Benedict’s First Lenten Retreat Follows Traditional Format

VATICAN CITY — For his first Lenten retreat as Pope, Benedict XVI will retire to the stunning beauty of the Mater Redemptoris Chapel for six days starting March 5. There, he will listen to meditations prepared by Cardinal Marco Cé, the retired patriarch of Venice, chosen as this year’s retreat master for the annual spiritual exercises of the Roman Curia.

Cardinal Cé, 80, served as patriarch from 1978-2002, when he was chosen to replace Cardinal Albino Luciani who had been elected John Paul I. The cardinal will reflect on the Gospel of St. Mark.

The retreat schedule followed by the Pope and ranking members of the Curia follows a set pattern each year. Spiritual exercises start at 6 p.m. on the Sunday after Ash Wednesday in the chapel with Eucharistic exposition, the celebration of vespers, an introductory meditation, adoration and Benediction.

Each day includes Mass, meditations by the retreat master, Benediction and vespers. Retreats traditionally end the following Saturday morning. It is also customary for all audiences, public and private, to be suspended during this period.

Modelled after the famed spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, the curial retreat for years was held during Advent. But Pope Paul VI felt that the more opportune liturgical season for a retreat was Lent — and it has been held the first week in Lent ever since his papacy.

Papal retreat masters have come from all parts of the globe and have one trait in common: They are all known for their eminent spiritual qualities. Many are cardinals, mostly from outside the Roman Curia.

The last two Popes have preached curial retreats: Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, then archbishop of Krakow, led the spiritual exercises in 1976, two years before becoming John Paul II, and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, preached the retreat in 1983. John Paul II was unable to attend the retreat last year — the only time during his 26-year pontificate.

Pius XI’s Legacy

Curial spiritual exercises began with Pope Pius XI in 1929, when he proclaimed a jubilee year to mark the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination and wrote the encyclical Mens Nostra (Our Mind), in which he stated his intention of initiating annual retreats with the members of the Roman Curia.

Wrote Pius XI, “We have deemed it fitting to … establish something most excellent, which will, we trust, prove a source of many rare advantages to the Christian people. We are speaking of the practice of the spiritual exercises, which we earnestly desire to see daily extended more widely, not only among the clergy both secular and regular, but also among the multitudes of the Catholic laity; and it is our pleasure to bequeath this to our beloved children as a memorial of this holy year.”

Pius XI described the world of 1929 — similar to the world of 2006 in many ways — and said: “The utility and the opportuneness of sacred retreats, will be readily recognized by anyone who considers, however lightly, the times in which we now live. The most grave disease by which our age is oppressed, and at the same time the fruitful source of all the evils deplored by every man of good heart, is that levity and thoughtlessness that carry men hither and thither through devious ways.

“Hence comes the constant and passionate absorption in external things; hence, the insatiable thirst for riches and pleasures that gradually weakens and extinguishes in the minds of men the desire for more excellent goods, and so entangles them in outward and fleeting things that it forbids them to think of eternal truths, and of the divine laws, and of God himself, the one beginning and end of all created things.”

Those who wish to join the Holy Father on retreat may do so spiritually in prayer and virtually by visiting the Redemptoris Mater Chapel at:

Joan Lewis

writes from Rome.

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