CHAPTER XLIX. Of the Observance of Lent
First Sunday of Lent, 18 February 2018
Although the life of a monk ought at all times to have about it a Lenten character, yet since few have strength enough for this, we exhort all, at least during the days of Lent, to keep themselves in all purity of life, and to wash away, during that holy season, the negligences of other times. This we shall worthily do, if we refrain from all sin, and give ourselves to prayer with tears, to holy reading, compunction of heart and abstinence. In these days, then, let us add some thing to our wonted service; as private prayers, and abstinence from food and drink, so that every one of his own will may offer to God, with joy of the Holy Spirit, something beyond the measure appointed him: withholding from his body somewhat of his food, drink and sleep, refraining from talking and mirth, and awaiting Holy Easter with the joy of spiritual longing. Let each one, however, make known to his Abbot what he offereth, and let it be done with his blessing and permission: because what is done without leave of the spiritual father shall be imputed to presumption and vain-glory, and merit no reward. Everything, therefore, is to be done with the approval of the Abbot.

The Mass of the First Sunday of Lent is, in its own way, a commentary on Chapter XLIX of the Holy Rule, On the Observance of Lent. Saint Benedict would have his monk, during Lent more than at any other time, incline the ear of his heart to the voice of the Father and to the prayer of the Son. Today’s Holy Mass opens with the resounding voice of the Eternal Father speaking to the whole Church.

Vox Domini in virtute; vox Domini in magnificentia. . . . Vox Domini concutientis desertum: et commovebit Dominus desertum Cades.
The voice of the Lord is in power; the voice of the Lord in magnificence. . . . The voice of the Lord shaketh the desert: and the Lord shall shake the desert of Cades. (Psalm 90:4, 8)

In the hearing of the the whole Church, the Eternal Father speaks to all who have heard and taken to heart the testimony uttered first at the Jordan, “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22); and, then, again on Mount Tabor, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him” (Matthew 17:5). Today, the Father responds to the priestly prayer of the Son, “Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee” (John 17:1), in a solemn promise:

He shall cry to me, and I will hear him: I am with him in tribulation, I will deliver him, and I will glorify him. I will fill him with length of days. (Psalm 90:15–16).

Understand by this: “He, my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, shall cry to me, in Gethsemani, and again from the Cross, and I will hear Him. I, the Father, who neither slumbers nor sleeps, am with Him in the tribulation of His bitter passion. I will deliver him as I have promised, even when sin and death appear to have had the last word, and I will glorify Him in the brightness of the Resurrection, and I will fill Him with length of days in His glorious Ascension”.

The Father speaks today of the cry of the Son. This is the cry of which the Apostle speaks in the Epistle to the Hebrews:

Christ, during his earthly life, offered prayer and entreaty to the God who could save him from death, not without a piercing cry, not without tears; yet with such piety as won him a hearing. Son of God though he was, he learned obedience in the school of suffering, and now, his full achievement reached, he wins eternal salvation for all those who render obedience to him. (Hebrews 5:7–9)

The cry of the Son was the offering made upon the altar stone of Gethsemani:

My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Matthew 26:39); and again, My Father, if this chalice may not pass away, but I must drink it, thy will be done (Matthew 26:42).

The cry of the Son rises from the altar to reach the ears of the Father in every Holy Mass. The silence of the Host envelops the cry of the Son. All who partake of the Host are inhabited by the cry of the Son. And to each one who partakes of the Host the Father says today:

He shall cry to me, and I will hear him: I am with him in tribulation, I will deliver him, and I will glorify him. I will fill him with length of days. (Psalm 90:15–16).

The grace of Lent consists principally in allowing the cry of the Son — that is His filial and priestly prayer — to fill one’s heart, and in receiving the promise of the Father with an unshakable faith. The monk goes through Lent saying to the Father: “Father, I cry to Thee and Thou hearest me; Thou art with me in tribulation. Thou wilt deliver me, and I shall glorify Thee. And Thou wilt fill me with length of days”.

We allow the cry of the Son to inhabit us by means of all of the Lenten practices that Saint Benedict sets forth in Chapter XLIX:

This we shall worthily do, if we refrain from all sin, and give ourselves to prayer with tears, to holy reading, compunction of heart and abstinence. In these days, then, let us add some thing to our wonted service; as private prayers, and abstinence from food and drink, so that every one of his own will may offer to God, with joy of the Holy Spirit, something beyond the measure appointed him: withholding from his body somewhat of his food, drink and sleep, refraining from talking and mirth, and awaiting Holy Easter with the joy of spiritual desire.

The introit of today’s Holy Mass and, indeed, all of Psalm 90, repeated in the Gradual, the Tract, the Offertory, and the Communion, plants in us the seeds of the joy of spiritual desire. To await Holy Pascha with the joy of spiritual desire is to store up and treasure in one’s heart the prayer o the Son and the promise of the Father.

Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me; that they may see my glory which thou hast given me, because thou hast loved me before the creation of the world. (John 17:24)