Yes, a happy and blessed Ash Wednesday to you all! Happy? Yup, celebrate it! Not only are there folk at Mass that you haven't seen since last year around this time, there is also a richness of symbol that helps us all put our best foot forward during Lent. The readings that mark our Catholic and Benedictine journey throughout Lent are amazing stories of endurance from prophets like Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Jonah...not the most perky, but awesome reminders of God's persistent faithfulness to us in our wanderings.
Benedict referred to Lent off and on throughout his Rule, but chapter 49 is directed specifically to the Monk's (Nun's) celebration of the liturgical season.
"Although the life of a monk ought to have about it at all times the character of a Lenten observance, yet since few have the virtue for that, we therefore urge that during the actual days of Lent the brethren keep their lives most pure and at the same time wash away during these holy days all the negligences of other times. And this will be worthily done if we restrain ourselves from all vices and give ourselves up to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and to abstinence.
"During these days, therefore, let us increase somewhat the usual burden of our service, as by private prayers and by abstinence in food and drink. Thus everyone of his own will may offer God "with joy of the Holy Spirit" (1 Thess. 1:6) something above the measure required of him. From his body, that is he may withhold some food, drink, sleep, talking and jesting; and with the joy of spiritual desire he may look forward to holy Easter.
"Let each one, however, suggest to his Abbot what it is that he wants to offer, and let it be one with his blessing and approval. For anything done without the permission of the spiritual father will be imputed to presumption and vainglory and will merit no reward. Therefore let everything be done with the Abbot's approval."
So, I hope and pray you have a great Ash Wednesday and a super Lent! I am going to spend more time with those stories from the prophets that we celebrate during this season in our Church year. There is much to learn from Jeremiah's struggles, Jonah's reluctant service, and Ezekiel's wild visions...and 40 days is simply not enough time to take it all in. Maybe Benedict had a good point about his followers needing to live in Lent.