Let us adore the Lord, the King who is to come.
Year: B(I). Psalm week: 3. Liturgical Colour: Violet.
About the author of the Second Reading in today's Office of Readings:
Second Reading: Thomas à Kempis (1379 - 1471)
The first thing to know about The Imitation of Christ is that it was published anonymously and that its attribution to Thomas à Kempis is not uncontested. Other possible authors have included (as his translator Betty I. Knott points out) thirty-five different people, including Gerhard Groote; Walter Hilton, the English mystic; St Bernard; St Bonaventure; Pope Innocent III; and John Gerson, Chancellor of the University of Paris. But on the whole Thomas à Kempis himself is still in the lead. (In any case, “Do not ask who said this,” says Book I chapter 5, “but listen to what is said”).
The late 14th and early 15th centuries saw a miraculous outpouring of mysticism and spirituality all over western Europe, encompassing The Cloud of Unknowing, Walter Hilton, Julian of Norwich, and even the maddening Margery Kempe. Much of it was lay, and even Thomas à Kempis, who became a priest, belongs not to any of the great monastic or preaching orders but to the Brethren of the Common Life, a movement which started in the Netherlands and Rhineland in the late fourteenth century. The birth of the movement was the teaching of Gerhard Groote, who preached and taught a simple prayerful way of life which people could follow in their own homes. Groote shared most of his own large house in Deventer, in the Netherlands, with a group of devout women who lived together as a community (without taking formal vows), and Florentius Radwijns, one of the cathedral clergy and a follower of Groote’s, then hosted a similar community of men. The Brethren of the Common Life aimed to live a communal life in imitation of the simplicity and poverty of the earliest Christians, devoting themselves both to contemplation and to active works. In the time of relative ecclesial peace which preceded the Reformation the Brethren were allowed to grow and develop largely without too much interference. In due course a progression was also established whereby those Brethren who desired a more formal commitment founded, or joined, houses of regular Augustinian canons or canonesses.
Thomas à Kempis himself was born in Kempen, a small town not far from Cologne. He went to a school founded by Gerhard Groote, and in 1399 became a member of the recently founded Augustinian house of which John, his elder brother, was the first prior. He remained a member of this community for the rest of his life.
It was a custom of the Brethren to make collections of sayings on spiritual topics, and Thomas followed this practice from his schooldays onwards. Thus some of the Second Readings from the Imitation that we use in the liturgy read almost like a sequence of “bullet points”. In a sense this is the best use of the Imitation – as a bedside book to be read one chapter out of each night, as Monsignor Ronald Knox did in his later years. Thomas à Kempis manages, in each short chapter, to propound a theme or even sketch a situation, and to bring out of it a moral or a conclusion, food for the spirit. Knox tells us that in the days when English Protestants treated The Pilgrim’s Progress as a sort of extra book of the New Testament, The Imitation of Christ was practically the Catholic equivalent. But that does not make it a warm bath to sink oneself into. As Knox puts it:
“The whole work… is a sustained irritant which preserves us… from sinking back into relaxation: from self-conceit, self-pity, self-love. It offers consolation here and there, but always at the price of fresh exertion… Heaven help us if we find easy reading in The Imitation of Christ.”
Liturgical colour: violet
Violet is a dark colour, ‘the gloomy cast of the mortified, denoting affliction and melancholy’. Liturgically, it is the colour of Advent and Lent, the seasons of penance and preparation.
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)||Jeremiah 23:5 ©|
See, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when I will raise a virtuous Branch for David, who will reign as true king and be wise, practising honesty and integrity in the land.
|Noon reading (Sext)||Jeremiah 23:6 ©|
In his days Judah will be saved and Israel dwell in confidence. And this is the name he will be called: ‘The Lord our righteousness.’
|Afternoon reading (None)||(Ezekiel 34:15-16) ©|
I will pasture my sheep, I will show them where to rest – it is the Lord who speaks. I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded and make the weak strong. I shall be a true shepherd to them.