Thursday, February 19, 2009


Several people over the past two Lents have mentioned to me that they were reading the assigned meditation in "Pilgrim Road" each day of Lent. I invited each of them to think of themselves as traveling along with me and the other readers on a "pilgrimage" through Lent. Pilgrims almost always traveled in groups rather than alone. One of the advantages of being with a group (besides the obvious ones of safety and convenience) was that you had someone to converse with on the way. This blog is an invitation to readers of my book (and others, too) to join our group of Lenten pilgrims and join in the spiritual conversation as we travel from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.

Setting Off with the Pilgimage Group
Imagine that we are in a church in le Puy, up in the rugged central mountains of medieval France. Our group has been gathering for an hour already and there is a growing feeling of festivity and excitement in the air; we are about to set off on a pilgrimage to the great shrine of St. James, Santiago de Compostela, in northwest Spain. Many of the people in the church are carrying the walking stick and drinking gourd that mark them as pilgrims, some are wearing a scallop shell, the traditional badge of pilgrims on the difficult and dangerous eight-hundred-mile journey over mountains and across desolate uplands to Compostela. There is a spirit of joyful anticipation as we greet friends and check our supplies while waiting for the priest to send us on our way with some words of spiritual advice and encouragement, and, of course, a blessing…

Ash Wednesday and the three days following it were added to the six weeks of Lent in order to reach the symbolic number of forty days of fast and penitence (Sundays were not counted because Christians never fast on Sunday). These four days added on before the first Sunday of Lent now make a sort of "porch," a place for us modern Lenten pilgrims to gather and prepare ourselves for the journey to Easter.

The priest calls for quiet. We all fall silent and bow our heads as he extends his hands over our little group and reads from a beautiful old missal this blessing written about the year 1200:
The almighty and everlasting God, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, dispose your journey according to his good pleasure; send his angel Raphael to keep you in this your pilgrimage, and both conduct you in peace on your way to the place where you would be, and bring your back again on your return to us in safety.
In a loud voice he chants in Latin, "Procedamus in pace!" “Let us proceed in peace.”
"In nomine Domini. Amen!" we all sing in response, “In the name of the Lord. Amen!” We all turn and walk silently toward the church door. We are on our way. Come join us whenever you can!
What do you see as the advantage(s) of traveling with others in a Lenten pilgrimage group? Do you think it could make a difference in the way you feel about Lent?


  1. Joining the throngs of pilgrims with a good friend once to go to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe for her Feast one December makes your description of the excitement and “joyful anticipation” of pilgrims ring true to me – but it’s an attitude not generally associated with the coming of Lent, I think. The journey may be towards our greatest Feast, but in itself is more often associated with self-deprivation, uncomfortable penance, solemn and sad recollection of sin and the suffering of the Crucified. How do you suggest getting to the enthusiastic beginnings you describe?


  2. How do we manage to start off Lent in an upbeat frame of mind? How about re-reading Saint Benedict's chapter 49 "On the Keeping of Lent" (I've put the whole thing in the post for Feb. 23)where he suggests a few alternative practices such as more time spent in holy reading, or more attention given to cultivating a certain virtue. Also, he sees the season as permeated with Easter joy right from the start. Maybe we should celebrate those Lenten Sundays as true Easter memorials, rather than almost skipping over them as mere interruptions in the "real" (=negative)business of Lent.

  3. Thank you for the wonderful insights offered in Pilgrim Road and the daily format which is not overwhelming.
    Yes, the usual feeling of Lent in our churches is guilt and emphasis on practices to make up for past sins. Of course, we have to do this also, but with the Benedictine Spirituality we are given a lift so to speak into a more positive attitude of inner conversion so that we want to do the practices.