Penitents – 4 April 2022
Here is a penitential procession in Brittany. Local people have gathered together at their local church for a day of religious devotion leading to pardon. Wearing their very best clothes, the penitents are making their way around an inner cloister of a church. They walk closely together, each carrying a lit candle, a symbol of the intention of their prayers. They are of different ages and genders, coming with very different needs. The scene is sombre and serious, faces are weary and suggest people laden with the circumstances and sins of their lives. At the front of the procession is a man walking bare foot. Next to him is a woman who is walking on her knees, holding up her dress to assist her movement.
The existence of this act of penitence has drawn beggars to the church. A couple, not very old at all, hold out bowls as they beg for alms. The penitents, on their walk asking for the mercy of God, are ignoring the beggars’ request for mercy.
The picture is ‘The Pardon in Brittany’ (1886), by Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret, a French artists of the naturalist school.
Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
He calls you to discern his time and season.
The sempiternal season of his mercy
Lifts like the sun above your dark horizon.
Expose your darkness, sing your miserere,
His light will judge, and judging, heal your sin.
Then bathe in sheer beauty, as Allegri
Sounds out your penitence, and let Christ clean
Your soul once more and scrub out every stain
Washing you thoroughly. For he has seen
What you confess and what you hide. Again
He mends your broken bones and makes for you
A clean heart, comes to comfort you again,
Comes with his Holy Spirit to renew
The spirit in you, calling you to sing
Of all your loving God has done for you.
Malcom Guite, Response to Psalm 51