Pope Benedict XVI devoted much of today’s weekly audience to the season of Lent which begins today, recalling the Biblical symbolism of the season, and calling on faithful to use the 40 days to convert their own hearts to greater love.”
The Pope told a large crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square that "the itinerary of 40 days that will lead us to the Easter Triduum, memory of the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord, heart of the mystery of salvation."
Today marks only the second weekly audience in which Benedict spoke on a topic of his own choosing, having completed a long-running catechesis series on the Psalms and Canticles, begun by his predecessor, John Paul II.
He explained that the season of Lent possesses “an undeniable evocative power,” pointing out that the 40 days aim “to recall some of the events that marked the life and history of ancient Israel."
These include, he pointed out, "the 40 days of the flood that led to God's covenant with Noah, and the 40 days Moses spent on Mount Sinai, which was followed by the gift of the tablets of the Law."
"Above all,” the Pope said however, “the Lenten period invites us to relive with Jesus the 40 days He spent in the desert, praying and fasting before beginning His public mission.”
“Today,” he said, “we too begin a journey of reflection and prayer with all the Christians of the world. ... Today, all parish communities undertake an austere and symbolic gesture: the imposition of the ashes."
Benedict then recalled what he called the two "evocative formulae" which accompany the Ash Wednesday rite.
The first, he said is: "You are dust, and to dust you shall return," words that "evoke the human condition"; and the other is, "repent, and believe in the Gospel," an "invitation to place the firm and faithful adhesion to the Gospel at the foundation of individual and community renewal."
The Holy Father stressed to the gathered pilgrims that "The Lenten journey, by bringing us closer to God, enables us to look upon our brothers and sisters and their needs with new eyes.”
“For this reason,” he said, “Lent is a favorable moment to convert to love; a love capable of adopting the Lord's attitude of compassion and mercy, as I seek to recall in my Message for Lent, which has as its theme the Gospel passage: 'Jesus, at the sight of the crowds, was moved with pity'."
The Pope concluded his weekly address saying that, "Aware of her mission in the world, the Church does not cease to proclaim the merciful love of Christ, Who continues to turn His compassionate gaze on the men and peoples of all times. ... Fasting and almsgiving - which, together with prayer, the Church particularly proposes in the period of Lent - represent a good opportunity to conform ourselves to that 'gaze'."