Tag Archives: Canticle 14

Step Four on Ash Wednesday


Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and did not conceal my guilt.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.”
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

(Psalm 32:5-6)

A couple of weeks ago my AA sponsor and I knelt together as I prayed that God would “relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do his will … and take away my difficulties, that my victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy power, Thy love, and Thy way of life” (Big Book 63).

This prayer of abandonment to God’s will is what AA calls Step Three and what the Book of Common Prayer calls in the Ash Wednesday liturgy “a right beginning of our repentance, and a mark of our mortal nature” (BCP 265).

Today Lent begins, and for me a very particular process of self-examination and repentance.

I have reached the point in my recovery where it’s time to begin Step Four — to conduct a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of myself — and then to take Step Five, to admit to God, to myself, and to another human being the exact nature of my wrongs.

Though I have been in the Church all my life, I am beginning to understand for myself the wisdom of traditional practices like Confession, what the Book of Common Prayer calls Reconciliation of a Penitent (BCP 447). We need at times to write down what we’ve done wrong, to say it out loud to another person, and to hear from them our Lord’s assurance of forgiveness.

Lent is a particularly appropriate time for this hard and holy work, and I am embracing it gladly as my main observance this year.

And now, O Lord, I bend the knee of my heart,
and make my appeal, sure of your gracious goodness.
(Canticle 14, BCP 91)

Whatever you may decide to do to mark this Lent, I invite you to take it seriously but joyfully.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer (BCP 265).


Merciful promise beyond all measure

genuflectOne of the niceties of the Daily Office during Lent is that Canticle 14: A Song of Penitence is appointed to be read on Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings and on Monday evenings.

See the canticle itself on BCP 90, the table of when canticles are to be read on BCP 144, and handy versions of the tables to place in your prayer book on the Resources page of this blog.

Canticle 14 comes from the Prayer of Manasseh, one of the books in the Apocrypha. These are books which were in the Hebrew Scriptures around the time of Christ and used by Christians from the beginning.

The apocryphal books still commonly appear interleaved among the Old Testament books in Roman Catholic Bibles. In some Protestant Bibles, they are separated into a section called the Apocrypha and located between the Old and New Testaments. In most Protestant Bibles today, however, they are omitted entirely.

But I digress.

The reason I like this canticle so much is what it teaches us about penitence during this season of Lent.

All things quake with fear at your presence;
they tremble because of your power.
But your merciful promise is beyond all measure;
it surpasses all that our minds can fathom.

The God who “made the heavens and the earth, with all their vast array” is the “same Lord whose property is always to have mercy” (BCP 337). The character of God is goodness toward God’s creation.

The loveliest line in the canticle comes next:

And now, O Lord, I bend the knee of my heart,
and make my appeal, sure of your gracious goodness.
I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned,
and I know my wickedness only too well.

Consciousness of God’s grace comes with a consciousness of our own sinfulness. It is entirely appropriate for us to “bend the knee of our heart.” However, our sin is not the point, and dwelling on (or wallowing in) our sin is not what God desires.

For you, O Lord, are the God of those who repent,
and in me you will show forth your goodness.
Unworthy as I am, you will save me,
in accordance with your great mercy,
and I will praise you without ceasing all the days of my life.

What a wonderful prayer to make four times a week during Lent! What a wonderful witness to the world, our repentance and our praise of God’s goodness.

The prayer book rubrics drily note that the Canticle is suitable for “other penitential occasions,” too. I invite you to spend some time reflecting on the Canticle or reading the Prayer of Manasseh, bending the knee of your heart, and then praising God for “merciful promise beyond all measure.”

The God of those who repent

On Ash Wednesday, we read Psalm 95 in its entirety at Morning Prayer.

The first seven verses are familiar, of course. Many of us read them every morning. Today, however, the familiar line “Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice” continues with the plea, “Harden not your hearts” (Ps. 95:8).

With the psalmist, far from hardening our hearts, we also acknowledge our sin to God, and we do not conceal our guilt (Ps. 32:5). Repenting is the characteristic of those who follow God.

The Collect of the Day reminds us that God hates nothing God has made. We are not to hate ourselves or anyone else, but instead to work every day to “lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely” (Heb. 12:1). It takes discipline to repent, discipline that “seems painful rather than pleasant at the time” (Heb. 12:11).

But “you, O Lord, are the God of those who repent,” says Manasseh in Canticle 14, “and in me you will show forth your goodness.” The discipline of repenting, of not concealing our sins, “later yields the pleasant fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11).

May the God of those who repent, the God who hates nothing God has made, open your heart in this Lenten season so that you will not grow weary or lose heart. Every blessing for a holy Lent.