PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
CONSIDER, first, how God calls upon us by his prophet, in the lesson of this day: “Be converted to me with all your heart, in fasting, and in weeping, and in mourning; and rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God,” (Joel ii. 12, 1-3.) Christians, let this summons from heaven sink deep into your souls; and if this day you hear the voice of God sweetly inviting you to return to him in good earnest at this holy season, harden not your hearts; lest, provoked by your impertinence, he turn away from you, and you die in your sins.
Consider, secondly, that on this day ashes are put on our heads with these words: “Remember, man, that thou art dust, and into dust thou shalt return.” Anciently sackcloth and ashes were the weeds of penitents. The Ninevites fasted in sackcloth and ashes, and they found mercy. Let these ashes then be a lesson to us, to enter upon this penitential fast with the like penitential spirit. They are an emblem of contrition and humility; let us receive them with a contrite and humble heart. They are also a remembrance of our mortality, of our frail composition and hasty return into our original dust.
Consider, thirdly, Christian soul, those words as addressed to you: “Yet forty days and Nineve shall be destroyed,” (Jonas iii. 4.) Alas! have not your sins, like those of Nineve, called to heaven this long time for vengeance? And have you not too much reason to fear, lest the mercy which you have so long abused, should quickly give place to justice, and suffer you to die in your sins? Perhaps this is the last reprieve that God will grant you. The good or bad use of these forty days may very likely determine your lot for an eternity.
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
The Versicles and Responses used in the Office of the Church, in the Lauds and Vespers, on Fasting days and during the penitential Times of Advent and Lent.
LORD have mercy on us.
Christ have mercy on us.
Lord have mercy on us.
Our Father, &c.
V. And lead us not into temptation.
R. But deliver us from evil.
V. I said, O Lord, have mercy on me.
R. Heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee.
V. Turn to us, O Lord; O how long wilt Thou be angry?
R. And be Thou entreated in favour of Thy servants.
V. Let Thy mercy be upon us, O Lord.
R. As we have put our trust in Thee.
V. Let Thy priests be clothed with justice.
R. And let Thy holy ones rejoice.
V. Lord save the king.
R. And hear us in the day that we shall call upon Thee.
V. O save Thy people, O Lord, and bless thine inheritance.
R. And rule them and exalt them for evermore.
V. Remember Thy congregation.
R. Which Thou hast possessed from the beginning.
V. Let peace be in Thy strength.
R. And plenty in Thy towers.
V. Let us pray for the faithful departed.
R. Eternal rest give to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
V. Let them rest in peace.
V. For our absent brethren.
R. O my God, save Thy servants, who put their trust in Thee.
V. For the afflicted and captive.
R. Deliver them, O God of Israel, from all their tribulations.
V. Send them help, O Lord, from Thy sanctuary.
R. And from Sion protect them.
V. O Lord God of Hosts, convert us to Thee.
R. And show us Thy face, and we shall be saved.
V. Rise up, O Christ, and help us.
R. And deliver us for Thy name’s sake.
V. O Lord, hear my prayer.
R. And let my cry come to Thee.
Let us Pray.
O God, whose property is always to have mercy and to spare, receive our petitions, that we, and all Thy servants who are bound by the chains of sin, may by the compassion of Thy goodness mercifully be absolved, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, Who, with Thee and the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.
The Penitential Prayer of St Austin.
Ante oculos Tuos, Domine, &c.
Before Thy eyes, O Lord, we bring our offences, and with them compare the stripes we have received.
If we weigh the evil we have done, we find that what we suffer is much less than we deserve.
What we have committed far outweighs what we endure.
We feel the punishment of sin, and yet we turn not from our wilfulness in sinning.
Our weakness faints under Thy scourges, but our perverseness is still the same.
Our diseased mind is racked with pain, and our neck is as stiff as ever.
Our life is spent in sighs and grief, but in our actions we are not reformed.
If Thou expectest our amendment, we grow no better; if Thou takest revenge, we are not able to subsist.
When we are chastised we acknowledge what we have done, but when Thy visitation is over we forget what we weep for.
If Thou stretchest out Thy hand, we promise duty; if Thou suspendest Thy sword, we keep not our promise.
If Thou strikest, we cry for pardon; and if Thou pardonest, we provoke Thee again to strike.
Here, O Lord, are Thy criminals confessing their guilt. We know that, unless Thou forgivest, Thou mayest justly destroy us.
Grant, O Almighty Father, without merit, what we ask, as out of nothing Thou didst create us to ask Thee: through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We wait in expectation of our Saviour’s coming, who will reform our frail bodies according to the pattern of His glorious body.
V. Behold, the God of heaven is our Redeemer.
R. In Him will we put our confidence, and will not fear.
Almighty God, who for the redemption of mankind didst send Thy only-begotten Son to assume our flesh, and suffer death upon the cross; we humbly pray, that as our Saviour hath left us here the example of His patience, He would both enable us faithfully to follow His example, and make us hereafter partakers of His glory: Who, with Thee and the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.