Pope Benedict gave us a gift yesterday. He gave us a Lent that would focus our minds on Christ, the Church, and His People in a way no one has ever experienced.
I awoke yesterday at 6am to learn–on Facebook–that the pope had resigned. The news spread across the world almost at the speed of thought. When Gregory XII resigned 600 years ago, how many people knew? Or cared? In the modern media age, everyone knew, and many cared very deeply. We were connected to the life of our pope through electronic media, and now we are connected to the end of his reign. It was an unprecedented moment, and we should take a moment to appreciate the unity new media creates in our Church.
It also gives us a chance, going into Lent, to pray for our Church, the man who led it, the men who will choose his successor, and that successor. At this pivotal time in our faith and our history, Benedict has given our Lenten prayers a new purpose.
You’ll see a lot of tech woven throughout the items that follow. It’s how my brain and my life are wired, so it’s natural that my worship and my Lent should be wired the same way. I used many methods to pray and worship over the years, long before I had any gear that would assist. I like it much better this way. Everything is one place, accessible, handsomely formatted, searchable, and with me wherever I go.
Your techniques will be different. Everyone has to make their own Lent. This is mine:
1. Prayer for Benedict, the Conclave, the Church
These will be at the forefront of our minds as we make our way through Lent. Our focus is always on God in the Trinity and the suffering of the Incarnate Christ, but as Catholics we arrive at that focus in myriad ways. Christ founded the Church and established the papacy on the rock of Peter, so it is right and proper to pray for both the current successor to Peter, and the next, whoever he may be. My prayers for the weeks ahead suddenly have a theme.
2. Daily Mass
Last year, my wife and I made a commitment to daily mass throughout the 40 days of Lent. I know many people make daily mass year round, but it’s just not something we can do when we’re getting kids off to school and starting a day. This year, we’re going to try again, because it was such an incredibly fulfilling way to keep Lent.
We knew we wanted to make daily mass, but also knew it could be challenging, so we said each day: we’ll try. And each day, we made it. Rather than a whole 40 days of commitment stretching before us, we only had one day of commitment. And then the next. And the next. In that way, step by step, we made it all the way through without missing a day.
3. Liturgy of the Hours
This is one of the great gifts of the Church: a deep, fulfilling, preset course of reading full of scripture, prayer, and meaningful juxtapositions in readings. The Divine Office is a spiritual treasury that people need to discover and claim as their own.
I make an effort to pray Vespers and Lauds and do the readings every day. Do I make it every day? No, I don’t. Sometimes I just get the Mass readings in. That’s life, and I stopped fretting about it long ago. If you’re interested in doing the Hours, that’s the first thing you need to get past: this idea that you have to read it all and, if you miss some, you’ve failed or need to make it up. No, no, no! Just keep going. If you missed morning, try evening. If you missed both, try the next day. Maybe you’ll only get in one or two in the first week. Well, that’s two more than you had before.
Lent is a perfect time to try the Office. You have a purpose and a commitment: this is how you’re keeping Lent. Forget giving up the chocolate. That’s small beans. It’s nice, and we are certainly challenged to fast, but God would much rather hear from you and have you reading His word.
There are some easy ways to do this. I use a Universalis app on my iPad, which includes everything: all readings, mass readings, and hours. You can read the whole thing online for free, or you can download versions for PC or Mac. I bought a license years ago because I use it regularly, and a worker deserves his wage. There are also $14 apps for iPhone/iPad and Android. iBreviary is another option, and it’s free.
I get fairly slack on praying the full Office during Ordinary Time, so I make an extra commitment to praying more of it during Advent and Lent.
4. The Audio Divine Office
The other app I use is Divine Office, which has audio versions of the various Hours as well as the complete text. It’s an excellent app and some people will prefer it to Universalis. I’m used to the feel of Universalis, so I only use Divine Office for the audio files, which can be downloaded for offline use.
Honestly, I run hot and cold on the narrations. Some of the readers just emote too much. I don’t need a performance. I just need text read to me when I’m out and about and can’t keep my eyes on a book, or at the end of the day when I’d rather listen than read. There are free sample versions available for some of the hours, or you can get the whole thing for $20. It’s an excellent piece of software.
I was a subscriber to Magnificat for years before I started doing the regular Office, and I still get their books and companions each season. This is a great supplement, and would work fine as the sole devotional for people who don’t want to commit to a full course of readings.
6. The Homilies of St. Thomas Aquinas
In my Verbum software I have a large collection called Ninety-Nine Homilies of S. Thomas Aquinas Upon the Epistles and Gospels for Forty-Nine Sundays of the Christian Year, translated by John M. Ashley (London: Church Press Company, 1867). It’s part of their 34 volume Medieval Preaching and Spirituality Collection.
I’ve never read any of these homilies, and there are two for each Sunday in Lent and Easter. I’m planning to read one a week this year, which will be made easier since I can download the whole book right into my Verbum app on iPad and read them offline, rather than being stuck on a PC screen. You can find a public domain copy here.
Since I’m in a class on Patristics right now, the Church Fathers will be my other companions for the journey. It’s a pretty heavy reading load, but it comes at a good time.
We’ll be doing Stations of the Cross, and probably the Seven Last Words, at our parish. I also hope to make time this year to pray the stations written and prayed by Cardinal Ratzinger in 2005, shortly before his elevation. They’re not only beautiful: they’ll be a small tribute to the man as he moves into his own via dolorosa.
By the way, if you use an ebook reader or tablet, you don’t need to print those stations. You can just push them to your device using any number of Google Chrome plugins. For Kindle, I use Send to Kindle by Klip.me. For iPad, I use either the Intsapaper or Clip to Evernote plug-ins. You’ll find them in the Chrome store for free.
8. Mobile Reminders
I already wrote about Avocado and how it allows my wife and me to synchronize our lists and schedules and connect throughout the day. We both get reminders to pray the Angelus at noon, and if we’re together in the house (we both work at home) we pray together. If not, each knows the other is probably praying at the same time.
There are many ways to work mobile and desktop reminders into your prayer life. It’s certainly easy, for those who have Siri, to simply tell it to remind you do pray Vespers at a certain time in the evening, or to tap out a quick prayer intention in any number of mobile note-taking apps so you have it with you for your prayers. Evernote is a bit heavy for making quick prayer intention notes, but Simple Notes, Notes, or, literally, hundreds of other programs can do it as well.
Or you can just scribble it on a piece of paper. You know, like the cavemen did.
We’ll all be fasting as well. I already make an effort to observe the Friday fast, so this isn’t a huge change for me. I will add additional days of fast for Lent, but I don’t often make a particular effort to give things up. The additional time devoted to extra reading and prayer kind of automatically means I won’t be goofing off, watching TV, wasting time on the internet, or playing games as much, which is why I do it. It kind of creates its own fast by taking time from leisure and committing it to reading and prayer.
As I said at the start: this is my way of keeping Lent. Yours will be different, so feel free to share it with us. Any tools? Any books? Any devotions you’d like to recommend?