Alas, Lent has arrived! This time of year we inevitably hear questions being asked such as, Why Lent?, What is the purpose of Lent?, How can we get the most out of Lent? etc. Of course, we have had many saints, popes, and other spiritual authors give wonderful answers to those questions. But we need to look no further than the Church’s Prayer for Ash Wednesday to be reminded that Lent is given to us so that we might "turn back to the Lord and do penance” and “be renewed in heart and spirit” (Office of Readings, Ash Wednesday).
Most importantly, we are reminded in the concluding prayer for Ash Wednesday that this is a time of great "struggle against evil" and that the discipline of Lent is made "holy by our self-denial." In other words, Lent is a time for battle. Our weapons are penance and self-denial. We are given this time to make sacrifice, to uproot all that is unholy in order that we might offer ourselves entirely to Christ Jesus our Lord. We are assured that when we do this – when we turn back to the Lord – “the Lord will have mercy” for “Our God is kind and compassionate, always ready to forgive” (Office of Readings, Ash Wednesday).
While Lent is certainly a time of spiritual rigor and asceticism, Blessed Columba Marmion said that when we pray with the Church, Lent can also be "a source of light, of union with the sentiments of the soul of Christ and with the mysteries of his life." He went on to say that praying the Divine Office during Lent "brings with it a grace of 'death to sin' helping us to destroy sin more and more within us, and all attachment to sin and to the creature." This is because the prayer of the Church has a supernatural quality and efficacy. It is not just another devotional exercise. It doesn’t just recommend penance – it has the power to effect the miracle of penance in a heart deadened by sin. This is because, along with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it is the supreme instrument whereby we are united to the Lord of armies before whom the demons tremble.
Indeed, when we pray with the Church during Lent, we become one with the soul of Christ “who does not wish the sinner to die, but to turn back to him and live” (Office of Readings, Ash Wednesday). It is by this union that we are given the grace to conquer the sinful attachments that keep us in the tomb of sin, that we might share in his glorious triumph at Easter and live with him forever. This is the promise of the Sacred Liturgy. This is why it is “unequaled in its title to power and degree of effectiveness” (to use the words of the second Vatican council). This is why the Liturgy of the Hours is a prayer like no other.
I said this just before the season of Advent, and I will say it again now that Lent is here – if you are looking for a way of entering more deeply into the seasons of the Church and thus uniting yourself more closely with Christ look no further than the Liturgy of the Hours. Even if you just committed to praying the Office of Readings this Lent, not only would you read through books of Sacred Scripture such as Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Hebrews but you would also be led through these holy days by saints such as John Chrysostom, , Augustine of Hippo, Gregory of Nazianzen, Leo the Great, Athanasius of Alexandria, Maximus the Confessor, and more!
Friends, the Liturgy of the Hours is one of the greatest gifts Christ has left to His Church, second only to the Sacrifice of the Mass. I encourage you to pick it up this Lent! You will not be disappointed!