Spiritual reading is actually an ancient Lenten practice.
I know what you’re thinking. Of course the self-confessed bibliophile thinks that. But it’s true.
In Benedictine abbeys, for example, the monks devoted themselves to an extra hour of spiritual reading during Lent. St Benedict, in his monastic Rule, clearly believed reading was important. He writes,
On the days of Lent, from morning until the end of the third hour (9am) let them apply themselves to their reading, and from then until the end of the tenth hour (4pm) let them do the work assigned them. And in these days of Lent they shall each receive a book from the library, which they shall read straight through from the beginning. These books are to be given out at the beginning of Lent. (Rule of St Benedict, chapter 48)
Isn’t that beautiful?
Every Lent, a monk or nun would receive a book from the library. This would be their Lenten book and they would “read straight through from the beginning.”
I love reading; it’s something of an addiction.
My reading certainly isn’t slow or meditative though. It would probably drive a Benedictine bonkers. I skim, I scan, I skip whole chapters. I search the text manically for the next “woah… that’s cool” moment. And then I’ve moved on, hungering for the next educational hit. (We all have our vices, okay?)
This is partly my personality. I’m a facts junkie and I get bored by mediocre writing. But it’s the end result of a modern Arts education where words are cheap and time is precious.
That’s why I need the discipline of Lenten reading. Specifically, my distracted mind needs a devotional for Lent. One reading, clearly marked, for each of the 40 days. The joy — and struggle — of a Lenten devotion is that I have to slow down. I can’t skip ahead, skim the boring bits or just get a feel for it. I actually have to read. each. word. and. each. sentence. and. each. chapter.
This year, I am using Meditations for Lent. This volume of Lenten devotions are written by Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet and compiled by Christopher Blum. I’ve already glanced through it. (I know what I said about skimming but I just had to!)
Can I suggest you add spiritual reading to your Lenten practices?
Along with the trivium of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, add reading.
The best “Lenten devotional” is the Divine Office. Every day in the Office of Readings, the Church presents us with about a chapter from the Holy Scriptures as well as an excerpt from one of the Fathers or Doctors of the Church. For example, for Ash Wednesday we read Isaiah 58:1-12 and part of the Letter of St Clement to the Corinthians (written sometime between AD 80 and AD 140), which begins,
Let us fix our attention on the blood of Christ and recognise how precious it is to God his Father, since it was shed for our salvation and brought the grace of repentance to all the world.
You don’t even have to fork out the monies for the breviaries either. You can pray the Liturgy of the Hours online or with the iBreviary app.
There are plenty of other good devotionals out there:
- 2017 Magnificat Lenten Companion
- Sacred Space 2017 by the Irish Jesuits
- Lent and Easter Wisdom series — each book in this series features the work of a great saint or hero of the fatih, including St John Paul II, St Francis and St Clare of Assissi, Ven. Fulton Sheen, and St Alphonsus Liguori.
Of course, if you have more self-control in reading than I do, you can use the classics. These naturally tend to turn into daily devotionals because they’re so rich and deep, you have to stop and take a breather. One day, I’d like to read these for Lent:
- Confessions by St Augustine
- Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis
- The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich
- Seven Last Words of Jesus and Mary: Lessons on Cana and Calvary by Ven. Fulton Sheen
Or, you can go with more modern authors you can still keep it heavy on the Lenten themes:
- What Jesus Saw From the Cross by A.G. Sertillanges
- The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Times by Dom Jean-Charles Nault
- Happy Are You Poor: The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom by Thomas Dubay
- Simplifying the Spirit: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit by Paula Huston
- Saints Who Battled Satan: Seventeen Holy Warriors Who Can Teach You How to Fight the Good Fight and Vanquish Your Ancient Enemy by Paul Thigpen
Whatever you decide, may you have a blessed Lent and
happy holy reading!