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Catholic Activity: Sorrow, Keystone for Lent

A key element in Lent is sorrow. We must prick our conscience to be sorry for our sin. This is a deeper reflection in the meaning of sorrow in Lent.


Keystone of this season, St. Benedict says, is sorrow or compunction. The latter word stems from the Latin compungere, to prick. Meaning a "pricking of conscience," compunction is used by ascetical writers to denote a definite remorse or sorrow for sin. St. Gregory the Great includes the virtues of penance, contrition, religion, detachment, and hope in the "golden spur" of compunction. Its fruits are purity, light, and interior liberty.

"Properly speaking," that Pope said, "there are two kinds of compunction: the soul that thirsts for God is first sorry in his heart from fear, and then from love."

Coming down to our own century Dom Columba Marmion, another son of St. Benedict, still bids us: "Never lay holy compunction entirely aside. It is the humble expression of the forgiven prodigal child, who says with David, 'My sin is always before me'" (Ps. 50:3).

One of the four prayers for the blessing of ashes is for compunction that it may purify our souls. On Ash Wednesday I like to recall Thomas Merton's description: "Compunction is a sorrow which pierces, which liberates, which gives hope, and therefore Joy.

Activity Source: Holy Lent by Eileen O'Callaghan, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1975

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