Sunday, March 13, 2011

First Sunday of Lent

Station at St. John Lateran

  Originally the forty days of penance were counted from the Sunday.  The liturgical gathering of the "station" takes place to-day, as it was since the fourth century, at Saint John Lateran, which is the patriarchal basilica of the Bishops of Rome.  At its first consecration, it was dedicated to "Saint Saviour," a name which calls to mind the Redemption accomplished by our Blessed Lord 
  Immediately after His baptism, our Lord beam to prepare for His public life by a fast of forty days in the mountainous desert which stretches between Jericho and the mountains of Judea.  It was there that He was tempted by Satan, who wished to discover whether the son of Mary was in reality the Son of God (Gospel).
  As in the case of Adam, he addresses his first attack to the senses.  Our Lord is hungry and the tempter suggests to Him that He should turn stones into bread.  In the same way he tries, during these forty days, to make us give up our fasting and mortification.  This is the concupiscence of the flesh.
  The devil had promised our first parent that he should be as God.  Now he takes our Lord to the pinnacle of the Temple and tries to induce Him to let Himself be carried by the angels through the air amidst the applause of the crowds below.  Satan tempts us by pride, which is opposed to the spirit of prayer and meditation on God's word.  This is the pride of life.  
  Finally just as he had promised Adam a knowledge which like that of God Himself,  should enable him to know all things, so Satan assures Jesus that he will make Him ruler over all created things, if He will fall at his feet and worship him.  In the same way the devil seeks to attach us to temporal goods, when we ought, by alms and works of charity, to be doing good to our neighbor.  This is the concupiscence of the eyes or avarice.
  Since the sword of the Spirit is the word of God, our Lord made use of the ninetieth psalm against Satan, and this is the theme of the whole Mass and is found again and again in the office of the day.  "His truth shall cover thee with a shield," says the psalmist.  This psalm is, therefore, the ideal psalm for Lent as a special time of warfare against the devil.  Again, the eleventh verse, "He hath given His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways," recurs in Vespers like a refrain during the whole season.  We find the entire psalm in the Tract, which reminds us of the old custom of singing psalm during certain parts of the Mass.  Some of its verses make up the Introit with its verse, the Gradual, the Communion and the Offertory, which last was formerly composed, in to-day's mass, of three verses instead of one, following the order of the threefold temptation as recorded in the Gospel.
  Side by side with this psalm the Epistle, certainly dating from the time of Saint Leo, sounds one of the characteristic notes of Lent.  There Saint Paul borrows a text of Isaias:  "In an accepted time have I heard thee, and in the day of salvation I helped thee."  "Behold," says the apostle, "now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation" (Epistle and first nocturn).  On this Saint Leo comments:  "Although there is no season of the year which is not rich in divine gifts and in which we by God's grace do not find immediate access to His mercy; nevertheless at this time when the return of the day on which we are redeemed summons us to fulfill all the duties of Christian piety, the souls of Christians must be stirred with more zeal for spiritual progress, and possessed of a very great confidence in almighty God.  In this manner, with pure souls and bodies, shall we celebrate this mystery of the Lord's Passion, sublime beyond all others.  True, we ought always to be in the divine presence, just as much as on the Easter feast.  But because this spiritual vigor is the possession of only a few, while, on the other hand, the weakness of the flesh leads to any very severe observance being relaxed, and on the other, the varied occupations of this life share and divide our interest, it necessarily happens that the dust of the world soils the hearts even of religious themselves.  This divine institution has been planned with great profit to our salvation in a manner that the exercises of thee forty days may help us to regain the purity of our souls, making up, in away, for the faults of the rest of the year, by fasting and pious deeds.  However, we must be careful to give no one the least cause of complaint or scandal, so that our general behaviour may not inconsistent with our fasting and penance.  For it is useless to reduce the nourishment of the body unless the soul departs from sin" (Second nocturn).  
  In this "acceptable time" and in these "days of salvation" let us purify ourselves with the Church (Collect), "in fastings, in chastity," by zeal in hearing and meditating on the word of God and by charity unfeigned (Epistle). 
  Every parish priest celebrates Mass for the people of his parish.
  (from) (The) SAINT ANDREW DAILY MISSAL by Dom Gaspar Lefebre O.S.B.
                        of the Abbey of S. Andre