The Tradition of Lenten Reading…

In monastic houses, particularly in those following the Rule of St. Benedict (Benedictines and Trappists, among others) part of Lenten observation was to be spent in reading.

During the days of Lent, they should be free in the morning to read until the third hour. . . . During this time of Lent each one is to receive a book from the library, and is to read the whole of it straight through. These books are to be distributed at the beginning of Lent. RB, 48:14-16.

St. Benedict deemed that study and sacred reading should be a part of every monastic’s day, but especially in Lent.

Pre-Vatican II, it was not unusual for an Abbot or Abbess to spend some time consulting with the abbey’s librarian as to which books would be suitable reading for individual monks or nuns. The librarian might mention that someone had read no Aquinas and suggest a book. Or the Abbess might decide that a smarty-pants nun needed a bit of a challenge, and so she’d assign a difficult book, perhaps one in Latin. Sometimes the selection would be a surprising, completely secular book.

The whole point, of course, was that the monks and nuns spend some time in reading that was instructive and which might induce them to prayer, or bring some fruit to the community as a whole.

Benedictines and Trappists (and lay people formally associated with their monastic houses – called Oblates, or Associates) still follow the Rule and engage in reading specific to Lent. Nowadays, rather than individually selected books, chosen by the Abbot for each monk, most monastic houses list a selection of recommended reading for the community to choose from.

My Lenten reading is comprised of several books, one of them which will surprise: Michael Ledeen’s Machiavelli on Modern Leadership a book, given as a gift, which arrived in my mailbox this Monday and is just singing to me in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Given its arrival, and some of the things going on in my life right now, I’m thinking the Holy Spirit wants me to read it! :-) I’m also reading Voices of the Saints by Bert Ghezzi, because it is an unusually well-written, unsentimental collection of well-known and obscure saints, and it includes some of their writing. As a Benedictine Oblate, I’ll also be re-reading The Rule of St. Benedict because I’ve been not reading it when I should! :-)

All of these books can be ordered through direct links at my “bookshelf” (just below the blogroll. Remember that any orders placed through this blog will benefit the hospice which looked after my brother (and us) in his last days, so it’s a good cause.

I think I’m quiet for the rest of the day, now. Happy Ash Wednesday! Happy Lent.

Happy Reading!

About Elizabeth Scalia