Friday, February 15, 2013

Ash Wednesday Prayers

I’d like to return to Ash Wednesday for just a moment – long enough to comment on the Opening Prayer and the Dismissal, both of which struck me rather forcefully.

First the Opening Prayer:

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
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.

This is one of those occasions where I am thankful for the new translation. The ICEL translation is so watered down.

What struck me was the martial imagery of a military campaign, battle against evil, and being armed with weapons. It’s the same thing that led me, thirty years ago, to take Michael as my confirmation name. I was inspired by the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, asking the prince of the heavenly hosts for defense in battle.  This is a remarkably masculine prayer. 

And now the Dismissal:

Pour out a spirit of compunction, O God,
on those who bow before your majesty,
and by your mercy may they merit the rewards you promise
to those who do penance.
Through Christ our Lord.

As we were leaving mass, I had to ask my wife, “What’s a spirit of compunction?” I had a vague notion, but the exact meaning eluded me. The definition provided by, which seems to fit the context, is “a feeling of uneasiness or anxiety of the conscience caused by regret for doing wrong or causing pain; contrition; remorse.”

I’m not sure what the distinction between compunction and contrition is, but I pray for it often, especially when examining my conscience in preparation for confession. There are things that I know are sins, and I can usually articulate the reasons why they are sins, and yet the emotional remorse for those sins eludes me. So when I have trouble feeling sorry for committing a sin, I beg forgiveness for not feeling sorry and ask that the “spirit of compunction” might be poured out upon me.

It was refreshing to hear these prayers as part of the Ash Wednesday liturgy.

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