First Sunday of Lent —10
February AD 2008
“Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of our salvation.”
Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Psalm 90-Translated from
the Old Latin
Those of you who were here for Mass on
Ash Wednesday may recall that I mentioned that during Lent the Preface of the
Mass—the prayer just before the Sanctus and the beginning of the
Canon—tells us that the objectives of the Lenten fast are to “extinguish our
vices, elevate our understanding, and bestow upon us virtue and its reward.”
The theme for today’s Mass seems to be that, in part, we will achieve those
objectives by learning to put up with difficulty and deprivation in our lives.
If we learn to do without legitimate things, we will find it far easier resist
when we are offered illegitimate things. If we learn how to carry on in
spite of difficulties and disappointments we will develop the virtue of
Saint Paul begins by giving us a
“grocery list” of the difficulties he faced in his
ministry—“tribulations ... hardships ... distress ... imprisonments ...
labors ... sleepless nights ... fastings” and so on.
But he adds that these difficulties were always mixed with
consolations—“innocence ... knowledge ... kindness ... truth ... the power
of God” and so forth. Sometimes the good and the bad appear to be paired
together—“deception yet truth ... unknown yet well known ... sorrow yet
always rejoicing ... poor yet possessing all things.” God does not give
more than we can bear. “Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of
our salvation,” he tells us. He writes in the plural, using pronouns
like “our” “us” and “we”—this ministry of his is “our”
ministry, for “we” must “conduct ourselves in all circumstances as God’s
There is, of course, personal
responsibility for our individual conduct, but we are not alone in facing the
difficulties of life. On some level, all of God’s people are God’s
ministers, and none of us is alone in the spiritual life. We call upon
Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints in heaven, the Church triumphant,
to hear our prayers; but we
can also call upon the prayers of the Church Militant, each one of us praying
for each other; never neglecting, of course, to pray for the souls in
Purgatory who cannot pray for themselves.
Our Lord gives us His personal example
in today’s Gospel.
He allows Himself to be lead into the desert by the Holy Ghost, to fast for
forty days, and then to be tempted by the devil. Saint Luke was a
physician, and his Gospel always seems to take greater note of things that might
affect one’s health. Luke, in his account, says that “He ate nothing
in those days.”
Certainly, He was hungry when the devil came to tempt. But He refused the
suggestion of the devil that He change the stones into bread, for bread is of
less importance to life than the word of God.
He refused as well demonstrate that He
was primarily the one about Whom the Psalmist wrote: “He has given His
angels charge concerning thee”—“you shall not tempt the Lord your God.”
God looks out for us, but we must always consider the significant distinction
between faith and foolhardiness. We must never presume
on God’s mercy and goodness, anymore than we should despair of His
Finally, when He was offered “all of
the kingdoms of the world and their glory” He refused to fall down and worship
the devil. That may seem like an obvious refusal, but if we are honest
with ourselves we must admit that we are guilty of this “worship of the
devil” more often than we would like to admit. Even beyond the false
worship that is today given the euphemism “ecumenical,” we are guilty of
false worship when we can find time to waste in trivial entertainment but not to
pray. We are guilty of false worship when envious of other peoples’
possessions, or when we simply must have the very best for ourselves but have no
regard at all for the poor.
None of us will go these forty days
without eating anything at all, but certainly we can still learn to follow the
example of our Lord in not giving into the temptations of the world.
Remember, temptations are not sinful in themselves. They are a part of
life. But we ought not take delight in our temptations, and we must not
give into them if they are sinful.
Finally, I would like to call your
attention to the Psalm quoted in the Gospel by the devil—and, yes, we ought
never forget that “even the devil and quote scripture” and we must never
accept some out of context quote or some inauthentic interpretation of the
Scriptures as proof of anything.
But Psalm 90 should be a Psalm of
great consolation for us. The rendering we heard chanted so pleasantly
between the Epistle and Gospel is a very old one. It comes from what is
called the “Itala vetus”—the “Old Latin” text that was
translated from the Greek Septuagint text in the second century.
Most of the chants of the Roman Missal are taken from this text.
They tend to be worded a little bit more plainly than the later
translations—perhaps so that elaborate language will not distract from their
basic meanings—much as the Gregorian Chant does not distract with a great deal
of musical flourish.
Even though the devil threw a verse of
Psalm 90 at our Lord, it is not one of those Psalms generally called
That is to say that is not one of the Psalms that appear to be speaking about
Jesus Christ, the Messias, in a prophetic sense. The Psalm’s title is
“the praise of a canticle for David.” But it is not hard to see how
the Psalm could be addressed to all who take refuge in God: “You who
dwell in the shelter of the Most High shall abide in the shadow of the
Almighty.” If we have concerns for the difficulties of life, we must not
tempt God, but we have the Psalmist’s assurance that God has “given His
angels command about you, that they may guard you in all your ways.”
“Because he clings to Me, I will deliver him.... I will show him My salvation.
Lent has begun, and we must be about the
business of “extinguishing our vices, elevating our understanding, and
receiving virtue and its reward.” “Now is the acceptable time; now is
the day of our salvation.”