« PoprzedniaDalej »
God: Moses, who typifies the Law; and Elias, who is the figure of the Prophets. Both of these are permitted to approach God,-the first on Sinai,1 the second on Horeb,2-but both of them have to prepare for the great favour by an expiatory fast of forty days.
With these mysterious facts before us, we can understand why it was, that the Son of God, having become Man for our salvation, and wishing to subject himself to the pain of fasting, chose the number of Forty Days. The institution of Lent is thus brought before us with everything that can impress the mind with its solemn character, and with its power of appeasing God and purifying our souls. Let us, therefore, look beyond the little world which surrounds us, and see how the whole Christian universe is, at this very time, offering this Forty Days' penance as a sacrifice of propitiation to the offended Majesty of God; and let us hope, that, as in the case of the Ninivites, he will mercifully accept this year's offering of our atonement, and pardon us our sins.
The number of our days of Lent is, then, a holy mystery let us, now, learn from the Liturgy, in what light the Church views her Children during these Forty Days. She considers them as an immense army, fighting, day and night, against their spiritual enemies. We remember how, on Ash Wednesday, she calls Lent a Christian warfare. Yes,-in order that we may have that newness of life, which will make us worthy to sing once more our Alleluia, we must conquer our three enemies, the devil, the flesh, and the world. We are fellowcombatants with our Jesus, for He, too, submits to the triple temptation, suggested to him by Satan in person. Therefore, we must have on our armour, and watch unceasingly. And whereas it is of the
1 Exod. xxiv. 18.
2 III. Kings, xix. 8.
utmost importance that our hearts be spirited and brave, the Church gives us a war-song of heaven's own making, which can fire even cowards with hope of victory and confidence in God's help: it is the Ninetieth Psalm. She inserts the whole of it in the Mass of the First Sunday of Lent, and, every day, introduces several of its verses in the Ferial Office.
She there tells us to rely on the protection, wherewith our Heavenly Father covers us, as with a shield; to hope under the shelter of his wings; to have confidence in him, for that he will deliver us from the snare of the hunter, who had robbed us of the holy liberty of the children of God; to rely upon the succour of the Holy Angels, who are our Brothers, to whom our Lord hath given charge that they keep us in all our ways, and who, when our Jesus permitted Satan to tempt him, were the adoring witnesses of his combat, and approached him, after his victory, proffering to him their service and homage. Let us get well into us these sentiments wherewith the Church would have us be inspired; and, during our six weeks' campaign, let us often repeat this admirable Canticle, which so fully describes what the Soldiers of Christ should be and feel in this season of the great spiritual warfare.
But the Church is not satisfied with thus animating us to the contest with our enemies;-she would also have our minds engrossed with thoughts of deepest import; and for this end, she puts before us three great subjects, which she will gradually unfold to us between this and the great Easter Solemnity. Let us be all attention to these soul-stirring and instructive lessons.
1 Ps. Qui habitat in adjutorio, in the Office of Compline. 2 Scuto circumdabit te veritas ejus. Office of None.
3 Et sub pennis ejus sperabis. Sext.
4 Ipse liberavit me de laqueo venantium. Tierce.
5 Angelis suis mandavit de te, ut custodiant te in omnibus viis tuis. Lauds and Vespers.
And firstly, there is the conspiracy of the Jews against our Redeemer. It will be brought before us in its whole history, from its first formation to its final consummation on the great Friday, when we shall behold the Son of God hanging on the Wood of the Cross. The infamous workings of the synagogue will be brought before us so regularly, that we shall be able to follow the plot in all its details. We shall be inflamed with love for the august Victim, whose meekness, wisdom, and dignity, bespeak a God. The divine drama, which began in the cave of Bethlehem, is to close on Calvary; we may assist at it, by meditating on the passages of the Gospel read to us, by the Church, during these days of Lent.
The second of the subjects offered to us, for our instruction, requires that we should remember how the Feast of Easter is to be the day of new birth for our Catechumens; and how, in the early ages of the Church, Lent was the immediate and solemn preparation given to the candidates for Baptism. The holy Liturgy of the present season retains much of the instruction she used to give to the Catechumens; and as we listen to her magnificent Lessons from both the Old and the New Testament, whereby she completed their initiation, we ought to think with gratitude on how we were not required to wait years before being made Children of God, but were mercifully admitted to Baptism, even in our Infancy. We shall be led to pray for those new Catechumens, who this very year, in far distant countries, are receiving instructions from their zealous Missioners, and are looking forward, as did the postulants of the primitive Church, to that grand Feast of our Saviour's victory over Death, when they are to be cleansed in the Waters of Baptism and receive from the contact a new being, regeneration.
Thirdly, we must remember how, formerly, the public Penitents, who had been separated, on Ash
Wednesday, from the assembly of the Faithful, were the object of the Church's maternal solicitude during the whole Forty Days of Lent, and were to be admitted to Reconciliation on Maundy Thursday, if their repentance were such as to merit this public forgiveness. We shall have the admirable course of instructions, which were originally designed for these Penitents, and which the Liturgy, faithful as she ever is to such traditions, still retains for our sakes. As we read these sublime passages of the Scripture, we shall naturally think upon our own sins, and on what easy terms they were pardoned us; whereas, had we lived in other times, we should have probably been put through the ordeal of a public and severe penance. This will excite us to fervour, for we shall remember, that, whatever changes the indulgence of the Church may lead her to make in her discipline, the justice of our God is ever the same. We shall find in all this an additional motive for offering to his Divine Majesty the sacrifice of a contrite heart, and we shall go through our penances with that cheerful eagerness, which the conviction of our deserving much severer ones always brings with it.
In order to keep up the character of mournfulness and austerity which is so well-suited to Lent, the Church, for many centuries, admitted very few Feasts into this portion of her year, inasmuch as there is always joy, where there is even a spiritual Feast. In the 4th century, we have the Council of Laodicea forbidding, in its fifty-first canon, the keeping a Feast or commemoration of any Saint, during Lent, excepting on the Saturdays or Sundays. The Greek Church rigidly maintained this point of Lenten Discipline; nor was it till many centuries after the Council of Laodicea that she made an exception for the 25th of March, on which day she now keeps the Feast of our Lady's Annunciation.
1 Labbe, Concil., tom. i.
The Church of Rome maintained this same discipline, at least in principle; but she admitted the Feast of the Annunciation at a very early period, and, somewhat later, the Feast of the Apostle St. Matthias, on the 24th of February. During the last few centuries, she has admitted several other Feasts into that portion of her general Calendar which coincides with Lent; still, she observes a certain restriction, out of respect for the ancient practice.
The reason of the Church of Rome being less severe on this point of excluding the Saint's Feasts during Lent, is, that the Christians of the West have never looked upon the celebration of a Feast as incompatible with fasting; the Greeks, on the contrary, believe that the two are irreconcilable, and, as a consequence of this principle, never observe Saturday as a fasting-day, because they always keep it as a Solemnity, though they make Holy Saturday an exception, and fast upon it. For the same reason, they do not fast upon the Annunciation.
This strange idea gave rise, in or about the 7th century, to a custom which is peculiar to the Greek Church. It is called the Mass of the Presanctified, that is to say, consecrated in a previous Sacrifice. On each Sunday of Lent, the Priest consecrates six Hosts, one of which he receives in that Mass; but the remaining five are reserved for a simple Communion, which is made on each of the five following days, without the Holy Sacrifice being offered. The Latin Church practises this rite only once in the year, that is, on Good Friday, and this in commemoration of a sublime mystery, which we will explain in its proper place.
This custom of the Greek Church was evidently suggested by the 49th Canon of the Council of Laodicea, which forbids the offering the Bread of Sacrifice during Lent, excepting on the Saturdays and