I have written before about the beauty and wisdom of the Church, revealed in the prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours and in the Liturgical cycle. This Sunday, I’m reminded again of the Church’s wisdom in Her prayers. Each Sunday, the closing prayer for the Liturgy of the Hours (LOTH) is the same as the Collect for Sunday Mass. The current translation of LOTH is the older translation of the Mass, though I’ve heard that a new translation is in the works. (Hurry! I want to buy a four-volume set, and I’m waiting for that translation before I lay out that kind of money!)
I was praying before Mass last night, and I noticed something about the closing prayer for Vespers. It seems to make a note of how so many of us begin to feel about this time during Lent. Right about the Third Sunday of Lent, those things we gave up (or promised to do) suddenly seem more penitential than when we were enthusiastic in the first few days of Lent. Rather than feeling fresh and new and excited to be giving up meat or coffee or beer, or getting up half an hour earlier to pray, or praying the Rosary daily, we start to feel fatigued. The penance makes us weary about this time.
I remember when I gave up coffee two years ago. I was drinking tea instead (because the limited caffeine in black tea was better than the potential 40-day migraine), and one day, right in the middle of the third week of Lent, drinking tea instead of coffee became penitential. I was pouring the hot water over my Irish Breakfast Tea in my pretty shamrock bone china cup, and I looked at the coffee pot and thought, “I really want the coffee. I don’t like the tea that much. I WANT COFFEE!!!” The bone china cup and the Irish Breakfast Tea had lost it’s charm. At that moment, I had something to offer up to God. I had a sacrifice.
A lot of us hit that wall, and some people want to give up. But it’s at that moment that it actually becomes a sacrifice and makes your Lent more meaningful. When it’s hard, we have a fitting offering to the Lord. If something is easy to give up, we haven’t done anything extra. We should be stretching and challenging ourselves, working to master our desires, and offering it up to God in love.
Of course, many of us begin to fail at this point in Lent. I know I have tried too hard in the past to CHANGE ALL THE THINGS and go from sloth to Saint in one Lenten season. And sometimes, when you’ve tried to take on too much for Lent, you have to let go of some of your penances. But often, all we need to do is reset. To begin again, and just pick up the cross we have chosen.
And that’s where this week’s prayer comes in. It seems to have been written exactly for when our Lenten promises seem most daunting — when we mess up and want to throw our hands up in despair. This Sunday’s prayer encourages us to pick ourselves up and keep going — to try again. Here are both the old and new translations:
you have taught us to overcome our sins
by prayer, fasting and works of mercy.
When we are discouraged by our weakness,
give us confidence in your love.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
O God, author of every mercy and of all goodness,
who in fasting, prayer and almsgiving
have shown us a remedy for sin,
look graciously on this confession of our lowliness,
that we, who are bowed down by our conscience,
may always be lifted up by your mercy.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Today, if you’re feeling like Lent has gotten too hard, don’t give up! Pray these prayers sincerely, and ask God to help you pick up where you left off. Today, you can begin again.