Each Feria of Lent has a proper Mass; whereas, in Advent, the Mass of the preceding Sunday is repeated during the week. This richness of the Lenten Liturgy is a powerful means for our entering into the Church’s spirit, since she hereby brings before us, under so many forms, the sentiments suited to this holy time. From these Ferial Masses we intend giving for the respective days the Collect(which is always the principal prayer), the Epistle, the Gospel, and the Prayer which is said “over the people” at the end of the Mass. All this will provide us with most solid instruction; and as the selections from the Bible, which are each day brought before us, are not only some of the finest of the Sacred Volume, but are moreover singularly appropriate to Lent—their attentive perusal will be productive of a twofold advantage.
At Rome, today’s Station is in the Church of Peter-ad-vincula. It was built in the 5th century by the Empress Eudoxia, wife of Valentinian 3rd, and possesses the venerable relic of St. Peter’s Chains. We shall speak more fully on this Basilica when we keep the Feast of the Apostle’s deliverance from prison on the 1st of August.
Convert us, O God our Savior: and instruct our minds with thy heavenly doctrine, that this fast of Lent may be beneficial to us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Lesson from the Prophet Ezechiel 34:11-16
Thus saith the Lord God: Behold I myself will seek my sheep, and will visit them. As the shepherd visiteth his flock in the day when he shall be in the midst of his sheep that were scattered; so will I visit my sheep, and will deliver them out of all the places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. And will bring them out from the peoples, and will gather them out of the countries, and will bring them to their own land; and I will feed them in the mountains of Israel, by the rivers, and in all the habitations of the land. I will feed them in the most fruitful pastures, and their pastures shall be in the high mountains of Israel: there shall they rest on the green grass and be fed in fast pastures upon the mountains of Israel. I will feed my sheep; and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God. I will seek that which was lost, and that which was driven away I will bring again; and I will bind up that that which was broken, and I will strengthen that which was weak, and that which was fat and strong I will preserve; and I will feed them in judgment, saith the Lord Almighty.
Our Lord here shows himself to us as a Shepherd full of love for his Sheep. Such, indeed, he truly is to men, during this Season of mercy. A portion of his flock had gone astray, and was wandering to and fro amidst the darkness of this world; but Jesus did not forget them. He went in search of them, that he might gather them together. He sought through lonely deserts, and rocky places, and brambles. He now speaks to them through his Church, and invites them to return. He sweetly encourages them, for perhaps they might fear and be ashamed to appear before him after so many sins. He promises them that if they will but return to him, they shall be fed on the richest pastures near the river bank, and on the mountains of Israel. They are covered with wounds, but he will bind them up; they are weak, but he will strengthen them. He will once more give them fellowship with the faithful ones who never left him, and he himself will dwell with them forever. Let the sinner, then, yield to this tender love; let him not refuse to make the efforts required for his conversion. If these efforts of penance seem painful to nature, let him recall to mind those happy days when he was in grace, and in the fold of his Good Shepherd. He may be so again. The gate of the fold is open; and thousands who, like himself, had gone astray, are going in with joy and confidence. Let him follow them, and remember how his Jesus has said: There shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine who need not penance. (Luke 15:7)
Sequel of the Holy Gospel according to Matthew 25:31-46
At that time, Jesus said to his disciples: When the Son of man shall come in his majesty, and all the Angels with him, then shall he sit upon the seat of his majesty. And all nations shall be gathered together before him, and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats; and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left. Then shall the King say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in; naked, and you clothed me; sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me. Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in; or naked, and clothed thee? Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee? And the King answering, shall say to them: Amen, I say to you, as long as you have done it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me. Then shall he say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me not to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me not in; naked, and you clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me. Then shall they also answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to thee? Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen, I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least ones, neither did you it to me. And these shall go into everlasting punishment, but the just into life everlasting.
We have just been listening to a Prophet of the Old Testament, inviting us to return to the Good Shepherd;—our Lord there put forth every argument which love could devise, to persuade his lost sheep to return to him: and here, on the very same day that the Church speaks to us of our God as being a gentle and compassionate Shepherd, she describes him as an inflexible judge. This loving Jesus, this charitable Physician of our souls, is seated on his dread tribunal, and cries out in his anger: Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire! And where has the Church found this awful description? In the Gospel, that is, in the very Law of Love—But if we read our passage attentively, we shall find that He who pronounces this terrible anathema is the same God whom the Prophet has been just portraying as a Shepherd full of mercy, patience, and zeal for his Sheep. Observe how he is still a Shepherd, even on his judgment seat: he separates the sheep from the goats; he sets the sheep on his right hand, and the goats on his left; the idea, the comparison of a Flock, is still kept up. The Son of God will exercise his office of Shepherd even to the Last Day: only then, time will be at an end, and eternity will have begun; the reign of Justice, too, will have succeeded the reign of Mercy, for it will be Justice that will reward the good with the promised recompense, and that will punish impenitent sinners with eternal torments. How can the Christian who believes that we are all to stand before this tribunal refuse the invitation of the Church, who now presses him to make satisfaction for his sins? Truly, man is his own worst enemy, if he can disregard these words of Jesus, who now is his Savior, and then will be his Judge: Unless ye do penance, ye shall all perish. (Luke 13:3)
Bow down your heads to God.
Loosen, O Lord, we beseech thee, the bonds of our sins; and mercifully turn away from us whatever we deserve for them. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Let us close the day by reciting the following Hymn, which was composed by St. Gregory the Great, and is used by the Church in her Matins during Lent.
Let us observe this most solemn fast of forty days, which has been handed down to us by sacred tradition.
The Law and the Prophets first introduced it; and afterwards, Christ, the Master and Maker of all seasons, consecrated it by his own observing it.
Let us, therefore, be more sparing in our words; let us retrench somewhat of our food, and drink, and sleep, and merriment, and redouble our watchfulness.
Let us shun those noxious things, which play such havoc with unguarded souls: and let us avoid whatsoever could strengthen the tyranny of our crafty enemy.
Let us appease the anger of our Judge, and pour out our tears before him: let us prostrate ourselves, and thus cry to him in suppliant prayer:
“We have offended thy goodness, O God, by our sins: forgive us, and pour out thy mercy upon us.
“Remember that we are the work of thy hands, frail though we be: we beseech thee, suffer not another to usurp the honor of thy Name.
“Pardon us the evil we have done, and grant us good things, even beyond our prayer: that thus we may be well-pleasing to thee, now and forever.
“O Blessed Trinity! O Undivided Unity! grant us, thy servants, to reap fruit from the Fast thou hast given us. Amen.”
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)