The Church gives us today another subject for our meditation: it is the Vocation of Abraham. When the waters of the Deluge had subsided, and mankind had once more peopled the earth, the immorality, which had previously excited God’s anger, again grew rife among men. Idolatry, too, into which the ante-diluvian race had not fallen, now showed itself, and human wickedness seemed thus to have reached the height of its malice. Foreseeing that the nations of the earth would fall into rebellion against him, God resolved to select one people that should be peculiarly His, and among whom should be preserved those sacred truths, which the Gentiles were to lose sight of. This new people was to originate from one man, who would be the father and model of all future believers. This was Abraham. His faith and devotedness merited for him that he should be chosen to be the Father of the children of God, and the head of that spiritual family, to which belong all the elect, both of the Old and New Testament.
It is necessary, therefore, that we should know Abraham, our father and our model. This is his grand characteristic: — fidelity to God, submissiveness to his commands, abandonment and sacrifice of everything in order to obey His holy will. Such ought to be the prominent virtues of every Christian. Let us, then, study the life of our great Patriarch, and learn the lessons it teaches.
The following passage from the Book of Genesis, which the Church gives us in her Matins of today, will serve as the text of our considerations.
From the Book of Genesis 12:1-8:
“And the Lord said to Abram: Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father’s house, and come into the land which I shall show thee. And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and magnify thy name, and thou shall be blessed. I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee; and in thee shall all the kindred of the earth be blessed. So Abram went out as the Lord had commanded him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he went forth from Haran. And he took Sarai his wife, and Lot, his brother’s son, and all the substance which they had gathered, and the souls which they had gotten in Haran: and they went out to go into the land of Chanaan. And when they were come into it, Abram passed through the country into the place of Sichem, as far as the noble vale: now the Chanaanite was at that time in the land. And the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him: To thy seed will I give this land. And he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. And passing on from thence to a mountain, that was on the east side of Bethel, he there pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east. He built there, also, an altar to the Lord, and called upon his Name.”
Could the Christian have a finer model than this holy Patriarch, whose docility and devotedness in following the call of his God are so perfect? We are forced to exclaim, with the Holy Fathers: “O true Christian, even before Christ had come on the earth! He had the spirit of the Gospel, before the Gospel was preached! He was an Apostolic man, before the Apostles existed!” God calls him: he leaves all things, — his country, his kindred, his father’s house, — and he goes into an unknown land. God leads him, — he is satisfied; he fears no difficulties; he never once looks back. Did the Apostles themselves more? But, see how grand is His reward. God says to him: In thee shall all the kindred of the earth be blessed. This Chaldean is to give to the world Him that shall bless and save it. Death will, it is true, close his eyes ages before the dawning of that day, when one of his race, who is to be born of a Virgin and be united personally with the Divine Word, shall redeem all generations, past, present, and to come. But, meanwhile, till Heaven shall be thrown open to receive this Redeemer and the countless just, who have won the crown, Abraham shall be honoured, in the Limbo of expectation, in a manner becoming his great virtue and merit. It is in his Bosom, (Luke 16:22) that is, around him, that our First Parents, (having atoned for their sin by penance,) Noah, Moses, David, and all the just, including poor Lazarus, received that rest and happiness, which were a foretaste and a preparation for eternal bliss in Heaven.
Thus is Abraham honoured; thus does God requite the love and fidelity of them that serve him.
When the fullness of time came, the Son of God, who was also Son of Abraham, declared his Eternal Father’s power, by saying, that he was about to raise up a new progeny of Abraham’s children from the very stones, that is, from the Gentiles. (Matthew 3:9) We Christians are this new generation. But, are we worthy children of our Father? — Let us listen to the Apostle of the Gentiles: By faith, Abraham, when called (by God), obeyed to go out into a place, which he was to receive for an inheritance: and he went out not knowing whither he went. By faith, he abode in the land, dwelling in tents, with Isaac and Jacob, the co-heirs of the same promise; for he looked for a City that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. (Hebrews 11:8-10)
If, therefore, we be children of Abraham, we must, as the Church tells us, during Septuagesima, look upon ourselves as exiles on the earth, and dwell, by hope and desire, in that true country of ours, from which we are now banished, but towards which we are each day drawing nigher, if, like Abraham, we are faithful in those various stations allotted us by our Lord. We are commanded to use this world as though we used it not; (1 Corinthians 7:31) to have an abiding conviction of our not having here a lasting City (Hebrews 13:14) and of the misery and danger we incur, when we forget that Death is one day to separate us from everything we possess in this life.
How far from being true children of Abraham are those Christians who spend this and the two following days in intemperance and dissipation, because Lent is so soon to be upon us! We can easily understand how the simple manners of our Catholic forefathers could keep a leave-taking of the ordinary way of living, which Lent was to put a stop to, and reconcile their innocent Carnival with Christian gravity; just as we can understand how their rigorous observance of the laws of the Church for Lent would inspire certain festive customs at Easter. Even in our own times, a joyous Shrovetide is not to be altogether reprobated, provided the Christian sentiment of the approaching holy Season of Lent be strong enough to check the evil tendency of corrupt nature: otherwise the original intention of an innocent custom would be perverted, and the forethought of Penance could in no sense be considered as the prompter of our joyous farewell to ease and comforts. While admitting all this, we would ask, what right or title have they to share in these Shrovetide rejoicings, whose Lent will pass and find them out of the Church, because they will not have complied with the precept of Easter Communion? And they, too, who claim dispensations from abstinence and fasting during Lent, and, from one reason or another, evade every penitential exercise during the solemn Forty Days of Penance, and will find themselves at Easter as weighed down by the guilt and debt of their sins as they were on Ash Wednesday, — what meaning, we would ask, can there possibly be in their feast-making at Shrovetide?
Oh! that Christians would stand on their guard against such delusions as these, and gain that holy liberty of Children of God, (Romans 8:21) which consists in not being slaves to flesh and blood, and preserves man from moral degradation! Let them remember, that we are now in that holy Season, when the Church denies herself her gongs of holy joy, in order the more forcibly to remind us that we are living in a Babylon of spiritual danger, and to excite us to regain that genuine Christian spirit, which everything in the world around us is quietly undermining. If the disciples of Christ are necessitated, by the position they hold in society, to take part in the profane amusements of these few days before Lent, let it be with a heart deeply imbued with the maxims of the Gospel. If, for example, they are obliged to listen to the music of theatres and concerts, let them imitate Saint Cecily, who thus sang, in her heart, in the midst of the excitement of worldly harmonies: May my heart, God, be pure, and let me not be confounded! Above all, let them not countenance certain dances, which the world is so eloquent in defending, because so evidently according to its own spirit; and therefore they who encourage them, will be severely judged by Him, who has already pronounced woe upon the world. Lastly, let those who must go, on these days, and mingle in the company of worldlings, be guided by St. Francis of Sales, who advises them to think, from time to time, on such considerations as these: that while all these frivolous, and often dangerous, amusements are going on, there are countless souls being tormented in the fire of hell, on account of the sins they committed on similar occasions; that, at that very hour of the night, there are many holy Religious depriving themselves of sleep in order to sing the divine praises and implore God’s mercy upon the world, and upon them that are wasting their time in its vanities; that there are thousands in the agonies of death, whilst all that gaiety is going on; that God and his Angels are attentively looking upon this thoughtless group; and finally, that life is passing away, and death so much nearer each moment. (Introduction to a Devout Life, Part III. , Ch 33)
We grant, that, on these three days immediately preceding the penitential Season of Lent, some provision was necessary to be made for those countless souls, who seem scarce able to live without some excitement. The Church supplies this want. She gives a substitute for frivolous amusements and dangerous pleasures; and those of her children upon whom Faith has not lost its influence, will find, in what she offers them, a feast surpassing all earthly enjoyments, and a means whereby to make amends to God, for the insults offered to his Divine Majesty during these days of Carnival. The Lamb, that taketh away the sins of the world, is exposed upon our Altars. Here, on this his throne of mercy, he receives the homage of them who come to adore him, and acknowledge him for their King; he accepts the repentance of those who come to tell him how grieved they are at having ever followed any other Master than Him; he offers himself to his Eternal Father for poor sinners, who not only treat his favours with indifference, but seem to have made a resolution to offend him during these days more than at any other period of the year.
It was the pious Cardinal Gabriel Paleotti, Archbishop of Bologna, who first originated the admirable devotion of the Forty Hours. He was a contemporary of St. Charles Borromeo, and, like him, was eminent for his pastoral zeal. His object in this solemn Exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament, was to offer to the Divine Majesty some compensation for the sins of men, and, at the very time when the world was busiest in deserving his anger, to appease it by the sight of his own Son, the Mediator between heaven and earth. St. Charles immediately introduced the Devotion into his own diocese and province. This was in the 16th Century. Later on, that is, in the 18th Century, Prosper Lambertini was Archbishop of Bologna; he zealously continued the pious design of his ancient predecessor, Paleotti, by encouraging his flock to devotion towards the Blessed Sacrament during the three days of Carnival; and when he was made Pope, under the name of Benedict the Fourteenth, he granted many Indulgences to all who, during these days, should visit our Lord in this Mystery of his Love, and should pray for the pardon of sinners. This favour was, at first, restricted to the Faithful of the Papal States; but in the year 1765 it was extended, by Pope Clement the Thirteenth, to the universal Church. Thus, the Forty Hours’ Devotion has spread throughout the whole world, and become one of the most solemn expressions of Catholic Piety. Let us, then, who have the opportunity, profit by it during these three last days of our preparation for Lent. Let us, like Abraham, retire from the distracting dangers of the world, and seek the Lord our God. Let us go apart, for at least one short hour, from the dissipation of earthly enjoyments; and, kneeling in the Presence of our Jesus, merit the grace to keep our hearts innocent and detached, whilst sharing in those we cannot avoid. (The Litanies for the Forty Hours are given at the end of this Volume)
We will now resume our considerations upon the Liturgy of Quinquagesima Sunday. The passage of the Gospel selected by the Church, is that wherein our Saviour foretells to his Apostles the Sufferings he was to undergo in Jerusalem. This solemn announcement prepares us for Passiontide. We ought to receive it with feeling and grateful hearts, and make it an additional motive for imitating the devoted Abraham, and giving our whole selves to our God. The ancient Liturgists tell us, that the blind man of Jericho, (spoken of, in this same Gospel,) is a figure of those poor sinners, who, during these days, are blind to their Christian character, and rush into excesses, which even Paganism would have coveted. The blind man recovered his sight, because he was aware of his wretched state, and desired to be cured and to see. The Church wishes us to have a like desire, and she promises us that it shall be granted.
In the Greek Church, this Sunday is called Tyrophagos, because it is the last day on which is allowed the use of white meats, or, as we call them, milk-meats. Beginning with tomorrow, it is forbidden to eat them, for Lent then begins, and with all the severity wherewith the Oriental Churches observe it.
The station is in the church of St. Peter, on the Vatican. The choice was suggested, as we learn from the Abbot Rupert’s “Treatise on the Divine Offices,” by reason of the Law given to Moses, which used then to be read in this Sunday’s Office. Moses was looked upon by the early Christians of Rome as a type of St. Peter. The Church having since that time substituted the vocation of Abraham for the passage from Exodus (which is now deferred till Lent), the station for this Sunday is still in the basilica of the prince of the apostles, who was prefigured also by Abraham, the father of believers.
The Introit is the prayer of mankind, blind and wretched as the poor man of Jericho; it asks for pity from its Redeemer, and beseeches Him to guide and feed it.
Be thou unto me a God, a protector, and a house of refuge, to save me; for thou art my strength, and my refuge; and for thy name’s sake thou wilt lead me, and nourish me.
Ps. In thee, O Lord, have I hope, let me never be confounded; deliver me in thy justice, and rescue me. ℣. Glory. Be thou.
Mercifully hear our prayers, O Lord, we beseech thee; and delivering us from the bonds of sin, preserve us from all adversity. Through, etc.
Then are added two other Collects, as in the Mass of Septuagesima Sunday.
Lesson of the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle, to the Corinthians 13:
Brethren, if I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And if I should have prophecy, and should know all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity is patient, is kind, charity envieth not, dealeth not perversely; it is not puffed up, it is not ambitious, seeketh not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth with the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never fadeth away; whether prophecies shall be made void, or tongues shall cease, or knowledge shall be destroyed. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be clone away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away the things of a child. We now see through a glass in a dark manner; but then, face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know, even as I am known. And now there remain faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
How appropriate for this Sunday is the magnificent eulogy of charity, here given by our apostle! This virtue, which comprises the love both of God and of our neighbor, is the light of our souls. Without charity we are darkness, and all our works are profitless. The very power of working miracles cannot give hope of salvation unless he who does them have charity. Unless we are in charity, the most heroic acts of other virtues are but one snare more for our souls. Let us beseech our Lord to give us this light. But let us not forget that, however richly He may bless us with it here below, the fullness of its brightness is reserved for when we are in heaven; and that the sunniest day we can have in this world is but darkness when compared with the splendor of our eternal charity. Faith will then give place, for we shall be face to face with all truth; hope will have no object, for we shall possess all good; charity alone will continue, and for this reason is greater than faith and hope, which must needs accompany her in this present life. This being the glorious destiny reserved for man when redeemed and enlightened by Jesus, is it to be wondered at that we should leave all things in order to follow such a Master? What should surprise us, and what proves how degraded is our nature by sin, is to see Christians, who have been baptized in this faith and this hope, and have received the first fruits of this love, indulging, during these days, in every sort of worldliness, which is only the more dangerous because it is fashionable. It would seem as though they were making it their occupation to extinguish within their souls the last ray of heavenly light, like men that had made a covenant with darkness. If there be charity within our souls, it will make us feel these offenses that are committed against our God, and inspire us to pray to Him to have mercy on these poor blind sinners, for they are our brethren.
In the Gradual and Tract, the Church sings the praises of God’s goodness towards His elect. He has set them free from the slavish yoke of the world by enlightening them with His grace; they are His own children, the favored sheep of His pasture.
Thou art God, who alone dost wonders: thou hast made thy power known among the nations.
℣. Thou hast delivered thy people, the children of Israel and Joseph, by the strength of thine arm.
Sing joyfully to God, all the earth: serve ye the Lord with gladness.
℣. Come in before his presence with joy; know ye that the Lord he is God.
℣. He made us, and not we ourselves: and we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to St. Luke 18:31-43:
At that time, Jesus took unto him the twelve, and said to them: Behold we go up to Jerusalem, and all things shall be accomplished which were written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man. For he shall be delivered to the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and scourged, and spit upon; and after they have scourged him, they will put him to death, and the third day he shall rise again. And they understood none of these things. And this word was hid from them, and they understood not the things that were said. Now it came to pass, that when he drew nigh to Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the way-side, begging. And when he heard the multitude passing by, he asked what this meant. And they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. And they that went before, rebuked him, that he should hold his peace. But he cried out much more: Son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus standing, commanded him to be brought unto him. And when he was come near, he asked him, saying: What wilt thou that I do to thee? But he said: Lord, that I may see. And Jesus said to him: Receive thy sight; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he saw, and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people when they saw it, gave praise to God.
Jesus tells His apostles that His bitter Passion is at hand; it is a mark of His confidence in them; but they understand not what He says. They are as yet too carnal-minded to appreciate our Savior’s mission; still, they do not abandon Him; they love Him too much to think of separating from Him. Greater by far than this is the blindness of those false Christians who, during these three days, not only do not think of the God who shed His Blood and died for them, but are striving to efface from their souls every trace of the divine image! Let us adore that sweet mercy which has drawn us, as it did Abraham, from the midst of a sinful people; and let us, like the blind man of our Gospel, cry out to our Lord, beseeching Him to grant us an increase of His holy light. This was his prayer: Lord! that I may see! God has given us His light; but He gave it us in order to excite within us the desire of seeing more and more clearly. He promised Abraham that He would show him the place He had destined for him; may He grant us also to see the land of the living! But our first prayer must be that He show us Himself, as St. Augustine has so beautifully expressed it, that we may love Him, and show us ourselves that we may cease to love ourselves.
In the Offertory, the Church prays that her children may have the light of life, which consists in knowing the Law of God. She would have our lips pronounce His doctrine and the divine commandments, which he has brought us from heaven.
Blessed art thou, O Lord, teach me thy justifications: with my lips I have pronounced all the judgments of thy mouth.
May this offering, we beseech thee, O Lord, cleanse away our sins; and sanctify the bodies and souls of thy servants, to prepare them for worthily celebrating this sacrifice. Through, etc.
Then are added two other Secrets, as given in the Mass of Septuagesima Sunday.
The Communion antiphon commemorates the miracle of the manna, which fed in the desert the descendants of Abraham; and yet this food, though it came from heaven, did not preserve them from death. The living Bread, which we have had given to us from heaven, gives eternal life to the soul: and he who eats it worthily shall never die.
They did eat and were filled exceedingly, and the Lord gave them their desire: they were not defrauded of that which they craved.
We beseech thee, O almighty God, that we who have taken this heavenly food, may be defended by it from all adversity. Through, etc.
Two other Postcommunions are said after this, as on Septuagesima Sunday.
The Psalms and Antiphons are as earlier in the volume.
CAPITULUM (1 Corinthians 13)
Brethren, if I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or as a tinkling cymbal.
The Hymn and Versicle, are as earlier in the volume.
ANTIPHON OF THE “MAGNIFICAT”
ANT. But Jesus standing, ordered the blind man to be brought, and saith to him: What wilt thou, that I do for thee? Lord, that I may see. And Jesus saith to him: See: thy faith hath made thee whole. And he immediately saw, and followed him, praising God.
LET US PRAY
Mercifully hear our prayers, we beseech thee, O Lord, and deliver us from the chains of our sins, and preserve us from all adversity. Through, etc.
Before the day is over, we may recite the following stanzas of the hymn, in which the Greek Church proclaims the annual fast of Lent.
HYMN (Feria II. Tyrophagi)
The week, the harbinger of spring, is come; the week that cleanses away sin by the sacred and ever venerable fast, which enlightens the body and soul of every man.
Lo! the gate of penance is thrown open, O ye that love God! Come, then, let us joyously go in, before Christ shut it against us as being unworthy to enter.
Brethren, let us prepare, and bring with us purity, abstinence, and modesty, and fortitude, and prudence, and prayers, and tears; for it is by these we enter on the path of justice.
Be not solicitous, O mortals! about the body, how you may pamper it, nor seek delicacies in what you give it to eat; give it, rather, fullness of vigor by abstinence; that so it may aid the soul to conquer in the battle with the enemy.
This day, O ye that love God! begins the fast, which is to prepare our souls and bodies by expiation, and infuse into our hearts the generous light of the sacred and venerable Passion of Christ.
Let us, O ye people! enter on our fast with a glad heart; for lo! the spiritual combat begins. Let us throw off the effeminacy of the flesh, redouble the gifts of the spirit, and suffer with Christ, as it behooves them that are his servants; that thus, we may rejoice together with him, and our souls be enlightened by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost within us.
Let us, O ye faithful! cheerfully receive the divinely inspired messenger of our fast, as did the Ninivites; and as the harlots and the publicans did, of old, receive John, when he preached penance unto them. Let us prepare, by abstinence, for a participation in the Sacrifice of our Lord on Sion. Let his divine laver be preceded by that of our tears. Let us beseech him to show unto us, when the time is come, the consummation of both Paschs, the figurative, and the true. Let us put ourselves in readiness to adore the cross and Resurrection of Christ; saying unto him: Let me not be confounded in my expectations, O thou Lover of mankind.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)