March 2019 Faith Community Reflection

Compunction and Entering the Holy Season of Lent

Fr Ross Campbell

As we enter these forty days, the Church asks us to use them as time of special preparation in order to prepare for the renewal of our baptismal promises that will take place at Mass on Easter Sunday. For all of the faithful, this is a time of purification and continuing conversion so that we may be found ready to celebrate our rebirth in Christ. During these days we are asked to examine our moral and spiritual lives, renewing our focus on the call to love God and to love our neighbour through the traditional practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.


One of the differences that we will notice in the liturgy during this season (aside from the absence of the Gloria and Alleluia) is the prayer over the people that occur before the final blessing at the end of Mass. Many of these ancient prayers are drawn from some of the oldest liturgical texts that we have. Spending a bit of time with them as we start each day can help us to have a fruitful lent. The prayer over the people for Ash Wednesday is as follows:


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. Amen


Compunction can seem a strange word to use in a prayer. Coming from the Latin pungere, to prod or to poke, it is a word worthy of our consideration during Lent. When someone prods or pokes at us it is uncomfortable, it distracts us from what we may regularly be doing as our senses become heightened. Likewise, Lent is a time for the uncomfortable or better still, to step out of our comfort zone. A time to break from our daily routine and focus on something higher, Lent is a time for compunction.


Fasting pokes at us – as we hear our empty stomach make a noise we remember to pray for perseverance, we remember that our small sacrifice is nothing in comparison to the sacrifice of the Lord that wins us new life.


Almsgiving pokes at us – as we sacrifice our time and material goods for those who are in greater need we remember that this is a small act when compared to the sacrifice of the Lord on the Cross. We remind ourselves that love of neighbour and Christian service is an intrinsic aspect of our imitation of Christ.


Prayer pokes at us – when we give more time to the Lord during this season it can help us to take stock of our lives as we ask the questions: Where am I going? Does He have primacy? Am I seeking to do His will in all things? What things in my life are preventing me from giving myself entirely to Him?


Compunction then can prod or poke us along the path toward Holy Week so that we may fully experience the richness of the Church’s liturgy when those days come, so that we can follow the Lord as he journeys to the heart of darkness and then celebrate the fruits of His victory over sin and death.