Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Septuagesima Sunday

20 February A.D. 2011

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Lenten Observance


... all indeed run, but only one receives the prize. So run that you may obtain it.”{1}

   You have all noticed that the vestment color changed from green to purple, and this morning there was no Glória. Beginning with Vespers yesterday evening, we no longer hear the joyous word, allelúia.  Things will be this way until the Masses of Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil. We have begun the season which the Church calls Septuagesima. This is the two and a half week period that ends with Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.

   At one time, in the Eastern Churches, Saturdays were not observed as fasting days, so the Great Lent had to begin a bit earlier than it did at Rome. The practice spread to the West as well, with the religious and the pious faithful voluntarily extending their Lenten observance by beginning on this Sunday, or on the morrow, as Sundays are not generally kept as fast days. None of this is obligatory, of course, but Septuagesima ought to be kept as a time of serious preparation for Lent.

   By “preparation for Lent,” I mean a number of things. For modern people, the most important thing might well be a rearrangement of their schedule. This is the time to think about not making social arrangements that will conflict with the observance of Lent. That might mean giving some attention to eating plans, so as not to break the Lenten fast—or plans for entertainments, which should be generally curtailed during the season. One ought to schedule some time for attendance at the Lenten activities here in church—as usual, we will have the Stations of the Cross and Mass on Friday nights of Lent—and consider attending Mass some other times during the Lenten weeks. Each of the Masses of the season have their own unique Scripture readings, so attendance might well boost your knowledge of the Scriptures. If at all possible, plan on attending Mass on Ash Wednesday, and during the last three days of Lent: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil.

   Lent should also be a time of reading good Catholic literature. Now is the time to acquire what you will read. The lives of the saints can be pretty inspirational, or perhaps a meditative book like The Imitation of Christ, or something by one of the Carmelites like Saint John of the Cross, or either Saint Theresa. The Bible is always good. And a lot of things are available today on electronic media that you can view or listen to instead of secular television or radio. Our Website has a link to a number of excellent audio sermons given by the Late Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.{2}

   One of the important purposes of Lent is to develop self discipline—and this is the time to plan for that. If you prove yourself capable of refusing innocent pleasures, you are more likely to be able to resist the not so innocent temptations that come by every once in a while. The idea of “giving up something for Lent” follows just this reasoning: If I give up candy, or cigarettes, or movies, or sodas, or beer, or whatever, I build some self discipline that may come in handy later on. I also demonstrate a willingness to join our Lord in experiencing the privations of the world. If He could give up His life for us, we certainly can leave the television turned off for a few weeks!

   Lent is not about quitting smoking, but if the religious motive will help doing that (or quitting some other bad habit), then feel free.

   Making your own personal plan for observing Lent has become more important in the modern world than ever before. In the earlier days of the Church, Lent could be quite severe. It varied over the centuries, but not too long ago there were Catholics who went through Lent without meat, or eggs, or milk, or oil. I had the privilege of knowing an old Ukrainian Catholic priest who spoke of people who kept such a Lent—perhaps now only a little over a hundred years ago (He was ordained priest in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution!). But many of our friends have other ideas. No doubt you will find some who will claim that fasting and abstinence were abolished by Vatican II—they are completely wrong, so don't let them influence you. And, no doubt, you have friends and associates with little or no religious influence in their lives. You want to be prepared to explain that God is important to you, and that practices of religion like attending Mass and observing Lent go along with that importance in your life.

   If this morning's epistle sounded a little cryptic, Saint Paul was referring to the migration of the Jewish people out of bondage in Egypt, the Exodus. God forced the Egyptians to let His people leave their slavery; He worked miracles that they might escape; He fed them as they crossed the desert, manna and quail; He slaked their thirst with water from a rock; He guided their journey “by day in a pillar of a cloud, and by night in a pillar of fire.”{3} But many of them were ungrateful to God, and complained constantly, fomenting rebellion against Moses and against God Himself. They lamented leaving “the land of Egypt, when we sat over the flesh pots, and ate bread to the full.”4 “But with most of them God was not well pleased.”

   The problem with them was that they were “running in the race” but they were looking for the wrong “crown.” God intended the permanent crown of eternal salvation for them, but many of them were striving to win a perishable crown of material comfort. God had snatched them from Egypt so that, far from the idolatry of Egypt, they could become holy—not so that they could become wealthy in the promised land “flowing with milk and honey.”{5} Saint Paul is telling us that the traditional Catholic practice of fasting and penance should make up part of everyone’s Lent. He suggests that we should be like athletes training for a race or some other sporting competition—only we are setting out to win a spiritual prize, rather than an earthly prize that will be gone in a few days.

   So, we are here, a mere two and a half weeks before Lent. Now is the time to prepare, and perhaps even to begin with some of the Lenten practices you plan. Determine what you will do, obtain what you need, and budget your time.

... all indeed run, but only one receives the prize.”

   That is not exactly true in this context. God is like the generous householder in the Gospel. He has a reward for all who work in His vineyard. “So run that you may obtain it.” Prepare now, and keep a good Lent! 


1  Epistle: 1 Corinthians ix: 24-27; x: 1-5





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