitiously, more slowly, but ultimately more reliably. The physical analogy would be not signing up to that gym subscription or all those classes, but instead walking to the second nearest bus stop rather than the nearest one, or using the stairs rather than the lift. In time, the habit of activity will grow, and what is a bit of an effort now will become second nature.

In the enthusiasm of early Lent you could be inspired to lay out a severe schedule for yourself, of so many psalms a day, or of every Hour at three-hour intervals through the day, leaping out of bed at 5.30 and doing the Office of Readings on your knees (before, presumably, a cold shower and a run round the block). I am not decrying this. For some people, with sufficient willpower (or an appropriate influx of grace), it will work, and that is wonderful. But the likelier result for most of us is that the idea itself will give you a warm feeling tonight but then, at 5.30 tomorrow morning, your bed will give you a warmer one, and the whole project will collapse on the first day.

Having Universalis in your pocket makes it easy to go forward by half measures, reviving your spiritual life without any self-consciousness or feeling that a Grand Project is under way.

Do an extra Hour, is my suggestion. Do it, I would say, even if you don’t really have time for it. Do it over coffee, or while travelling, or anything. Do it badly if you have to, at least in the beginning stages. Gallop through the text as if you were looking at Facebook posts. Because soon – human beings being creatures of habit – you will find yourself slowing down, going deeper. You will find yourself looking forward to that Hour, from curiosity, from habit, from growing desire. And then you will naturally make the transition from ‘doing it at all’ to ‘doing it well’. You will want to know what God is saying to you today.

Slow growth makes strong wood.

Another Lenten exercise

I have to mention another way that one correspondent mentioned to me: again based on the fact that Universalis, like a book, is with you always and you can tap into it without the distraction of any great effort. The correspondent, a long-time user of Universalis, is subscribing to the recorded audio version for Lent, and thus able to ‘add an Hour’ at any time, even when doing something else, and without anybody noticing. If you need reminding of the range of spoken audio available in the Universalis apps, here are the details for iPhone / iPad / iPod Touch and here are the details for Android.

Meditations for Lent

As I mentioned in January, this Lent the About Today pages will carry daily meditations by the renowned biblical scholar Dom Henry Wansbrough OSB, from his book of Lenten mediations, “40 Days and 40 Ways”, which is published by the Catholic Truth Society. We thank the CTS for suggesting this idea and Dom Henry for kindly giving his permission.

This is the first time we have done something like this, so it is very much an experiment, but we hope that many of you will find it to be of benefit. You may also be interested in visiting the CTS Bookshop web site and buying the booklet itself or looking through all the other publications the CTS have to offer. Although they are based in London, they can send books worldwide.

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