Lent by Heart

How to Memorize the Gospel Stories of the Passion and Death

Learn the Passion This Lent

You can remember the actual words of the Gospel stories of the Passion and Death.

This year, enter into Lent like never before. Learn the Passion and Death from Mark by heart.

Every day, you'll learn one new verse. Many books offer a daily verse to think about, but with this book, you'll remember what you read long after you close the book. Learning these stories, verse by verse, will lift your thoughts to a new level. As you renew these stories, you'll find new meanings and images in the familiar words.

Think you have a bad memory? Impossible! You've just proven that your memory is excellent. (Read why below.) This book will show you how to use your memory in new ways.

But don't worry, you won't need crazy memory tricks. Instead, you'll learn how to make the Bible come alive through expression, your imagination, and even rhythm. With simple techniques like these, you'll make these stories part of you.

You can only think with what you remember. This Lent, learn to remember more than you ever imagined.

Sample Chapters

In this book,
   you will learn

the Passion and Death of Christ,
   from the Gospel of Mark,
     by heart.

You will hear and feel the rhythms,
   imagine the scenes,
     and renew your memories.

By the end of Lent,
     you'll know these words by heart.

But your memories of the Passion
   will have only begun.

Learn the Passion During Lent

"What are you doing for Lent?"

I've dreaded this question since childhood. At this time of year, with Christmas long gone, you'd think that finishing up winter would be bad enough. But no, we have to go and pick some grueling sacrifice. For six and a half weeks. Right at the slushiest, grayest, grimmest part of the year.

Even more difficult than choosing a sacrifice can be figuring out why, exactly, we're doing this. Over the years, I've collected various explanations for this ancient custom of self-infliction.

Some sermons delve into the mystery of redemptive suffering. Others run the opposite direction, exhorting me to do something positive for a change.

Then there's the "resource management" approach. No TV means an extra hour (or more) for prayer. No morning doughnut means extra money in the poor box. These economical arguments can't be the whole story, but they do tug deeply at my dutifully hyper-developed sense of efficiency.

And what about the historical angle? Not too long ago, early spring was simply the hungriest time of the year. This was a question of weather, not theology, and was just as true for the Iroquois as for the Italians. In a stroke of liturgical genius, the Church turned this obligatory fast into a meaningful ritual.

(Although it's also true that the weather in the hungrier parts of the modern world doesn't quite sync with this European seasonal rhythm.)

The Two Goals of a Lenten Sacrifice

I don't claim to understand the full meaning of the Lenten sacrifice. But I do think this season has at least these two simple goals:

  • We want to make an effort. We want to do something new, that we don't usually do.
  • We want to make this effort so that we can get closer to Christ.

To meet these goals, I believe I've found the perfect sacrifice. Every day during Lent, you learn a Bible verse by heart. But not just any Bible verse. The story of the Passion. For instance, the Gospel of Mark, chapter 15.

During Lent, you can learn one verse each day from the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark. By Easter, you'll know the entire Crucifixion and Death of Our Lord by heart.

(If you prefer to learn the stories of the Passion from another Gospel, I've included those verses as well.)

Why is learning Scripture by heart a perfect match for Lent? Two reasons.

You're Ready to Make the Effort

First, the effort. Memorizing takes effort. Period.

But don't let that discourage you. This book shows you how to minimize this effort. If you've tried to memorize before, try to forget that pain, especially if you had to do tons of repetitions, or imagine lots of bizarre mental pictures as "mnemonics".

In this book, you'll learn natural methods like finding the rhythm in the verses, and strengthening your imagination of what's actually happening in the scene. Learning by heart can (and should!) be pleasant.

But even at its best, learning takes effort. It takes time. You're training a new skill, and that means forming a new habit.

What better time to train than Lent? We're already geared up for precisely this kind of project. Hopefully the effort is mostly a pleasure, but if it gets a bit difficult, well, it is Lent.

Built-in Daily Time With Christ

There's a second reason to learn the fifteenth chapter of Mark during Lent. Unlike ditching chocolate or even adding a daily rosary, learning these verses automatically helps you think about Christ.

Yes, self-denial and prayers have major spiritual value. But it's one thing to try to imagine Christ while you repeat Our Fathers. It's quite a different experience to say the words of the Bible, to tell those stories. It's easier to think about what you're saying, because you're always saying something new.

Also, you'll say these words every day. Daily recitation is part of learning by heart. Don't panic! Telling the verses doesn't take long, and you won't have to do it every day forever. In fact, these daily recitations become built-in daily meditation time.

You don't have to choose a Lenten sacrifice, and then also figure out some way to "enter more deeply into the season". When you choose to learn the Passion by heart, you choose to think about Christ every single day.

How This Book Will Help You Learn the Passion This Lent

This book includes two major aids to learning the Passion this Lent, plus a bonus feature.

First, you get the verses of Mark 15, typeset as rhythmic stories. Although you could learn the verses from any Bible, this book uses a visually memorable layout. Instead of blocks of prose, you see these words with rhythms that move like poetry. This gives each verse a more unique look, and also helps you speak and hear the verses with rhythm. They become much easier to remember.

Second, you get the Books by Heart™ lessons. These lessons will show you, step-by-step, how to remember a long text like Mark 15. These lessons form the core of this book. They've also appeared in other books in the series, such as Christmas by Heart and Easter by Heart.

The bulk of these lessons are the same in every book in this series, because all these books focus on memorizing the same kinds of texts. But in each book, I adapt certain examples and discussions for the particular text we're learning. In this book, we'll focus on Mark 15 and the Passion.

You can read the whole book at once, but the lessons are also designed so that you can read one lesson a day. You start learning one new verse a day right away, and the lessons gradually tell you what you need to know as the days pass.

As a bonus feature, I've also included rhythmic verses for the Passion stories from the other Gospels.

If you'd rather learn a different Passion narrative this Lent, you can make that choice.

Or, for future Lents in the years to come, you can use this book again to learn other Passion narratives. You'll find these stories at the back of the book.

I use the Douay-Rheims Challoner version for the all the Scripture in this book. This old translation will probably remind you of the famous King James version. Although the DRC presents some challenges, it also has features that make it a great choice for memorizing. I explain these features in a later chapter.

Let's begin with a slow, thoughtful reading of Mark 15.

The Story of the Passion from Mark

Here are the forty-seven verses you'll learn this Lent. They tell the story of Christ's Passion and Death, from the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark.

You'll be coming back here every day, so while you're here, bookmark this page. Keep one bookmark here, at the beginning, and move another bookmark forward each day to your new verse.

For now, as you read these stories for the first time, don't think about memorizing. Just read. Many words and phrases will be familiar, but expect to be surprised.

A Note for Ebook Readers

A core tenet of this memory approach is that verses should be read like poetry. As with poetry, the correct line breaks are critical to understanding the rhythm.

If you're reading this book on a small screen, the lines may be too long for the screen. They'll wrap around and look broken. If these verses look broken on your screen, please take a moment to adjust your reader so that they look like normal poetry. You can try turning the screen sideways, or choosing a smaller font size.

Mark 15: Good Friday

Condemned by Pilate

Mark 15:1

Pilate questions Jesus

And straightway in the morning,
   the chief priests holding a consultation
with the ancients and the scribes
   and the whole council,
binding Jesus,
   led him away
     and delivered him to Pilate.

And Pilate asked him:
   Art thou the king of the Jews?
But he answering,
   saith to him:
     Thou sayest it.

And the chief priests accused him
   in many things.

And Pilate again asked him,
     Answerest thou nothing?
Behold in how many things
   they accuse thee.

But Jesus still answered nothing:
   so that Pilate wondered.

Pilate's festival custom

Now on the festival day
   he was wont to release unto them
one of the prisoners,
   whomsoever they demanded.

And there was one called Barabbas,
   who was put in prison
     with some seditious men,
who in the sedition
   had committed murder.

And when the multitude was come up,
   they began to desire
that he would do
   as he had ever done unto them.

Pilate offers to release Jesus

And Pilate answered them
   and said:
Will you that I release to you
   the king of the Jews?

For he knew that the chief priests
   had delivered him up out of envy.

But the chief priests moved the people,
   that he should rather release
     Barabbas to them.

And Pilate again answering,
   saith to them:
What will you then that I do
   to the king of the Jews?

But they again cried out:
   Crucify him.

And Pilate saith to them:
   Why, what evil hath he done?
But they cried out the more:
   Crucify him.

And so Pilate being willing
   to satisfy the people,
     released to them Barabbas:
and delivered up Jesus,
   when he had scourged him,
     to be crucified.


Mark 15:16

Jesus is tortured

And the soldiers led him away
   into the court of the palace:
and they called together
   the whole band.

And they clothed him with purple:
   and, platting a crown of thorns,
     they put it upon him.

And they began to salute him:
   Hail, king of the Jews.

And they struck his head with a reed:
   and they did spit on him.
And bowing their knees,
   they adored him.

And after they had mocked him,
   they took off the purple from him
and put his own garments on him:
   and they led him out to crucify him.

Jesus is crucified

And they forced one Simon a Cyrenian,
   who passed by
     coming out of the country,
the father of Alexander and of Rufus,
   to take up his cross.

And they bring him into the place
   called Golgotha,
which being interpreted is,
   The place of Calvary.

And they gave him to drink
   wine mingled with myrrh.
     But he took it not.

And crucifying him,
   they divided his garments,
casting lots upon them,
   what every man should take.

And it was the third hour:
   and they crucified him.

And the inscription of his cause
   was written over:

And with him they crucify two thieves:
   the one on his right hand,
     and the other on his left.

And the scripture was fulfilled,
   which saith:
     And with the wicked he was reputed.

Jesus is reviled

And they that passed by blasphemed him,
   wagging their heads and saying:
Vah, thou that destroyest the temple of God
   and in three days buildest it up again:

Save thyself,
   coming down from the cross.

In like manner also the chief priests,
said with the scribes
   one to another:
He saved others;
   himself he cannot save.

Let Christ the king of Israel
   come down now from the cross,
     that we may see and believe.
And they that were crucified with him,
   reviled him.

Jesus dies

And when the sixth hour was come,
   there was darkness over the whole earth
     until the ninth hour.

And at the ninth hour,
   Jesus cried out with a loud voice,
   Eloi, Eloi,
     lamma sabacthani?
Which is, being interpreted:
   My God, My God,
     Why hast thou forsaken me?

And some of the standers by hearing, said:
     he calleth Elias.

And one running
   and filling a sponge with vinegar
and putting it upon a reed,
   gave him to drink, saying:
Stay, let us see if Elias come
   to take him down.

And Jesus, having cried out
   with a loud voice,
     gave up the ghost.

And the veil of the temple was rent in two,
   from the top to the bottom.

And the centurion
   who stood over against him,
seeing that crying out
   in this manner
     he had given up the ghost,
   Indeed this man
     was the son of God.

Women who looked on

And there were also women
   looking on afar off:
among whom was Mary Magdalen
   and Mary the mother
     of James the Less and of Joseph
       and Salome,

Who also when he was in Galilee
   followed him and ministered to him,
and many other women
   that came up with him to Jerusalem.


Mark 15:42

Joseph of Arimathea

And when evening was now come
   (because it was the Parasceve,
     that is,
       the day before the sabbath),

Joseph of Arimathea,
   a noble counsellor,
who was also himself looking
   for the kingdom of God,
came and went in boldly to Pilate
   and begged the body of Jesus.

But Pilate wondered
   that he should be already dead.
And sending for the centurion,
   he asked him if he were already dead.

And when he had understood it
   by the centurion,
he gave the body
   to Joseph.

Jesus is buried

And Joseph, buying fine linen
   and taking him down,
wrapped him up in the fine linen
   and laid him in a sepulchre
     which was hewed out of a rock.
And he rolled a stone
   to the door of the sepulchre.

And Mary Magdalen
   and Mary the mother of Joseph,
     beheld where he was laid.

You're going to learn all that by heart. Let's get started!

Books by Heart: Passion and Death

Now we begin the Books by Heart™ lessons, which will show you an easy method for learning these verses by heart.

You may have already read a similar version of these lessons in another book in this series, such as Christmas by Heart and Easter by Heart. However, if it's been awhile, you may want to read them again and refresh your memory. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, I've adapted certain examples and discussions for Mark 15.

You don't have to read this whole book on Ash Wednesday! Instead, you can do one lesson per day. Read the first lesson, say the first verse, and then it's up to you how quickly you read the other lessons.

Speaking Out the Verses

Every time you say a verse, you want to:

  • Speak out: Speak loudly and slowly, with rhythm and expression.
  • Take it in: As you speak, see the words as they are written, hear the words you say, and feel the rhythms and the shapes of the words on your tongue.
  • Experience: Let the words lead you to imagine the scene in this story.

Seem like a lot to remember? Don't worry, we'll be going over all this in detail. You'll always see critical points more than once.

In this first lesson, you'll learn how to speak out the Gospel. Speaking out is the crucial first step. You have to speak a verse before you can take it in and experience it.

Speak Out

You're used to reading silently. But in ancient times, they were used to reading out loud. Words were spoken. And the first step to learning these stories by heart is to read the verses out loud.

Read the verses out loud:

  • loudly and slowly
  • with rhythm and expression


How loud? Loud enough to hear yourself.

Don't mumble. When you mumble, the words only happen inside your head.

You need to be loud enough to hear your own words, as if someone else were talking to you. Hearing the words will activate additional mental processes, and lead to stronger memories.

You always want to activate as many different kinds of learning as possible. Each kind of learning has its own set of mental connections. The more connections you make, the stronger your memories.


Don't rush! When you're first learning new verses, speak slowly. Not painfully slow, but a little slower than you usually talk.

In normal speech, we slur past common words. Here, you want to pronounce every sound in every word.


The Bible has rhythm! Unlocking these rhythms makes the verses both come alive and stay in your mind.

As I mentioned earlier, I've typeset these verses like a poem, instead of the usual prose paragraphs. Here's the first verse:

And straightway in the morning,
   the chief priests holding a consultation
with the ancients and the scribes
   and the whole council,
binding Jesus,
   led him away
     and delivered him to Pilate.

You're looking at one of the best-kept secrets about the Bible. The Bible has rhythm.

Oral Culture

The Bible was written in an oral culture, a culture that largely depended on the spoken word. Human speech has a natural, loose rhythm. In an oral culture, speakers make these rhythms even stronger.

They organize their thoughts into words and phrases that play off each other, back and forth, rising and falling. Their audiences expect these rhythms, listen for them, and remember them.

In our culture, we associate rhythm with entertainment: nursery rhymes, popular music, rap. Advertising jingles.

Our serious work avoids rhythms. Doctors don't want to sound like Dr. Seuss.

But oral cultures depend on spoken rhythm for serious work. Jesus preached in rhythm. The Gospel writers composed with rhythm.

Free the "Verses" Back Into a "Poem"

You want to speak these verses with rhythm.

Almost every Bible translation imprisons these verses into long, solid columns of compressed text. But why do we call them verses? Don't verses mean a poem?

Poems never translate well. Most rhythm, like rhyme, is lost in translation. But if we listen to our Bible translations, especially an older translation, we can still find the back-and-forth rhythm of the phrases.

The first modern scholar I know of to unlock these Bible rhythms was Marcel Jousse, a French priest in the early twentieth century. In 1925, his book The Oral Style revealed that beneath the prose of the Gospels, even in translation, the phrases rise and fall with strong rhythms.

Back and Forth Rhythms

Let's look again at our first verse, Mark 15:1. Normally, that verse would look like this:

And straightway in the morning, the chief priests holding a consultation with the ancients and the scribes and the whole council, binding Jesus, led him away and delivered him to Pilate.

But I've freed these words into a more natural, back-and-forth rhythm:

And straightway in the morning,
   the chief priests holding a consultation
with the ancients and the scribes
   and the whole council,
binding Jesus,
   led him away
     and delivered him to Pilate.

Do you hear how the phrases interlock? One phrase rises, creating tension. The next phrase falls, resolving the tension.

And straightway in the morning ... the chief priests holding a consultation

What happened straightway in the morning? The chief priests held a consultation.

This rise and fall, question and answer, is much stronger in some places than others. But even the more prosaic sentences can be broken into short phrases and spoken with rhythm.

Speak With Rhythm

Every verse in this book has been set with rhythm. As you read, use the layout to help you see and speak these rhythms. You'll usually see couplets and triplets.

The first line of this couplet rises, creating tension,
   The second line falls and resolves the tension.
The first line of this triplet rises, creating tension,
   The middle line begins to fall,
     But only the last line resolves the tension.

Sometimes, you'll see a set of four lines. I'm not sure Jousse would approve of this. He only talked about groups of twos and threes. But sometimes, it seems to me that a line really "introduces" a triplet:

And someone says, in a rising tone,
   "I'm saying something that rises even further,"
     And only now does the tension begin to fall,
       And this fourth line completes it.

You May Find Better Rhythms

So what rules have I used to break up these verses into groups? Here's my secret method: whatever sounds good.

There isn't any secret method. If you find a better rhythm for a cluster of verses, change it! And let me know! (bill@howtoremember.biz) I'd love to improve future editions.

Skip the Verse Numbers and Headings

You'll notice that, just now, when I showed you the rhythmic verse, I didn't include the verse numbers or any headings, such as "Pilate Condemns Jesus". Although that information is helpful, I do not think you should memorize it. For me, it's enough to know which book and chapter I'm memorizing from.

As you saw when you read Mark 15 earlier, I do include headings and some verse numbers in the full selection. But I don't suggest memorizing them.

If you wanted to know the chapter and verse, the best way would be to say "Mark, chapter fifteen, verse one" before that verse. But even if you shortened this to "Mark fifteen one," it would sound ridiculous, like a computer printout. It would disrupt the story, and kill the rhythm.

Expression (These Words Are Alive)

At first, speaking the Bible with rhythm may seem unnatural. Even disrespectful.

Why? Because we in the English-speaking world have this bizarre tradition of the reverential monotone.

Ditch the "Reverential Monotone"

Think about church. Unless you're very lucky, your lector "proclaims" the readings with less expression than your GPS. You'd get more drama from R2D2.

Somehow, we've gotten the idea that the Bible needs a special voice: a dead monotone.

But what's so reverent about a monotone? These words are alive, and so are you. A Bible is just a sacred suitcase to carry those words from Christ to you.

Sadly, the words had to have all the expression and intonation hacked off so they'd fit in the suitcase. Your job is to unpack them, and try to get them back to normal.

The monotone is not normal. The monotone is dead. When our cultural air is thick with the conviction that the Bible is a dead old distant book with nothing to offer, a monotone is the worst possible choice.

The monotone is also the worst possible choice for remembering.

Let the Words Live

Freeing the rhythms helps the words live. But you want to go even farther. You want to tell the story.

Think about telling a story to a friend. Or reading a story to a child. The expression comes naturally. It flows from what's happening in the story.

Tell the story. Expression will come naturally.

Now Speak Your Verse

That's all you need to get started! This has been a long first lesson, but don't worry. Soon you'll be focused on learning verses, not learning how to learn them.

Read the verses out loud:

  • loudly and slowly
  • with rhythm and expression

Throughout the rest of the day (or tomorrow, if it's already bedtime), read the first verse out loud again every few hours. Don't worry about memorizing it yet. Focus on speaking it well.

Your Memorizing Plan

Now that you know how to speak out a verse, let's back up and look at our overall plan for memorizing. Many people offer different methods for memorizing Scripture. I want you to understand why my Books by Heart approach is simple, easy, and natural.

A Daily Verse

The core idea is simple: every day, you learn one new verse, and repeat the verses you've already learned.

Learning one new verse every day, and renewing what you've learned, doesn't take long. We're talking fifteen minutes or so, spread throughout the day.

It may not seem like much. But this small effort gives you powerful leverage. The words of the Gospel are potent. They're like strong magnets, attracting thoughts and feelings that would otherwise rush by. Bit by bit, you will think differently.

Besides, the verses add up fast. By Holy Saturday, you'll know all of Good Friday, from Christ's interview with Pilate to the stone rolled across the door of the sepulchre.

Why Only One Verse a Day?

You may assume that memorizing is difficult. Or, you may be surprised that you're only learning one verse a day. Can't you do more?

Eventually, yes. But if this is your first time, you're training a new skill. Your mind is extremely susceptible to the patterns you set right from the beginning. If you tried to start out memorizing two or five or ten verses a day, you would inevitably start to rush, and then feel burdened and overwhelmed. The whole experience would sour.

Instead, focus on getting this one verse right. It's like push-ups. Ten push-ups with correct form will do much more for your body than twenty sloppy attempts.

Also, memorizing requires review. By only adding one new verse a day, your daily renewal won't take too long.

When you complete this project, if you want to learn more, you can try learning two new verses a day for a month. And then three. And so on.

But for now, stick to one. Master the art.

Why You Can Memorize

Maybe you're wondering whether you can really memorize even one new verse a day. Perhaps you're constantly reminded of your "bad memory" as your car keys vanish and critical mail evaporates.

Guess what? I promise that your memory is excellent. How do I know? Because you can read.

Think about it. If your memory were actually broken, would you be decoding these squiggles into words, linking them to sounds, snapping them into phrases and sentences, making the impossible leap into kaleidoscopes of meaning --- all at hundreds of words per minute?

I don't care if you take reading for granted. I don't care how they graded you in school. You can read. Your memory is amazing. Period.

Whatever "memory" problems you have are due to technique and habit. These are precisely the skills you'll learn to improve in this book.

Even the most amazing tool will fail if you don't know how to use it. You're going to learn how to remember these verses.

Your Daily Routine

You'll only need to spend about fifteen minutes a day on this project.

Even better, you'll spread this time in bits throughout the day. Every day, you will:

  • Repeat the verses you've already learned, all together, as a series of stories.
  • Learn your new verse.
  • Throughout the day, repeat your new verse three or four times.
  • If you're having trouble with any older verses, repeat these too. You'll be surprised at how easily you can fit these short reviews into the crevices of your day.
  • At the end of the day, repeat all your verses again once, including your new verse.

You might prefer to learn new material at the end of the day, sleep on it, then review throughout the next day. That's fine.

This daily routine is the core of learning by heart.

If you miss a day, pick up where you left off.

At the risk of making your Lent even harder (again), let's talk more about cookies.

We'll explore this routine in more detail later. This is all you need to get started.

Stories, Not Memory Tricks

I keep saying "verses", but the Gospels are a series of stories. Stories are much easier to think about and remember than individual verses.

If you've used other memory books, you know there's a wide variety of memory tricks out there. I've tried most of them. Sadly, much of this advice actually makes memorizing verses more difficult.

If this book saves you from even one standard mistake, it will pay for itself many times over.

For instance, have you heard about "mnemonics" or "memory palaces"? Some books suggest using these visual memory tricks for anything you want to learn, but I disagree.

For this project, you don't need any wacky memory tricks. You won't need to imagine any crazy pictures or funky memory sentences.

Instead, you'll learn how to make the verses themselves a memorable experience. You'll unlock their power with rhythm, expression, and imagination.

Mnemonics aren't inherently harmful. If you want to memorize your credit card number, mnemonics work great. But they're not the right tool for memorizing texts. I'll explain why further on.

For now, let's move to the next step in memorizing. As you speak a verse out, you also take the verse in.

Like what you've read? Buy Lent by Heart on Amazon!