This Sunday, the first of the six which come during Lent, is one of the most solemn throughout the year. It has the same privilege as Passion and Palm Sundays—that is, it never gives place to any Feast, not even to that of the Patron, Titular Saint, or Dedication of the Church. In the ancient Calendars, it is called Invocabit, from the first word of the Introit of the Mass. In the Middle Ages (more especially in France), it was called Brand Sunday, because the young people, who had misconducted themselves during the carnival, were obliged to show themselves today at the Church with a torch in their hands, as a kind of public satisfaction for their riot and excess.
Lent solemnly opens today. We have already noticed that the four preceding days were added since the time of Gregory the Great, in order to make up Forty days of fasting. Neither can we look upon Ash Wednesday as the solemn opening of the Season, for the Faithful are not bound to hear Mass on that day. The Holy Church, seeing her children now assembled together, speaks to them, in her Office of Matins, these eloquent and noble words of St. Leo the Great: “Having to announce to you, dearly beloved, the most sacred and chief Fast, how can I more appropriately begin, than with the words of the Apostle (in whom Christ himself spoke), and by saying to you what has just been read: Behold! now is the acceptable time; behold! now is the day of salvation. For although there be no time which is not replete with divine gifts, and we may always, by God’s grace, have access to his mercy—yet ought we all to redouble our efforts to make spiritual progress and be animated with unusual confidence now that the anniversary of the day of our Redemption is approaching, inviting us to devote ourselves to every good work, that so we may celebrate, with purity of body and mind, the incomparable Mystery of our Lord’s Passion.
“It is true that our devotion and reverence towards so great a Mystery should be kept up during the whole year, and we ourselves be, at all times, in the eyes of God, the same as we are bound to be at the Easter Solemnity. But this is an effort which only few among us have the courage to sustain. The weakness of the flesh induces us to relent our austerities; the various occupations of everyday life take our thoughts; and thus, even the virtuous find their hearts clogged by this world’s dust. Hence it is that our Lord has most providentially given us these Forty Days, whose holy exercises should be to us a remedy, whereby to regain our purity of soul. The good works and the holy fastings of this Season were instituted as an atonement and obliteration of the sins we commit during the rest of the Year.
“Now, therefore, that we are about to enter upon these days, which are so full of mystery, and were instituted for the holy purpose of purifying both our soul and body, let us, dearly beloved, be careful to do as the Apostle bids us, and cleanse ourselves from all the defilement of the flesh and the spirit: that thus the combat between the two substances being made less fierce, the soul, which, when she herself is subject to God, ought to be the ruler of the body, will recover her own dignity and position. Let us also avoid giving offense to any man, so that there be none to blame or speak evil things of us. For we deserve the harsh remarks of infidels, and we provoke the tongues of the wicked to blaspheme religion, when we, who fast, lead unholy lives. For our Fast does not consist in the mere abstaining from food; nor is it of much use to deny food to our body, unless we restrain the soul from sin.” (Fourth Sermon for Lent)
Each Sunday of Lent offers to our consideration a passage from the Gospel which is in keeping with the sentiments wherewith the Church would have us be filled. Today, she brings before us the Temptation of our Lord in the Desert. What light and encouragement there is for us in this instruction!
We acknowledge ourselves to be sinners; we are engaged, at this very time, in doing penance for the sins we have committed—but how was it that we fell into sin? The devil tempted us; we did not reject the temptation; then we yielded to the suggestion, and the sin was committed. This is the history of our past; and such it would also be for the future, were we not to profit by the lesson given us today by our Redeemer.
When the Apostle speaks of the wonderful mercy shown us by our Divine Savior, who vouchsafed to make himself like to us in all things, save in sin, he justly lays stress on his temptations. (Hebrews 4:15) He who was very God, humbled himself even so low as this, to prove how tenderly he compassionated us. Here, then, we have the Saint of Saints allowing the wicked spirit to approach him, in order that we might learn from His example how we are to gain victory under temptation.
Satan has had his eye upon Jesus; he is troubled at beholding such matchless virtue. The wonderful circumstances of his Birth—the Shepherds called by Angels to his Crib, and the Magi guided by the Star; the Infant’s escape from Herod’s plot; the testimony rendered to this new Prophet by John the Baptist—all these things which seem so out of keeping with the thirty years spent in obscurity at Nazareth are a mystery to the infernal serpent, and fill him with apprehension. The ineffable mystery of the Incarnation has been accomplished unknown to him; he never once suspects that the humble Virgin, Mary, is she who was foretold by the Prophet Isaias, as having to bring forth the Emmanuel; (Isaiah 7:14) but he is aware that the time is to come, that the last Week spoken of to Daniel has begun its course, and that the very Pagans are looking towards Judea for a Deliverer. He is afraid of this Jesus; he resolves to speak with him, and elicit from him some expression which will show him whether he be or not the Son of God; he will tempt him to some imperfection, or sin, which, should he commit, will prove that the object of so much fear is, after all, but a mortal and sinful Man.
The enemy of God and men was, of course, disappointed. He approached Jesus; but all his efforts only turn to his own confusion. Our Redeemer, with all the self-possession and easy majesty of a God-Man, repels the attacks of Satan; but he reveals not his heavenly origin. The wicked spirit retires, without having made any discovery beyond this—that Jesus is a prophet, faithful to God. Later on, when he sees the Son of God treated with contempt, calumniated, and persecuted; when he finds that his own attempts to have him put to death are so successful—his pride and his blindness will be at their height: and not till Jesus expires on the Cross will he learn that his victim was not merely Man, but Man and God. Then will he discover how all his plots against Jesus have but served to manifest, in all their beauty, the Mercy and Justice of God—his Mercy, because he saved mankind; and his Justice, because he broke the power of hell forever.
These were the designs of Divine Providence in permitting the wicked spirit to defile, by his presence, the retreat of Jesus, and speak to him, and lay his hands upon him. But let us attentively consider the triple temptation in all its circumstances; for our Redeemer only suffered it in order that he might instruct and encourage us.
We have three enemies to fight against; our soul has three dangers; for as the Beloved Disciple says: All that is in the world, is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life! (1 John 2:16) By the concupiscence of the flesh, is meant the love of sensual things, which covets whatever is agreeable to the flesh and, when not curbed, draws the soul into unlawful pleasures. Concupiscence of the eyes expresses the love of the goods of this world, such as riches, and possessions; these dazzle the eye, and then seduce the heart. Pride of life is that confidence in ourselves which leads us to be vain and presumptuous, and makes us forget that all we have—our life and our every good gift—we have from God.
Not one of our sins but what comes from one of these three sources; not one of our temptations but what aims at making us accept the concupiscence of the flesh, or the concupiscence of the eyes, or the pride of life. Our Savior, then, who would be our model in all things, deigned to subject himself to these three temptations.
First of all, Satan tempts him in what regards the Flesh—he suggests to him to satisfy the cravings of hunger by working a miracle, and changing the stones into bread. If Jesus consent, and show an eagerness in giving this indulgence to his body, the tempter will conclude that he is but a frail mortal, subject to concupiscence like other men. When he tempts us, who have inherited evil concupiscence from Adam, his suggestions go further than this; he endeavors to defile the soul by the body. But the sovereign holiness of the Incarnate Word could never permit Satan to use upon Him the power which he has received of tempting man in his outward senses. The lesson, therefore, which the Son of God here gives us, is one of temperance: but we know that, for us, temperance is the mother of purity, and that intemperance excites our senses to rebel.
The second temptation is to pride: Cast thyself down; the Angels shall bear thee up in their hands. The enemy is anxious to see if the favors of heaven have produced in Jesus’ soul that haughtiness, that ungrateful self-confidence, which makes the creature arrogate God’s gifts to itself, and forget its benefactor. Here, also, he is foiled; our Redeemer’s humility confounds the pride of the rebel angel.
He then makes a last effort: he hopes to gain over by ambition Him who has given such proofs of temperance and humility. He shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and says to him: All these will I give thee, if falling down, thou wilt adore me. Jesus rejects the wretched offer, and drives from him the seducer, the prince of this world; (John 14:30) hereby teaching us that we must despise the riches of this world, as often as our keeping our getting them is to be on the condition of our violating the law of God and paying homage to Satan.
But let us observe how it is that our Divine Model, our Redeemer, overcomes the tempter. Does he hearken to his words? Does he allow the temptation time? and give it strength by delay? We did so when we were tempted, and we fell. But our Lord immediately meets each temptation with the shield of God’s word. He says: It is written: Not on bread alone doth man live.—It is written: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.—It is written: The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and Him only shalt thou serve.—This, then, must be our practice for the time to come. Eve brought perdition on herself and on the whole human race because she listened to the serpent. He that dallies with temptation is sure to fall. We are now in a Season of extraordinary grace; our hearts are on the watch, dangerous occasions are removed, everything that savors of worldliness is laid aside; our souls, purified by prayer, fasting, and almsdeeds, are to rise with Christ to a new life—but shall we persevere? All depends upon how we behave under temptation. Here, at the very opening of Lent, the Church gives us this passage of the Holy Gospel that we may have not only precept, but example. If we be attentive and faithful, the lesson she gives us will produce its fruit; and when we come to the Easter Solemnity, we shall have those sure pledges of perseverance—vigilance, self-diffidence, prayer, and the never-failing help of Divine Grace.
The Greek Church, in spite of her principle of never admitting a Feast during Lent, celebrates today one of her greatest solemnities. It is called Orthodoxia, and was instituted in memory of the restoration of sacred Images in Constantinople and the Eastern Empire, in the year 842, when the Empress Theodora, aided by the holy Patriarch Methodius, put a stop to the Iconoclast persecution, and restored to the Churches the holy Images, which the fury of the heretics had taken away.
The Station, at Rome, is in the patriarchal Basilica of Saint John Lateran. It was but right that a Sunday of such solemnity as this should be celebrated in the Church which is the Mother and Mistress of all Churches, not only of the Holy City itself, but of the whole world. It was here that the public Penitents were reconciled on Maundy Thursday; it was here also, in the Baptistery of Constantine, that the Catechumens received Baptism on the night preceding Easter Sunday. No other Basilica could have had such a claim for the Station of a day like this; for it was there that the Lenten Fast had been so often proclaimed by Leo and Gregory.
The Introit, as likewise the Gradual, Tract, Offertory, and Communion, are all taken from the 90th Psalm. We have, elsewhere, spoken of the appropriateness of this beautiful Psalm to the spirit of the Church during the Season of Lent. It bids the Christian soul confide in the divine aid. She is now devoting her whole energies to prayer; she is engaged in battle with her own and God’s enemies. She has need of support. Let her not be afraid: God tells her, in these words of the Introit, that her confidence in him shall not be in vain.
He shall cry to me, and I will hear him: I will deliver him, and I will glorify him: I will fill him with length of days.
Ps. He that dwelleth in the aid of the Most High, shall abide under the protection of the God of Heaven. ℣. Glory, etc. He shall cry.
In the Collect, the Church prays for her children, that their fast may not only purify them, but may also obtain for them that divine assistance which will secure their salvation by enabling them to abound in good works.
O God, who purifiest thy Church by the yearly observation of Lent: grant that what thy children endeavor to obtain of thee by abstinence, they may put in execution by good works. Through, etc.
The two following Collects, for the general wants of the Church, are then added.
Preserve us, O Lord, we beseech thee, from all dangers of soul and body: and by the intercession of the glorious and blessed Mary, the ever Virgin-Mother of God, of thy blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, of blessed N. (here is mentioned the Titular Saint of the Church), and of all the Saints, grant us, in thy mercy, health and peace; that all adversities and errors being removed, thy Church may serve thee with undisturbed liberty.
O Almighty and eternal God, who hast dominion over the living and the dead, and art merciful to all whom thou knowest will be thine by faith and good works: we humbly beseech thee, that they, for whom we have proposed to offer our prayers, whether this world still retains them in the flesh, or the next world hath already received them divested of their bodies, may, by the clemency of thine own goodness, and the intercession of thy Saints, obtain pardon and full remission of their sins. Through, etc.
Lesson of the Second Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle, to the Corinthians 6:1-10
Brethren: We exhort you, that you receive not the grace of God in vain. For he saith: In an accepted time have I heard thee; and in the day of salvation have I helped thee. Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. Giving no offence to any man, that our ministry be not blamed: But in all things let us exhibit ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in tribulation, in necessities, in distresses, In stripes, in prisons, in seditions, in labors, in watchings, in fastings, In chastity, in knowledge, in longsuffering, in sweetness, in the Holy Ghost, in charity unfeigned, In the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armor of justice on the right hand and on the left; By honour and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet known; As dying, and behold we live; as chastised, and not killed; As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as needy, yet enriching many; as having nothing, and possessing all things.
These words of the Apostle give us a very different idea of the Christian Life from that which our own tepidity suggests. We dare not say that he is wrong, and we right; but we put a strange interpretation upon his words, and we tell both ourselves and those around us, that the advice he here gives is not to be taken literally nowadays, and that it was written for those special difficulties of the first age of the Church, when the Faithful stood in need of unusual detachment and almost heroism, because they were always in danger of persecution and death. The interpretation is full of that discretion which meets with the applause of our cowardice, and it easily persuades us to be at rest, just as though we had no dangers to fear, and no battle to fight; whereas we have both: for there is the devil, the world, flesh and blood. The Church never forgets it; and hence, at the opening of this great Season, she sends us into the desert, that there we may learn from our Jesus how we are to fight. Let us go; let us learn, from the Temptations of our Divine Master, that the life of man upon earth is a warfare, (Job 7:1) and that, unless our fighting be truceless and brave, our life, which we would fain pass in peace, will witness our defeat. That such a misfortune may not befall us, the Church cries out to us, in the words of St. Paul: Behold! now is the acceptable time. Behold! now is the day of salvation. Let us, in all things comport ourselves as the servants of God, and keep our ground unflinchingly to the end of our holy campaign. God is watching over us, as he did over his Beloved Son in the Desert.
The Gradual tells us that we are under the protection of the Angels, and that these blessed Spirits leave us not, either day or night. During Lent, they redouble their efforts against our enemies, and rejoice at seeing us sinners accept the penance, which is to bring us to salvation.
The Tract, too, inspires us with confidence: it speaks to us of the goodness of God, and of his fatherly watchfulness over us his ungrateful children, whom he wishes to make his faithful friends and co-heirs of his kingdom.
God hath given his Angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
℣. In their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.
℣. He that dwelleth in the aid of the Most High, shall abide under the protection of the God of heaven.
℣. He shall say to the Lord: Thou art my protector, and my refuge; my God, in him will I trust.
℣. For he hath delivered me from the snare of the hunters, and from their sharp word.
℣. He will overshadow thee with his shoulders, and under his wings thou shalt trust.
℣. His truth shall compass thee with a shield, thou shalt not be afraid of the terror of the night.
℣. Of the arrow that flieth in the day, of the business that walketh in the dark, of rain, or of the noon-day devil.
℣. A thousand shall fat at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand: but it shall not come nigh thee.
℣. For he hath given his Angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
℣. In their hands they shall bear thee up, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
℣. Thou shalt walk upon the asp and the basilisk, and thou shalt trample under foot the lion and the dragon.
℣. Because he hath hoped in me, I will deliver him: I will protect him, because he hath known my name.
℣. He shall cry to me, and I will hear him: I am with him in his trouble.
℣. I will deliver him, and I will glorify him: I will fill him with length of days, and I will show him my salvation.
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 4:1-11
At that time: Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards he was hungry. And the tempter coming said to him: If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. Who answered and said: It is written, Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God. Then the devil took him up into the holy city, and set him upon the pinnacle of the temple, And said to him: If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down, for it is written: That he hath given his angels charge over thee, and in their hands shall they bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said to him: It is written again: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again the devil took him up into a very high mountain, and shewed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, And said to him: All these will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me. Then Jesus saith to him: Begone, Satan: for it is written, The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil left him; and behold angels came and ministered to him.
Let us admire the exceeding goodness of the Son of God, who, not satisfied with atoning for all our sins by dying on the Cross, deigns to suffer a fast of forty days and forty nights, in order to encourage us to do penance. He would not that the justice of his heavenly Father should exact any punishment from us unless he himself first suffered it, and that, too, in a thousand times severer way than we could. What are all our penances—even were they done thoroughly—when we compare them with the severity of this fast of Jesus in the desert? Can we have the face to be ever seeking for dispensations from the little which our Lord asks of us in atonement for our sins—sins, alas! which deserve such rigorous penance? Instead of complaining at our feeling a slight inconvenience of a few days’ duration, let us compassionate our innocent Jesus, who subjects himself to a forty days of most rigorous privation of food and drink.
What was it that supported him? Prayer, devotedness to us, and the knowledge of the exigencies of his Father’s justice. And when the Forty Days were over, and his Human Nature was faint from exhaustion, he is assailed by Temptation; but here again he thinks upon us, and sets us an example—he triumphs over the temptation, calmly and resolutely, and thereby teaches us how to conquer. How blasphemous the boldness of Satan, who dares to tempt Him, who is the Just by excellence! But how divine is the patience of Jesus, who permits the hellish monster to lay his hand upon him, and carry him from place to place! The Christian soul is oftentimes exposed to the vilest insults from this same enemy; nay, at times, she is on the point of complaining to her God, for her permitting her to have such humiliations. Let her, on these occasions, think upon Jesus, the Saint of Saints, who was given over, so to speak, to the wicked spirit; and yet, he is not the less the Son of God, the Conqueror of hell; and all that Satan gains by his attack is utter defeat. In the same way, if the soul, when under the violence of temptation, resist with all her energy—she is not one jot less dear to God, and Satan retires with one more eternal shame and chastisement upon him. Let us take part with the Holy Angels who, as soon as the tempter is gone, come to our Redeemer and respectfully administer food to him. How affectionately do they not compassionate his hunger and thirst! How zealously they make amends by their adorations, for the frightful outrage offered to their King! How fervently they extol the charity of their God who, out of his love for man, seems to have been forgetting his own dignity, in order to provide for the wants of the children of Adam.
In the Offertory, the Church borrows once more the words of David, and shows us our Lord overshadowing his faithful people with the wings of his tenderest care, and shielding us with the truth of holy Faith from every attack. (Ephesians 6:16)
The Lord will overshadow thee with his shoulders; and under his wings thou shalt trust; his truth shall compass thee with a shield.
Lent consists in something more than mere fasting. Fasting will not produce our conversion, unless we join with it the avoiding dangerous occasions; for these would lead us into sin, and rob us at once of God’s grace. Hence it is that the Church, in her Secret, beseeches our Lord to bless us with the special grace of keeping from noxious pleasures.
We offer thee, O Lord, in the most solemn manner, this sacrifice at the beginning of Lent, humbly beseeching thee, that as we retrench from the food of our bodies, we may also refrain from all noxious pleasures. Through, etc.
Graciously grant us, O God our Savior, that by virtue of this Sacrament, thou mayest defend us from all enemies, both of soul and body, giving us grace in this life, and glory in the next.
O God, tho whom alone is known the number of thine elect to be placed in eternal bliss: grant, we beseech thee, by the intercession of all thy Saints, that the book of predestination may contain the names of all those whom we have undertaken to pray for, as well as those of all the faithful. Through, &etc.
In order to impress our minds with more and more confidence, the Church repeats, in her Communion-Antiphon, the encouraging words already spoken to us in the Offertory. The Sacrifice which has just been offered for us is a fresh earnest of how much God loves us.
The Lord will overshadow thee with his shoulders; and under his wings thou shalt trust; his truth shall compass thee with a shield.
In the Postcommunion, the Church reminds us that the holy Eucharist is our richest source of strength because it purifies us. Let the sinner, therefore, lose no time in making his peace with his God; let him not wait for Easter, but receive, as soon as may be, that heavenly food which saves us from the anger of God, because it makes us one with the very Author of Salvation.
May the holy oblation, O Lord, of thy sacrament, give us a new life, that, by laying aside the old man, it may bring us to the participation of this saving mystery. Through, etc.
May the oblation of this divine Sacrament, we beseech thee, O Lord, both cleanse and defend us, and by the intercession of Blessed Mary, the Virgin-Mother of God, together with that of thy blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul, as likewise of blessed N., and of all the Saints, free us from all sin, and deliver us from all adversity.
May the Mysteries we have received purify us, we beseech thee, O Almighty and merciful God: and grant by the intercession of all thy Saints, that this thy Sacrament may not increase our guilt to punishment, but be a means of obtaining pardon in order to salvation: may it wash away sin, strength our frailty, secure us against the dangers of the world: and procure forgiveness for all the Faithful, both living and dead. Through, etc.
We will finish our Sunday with the following two fine Prefaces; the first is from the Mozarabic, the second from the Ambrosian, Missal. The truths proposed today by the Church for our instruction are here expressed with much unction and eloquence.
The psalms and antiphons are given earlier in the volume.
(2 Corinthians 6)
Brethren: We exhort you, that you receive not the grace of God in vain. For he saith: In an accepted time have I heard thee.
For the hymn and versicle are given earlier in the volume.
ANTIPHON OF THE MAGNIFICAT
Behold now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation: in these days, therefore, let us exhibit ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in fastings, in watchings, and in charity unfeigned.
LET US PRAY
O God, who purifiest thy Church by the yearly observance of Lent: grant, that what thy children endeavour to obtain of thee by abstinence, they may put in execution by good works. Through, etc.
PRAYER FROM THE MOZARABIC MISSAL
Illatio. Feria VI. Hebdom. IV. Quadragesimœ.)
It is meet and just, that we give thanks to thee, O Eternal and Almighty God, through Jesus Christ thy Son, our Lord: who, by fasting, obtained a glorious victory over the devil, and, by his own example, taught his soldiers how to fight. For forty days and forty nights did the God and Lord of all fast, that he might both show that he, the true God, had assumed human nature, and make good, by his fast, that which Adam had forfeited by intemperance. The devil attacks the Virgin’s Son, not knowing that he was, moreover, the Only Begotten Son of God. And although, with his ancient craft, he used the same artifices to seduce the second Adam, wherewith he had vanquished the first; yet did all his cunning fail with the most brave combatant. He who fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards was hungry, is the same that, of old, for the space of forty years, fed countless multitudes with bread from heaven. This is He that, by his own power, entered into battle with the devil, the prince of darkness; and having cast him down, gloriously bore up to heaven the trophy of his victory.
PRAYER FROM THE AMBROSIAN MISSAL
(Præfatio. Dominica I. in Quadrag.)
It is truly meet and just, right and available to our salvation, that we should always, and in all places, give thanks to thee, O Holy Lord, Almighty Father, Eternal God, through Christ our Lord, in whom, they that fast, find the nourishment of their faith, the advancement of their hope, the strengthening of their charity. For He is the true and living Bread, who is the nourishment of eternity, and the food of virtue. For thy Word, whereby all things were made, is the Bread, not only of the souls of men, but likewise of the very Angels. With this Bread was thy servant Moses fed, when, receiving thy Law; he fasted forty days and forty nights, and abstained from bodily food, that he might be the better able to partake of thy sweetness. Hence, he felt not corporal hunger; and forgot all earthly food; for the sight of thy glory shone upon him, and, through the infusion of thy Spirit, his meat was the word of God. To us, likewise, thou ceasest not to administer this Bread, and biddest unceasingly hunger after it.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)
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