Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
from the Old Latin
“Jesus was led by
the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.
And when He had
fasted 40 days and 40 nights, He was hungry.”
I mentioned on Ash
Wednesday that while Lent is a time of preparation for Easter, it is much more
than that. It will be valuable to us only if we see it as a time of our
own personal sanctification; a time of drawing closer to God. It is a
preparation for union with God here on earth, and ultimately with Him in
heaven. And that, of course, is an event for which we should always be
prepared, “for we know not the day nor the hour” of our departure from
nature of Lent can be seen if examine the texts of the Masses which are
offered during the season. Only occasionally do we celebrate the saints'
feasts during Lent—there is a specific Lenten Mass for each and every day of
the season. Very often these Masses stress mankind's sinfulness,
unworthiness, and abject dependence on God—concepts which often make modern
people feel a bit uncomfortable.
If we were to go
back to the early middle ages, when many of these Masses were composed, we
moderns might be surprised by the emphasis we would see placed on the
forgiveness of personal sins during Lent: On Ash Wednesday, those who
had committed serious sins during the past year would make their Confession to
the priest—sometimes publicly! —and receive a penance to be practiced for
the entire 40 days. And, they might lay aside their fine clothes, and
dress in sack-cloth until Holy Thursday—for it was only then, right at the
end of Lent, that they were given absolution, received back into the Church,
and given Holy Communion.
Even those who were
not public penitents, often wore Lenten dress. Everybody fasted.
And, in many places, abstinence excluded not only meat and poultry from the
diet, but also fish, eggs, cheese, and oil. Parties, and even weddings,
were simply out of the question. Those who were not public sinners came
to daily Mass, acknowledging their unworthiness, and asking God's graces for
their improvement. They prayed also for the Faithful Departed, for Lent
has always been a time of prayer for the dead.
they prayed for those who were doing public penance, who were not even allowed
into the church. When Holy Thursday finally came, it was a joyous day
indeed. Not only did they celebrate the anniversary of the First Mass
and the Blessed Sacrament—but they could also say that now they had
"regained their brethren," whose sins were forgiven (often by the
bishop), and who returned with them to the altar rail to receive the Body and
Christ. The unity of the Mystical Body of Christ was restored and
In some ways we are
more fortunate. Certainly, there is a great advantage in giving sinners
absolution immediately, so that they can spend the season in the state of
grace; and growing in that grace. Likewise, we can say the same for the
ability to receive Holy Communion frequently at this time. And, I guess
most of us would have a great deal of difficulty with the idea of going around
unwashed, and in dirty rags for the forty-odd days of Lent.
But there is also a
danger of taking Lent too lightly. With the reduction of the exterior
trappings of Lent—the fasting, the sack-cloth, the public penance, and so
forth, we are also more liable to do away with the interior aspects of Lent.
We need to make a conscious effort not to do that.
We must recognize
that we all are sinners—that we need God's forgiveness and Sanctifying
graces—through Sacramental Confession. Particularly if we are
unfortunate enough to be in the state of serious sin—but even if we are not.
It is sufficient matter for Confession to be sorry for some sin committed in
the past and already forgiven. Frequent reception of the Sacrament is an
excellent way of keeping from sin.
We must make that
conscious effort to draw closer to God through regular prayer, meditation,
attendance at Mass and the other devotions of Lent.
We have to put
aside the parties, and entertainments, and celebrations of the world.
All the more time for spiritual reading, and the additional prayer which we
should be doing.
We need to follow
carefully at least the minimal practices of fast and abstinence prescribed by
the Church in our time. This is necessary, as I have been telling you,
to gain control of our wills, to strengthen ourselves against temptation, and
to remove some of the obstacles we have placed between God and ourselves.
And let's not
forget to pray for one another, and for those who should be doing penance but
who have just altogether ignored their obligation. And, don't forget to
pray for the dead—who have a right to our prayers; at least in charity.
Let's try to
re-build some of that medieval enthusiasm for prayer and penance: As
Saint Paul tells us today,
“Now is the
Now is the day of
Now is the time to
start making a good Lent; to prepare not only for Easter, but for eternity.