Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Septuagesima Sunday - 5 February AD 2012

Route of the Exodus

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

    Today we begin the season of Septuagesima.  That’s a Latin word that tells us that there are approximately seventy days before we celebrate the feast of Easter.  The Christmas season ended officially with Candlemas, this past Thursday—the Church is asking us to divert our attention from the infant Christ, and to begin to meditate on the works of His public life—particularly His Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection.

    His Resurrection, as we shall see, is a joyful event.  But it is one that had to be proceeded by a period of seeming sadness.  But, then, the sadness makes the joy all the greater.

    We follow pretty much the same pattern in the liturgy of these next few months.  Septuagesima, Lent, and Passiontide are somber times—times for fasting and penance, times for prayer and introspection, times for bringing ourselves back under the discipline so necessary for doing God's will.

    So, the Mass today, and for the Sundays of this season, is celebrated with a great deal of restraint.  The vestments are penitential purple, the Glória in excelsis is not recited, the alleluia is not heard before the Gospel, and we begin to phase out the use of flowers on the altar.

    But while this is a season of restraint in the liturgy, it is also one of richness.  The texts for the Epistles and Gospels are all chosen with great care, and they provide us with invaluable instruction that we don't hear at any other time of the year.  Today is no exception.

    This morning in the Divine Office, at Matins, we began to read the book of Genesis.  We heard the story of our creation this morning.  We will soon read about the creation of Adam and Eve—about how they were created with an abundance of God's graces—and how they succumbed to temptation and fell from grace.  We will also be reminded of God's promise to send a Redeemer—the Seed of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who would crush the tempter with her heel.  You see, these Old Testament readings are important, in order for us to understand the nature of God's plan and how we fit into it.

    In the Gospel today we hear our Lord recounting one of His stories—a parable, to give us some insight into that plan, and to tell us something about what the kingdom of heaven is like.[1]

    At first, it is one of those Gospels that is hard to deal with.  We are inclined to sympathize with those men who worked all day long for no more pay than the latecomers.  That's just human nature, and our ideas about justice and fair play.

    But when we look more deeply at this Gospel, we see that our Lord isn't talking about exact justice at all—He's talking about God's mercy.  He's telling us that even though God promised salvation only to His chosen people, He has decided to include us gentiles into His plans as well.  He is telling us that even though we may have been sinners for most of our lives, He is still willing to offer us His loving forgiveness—even though the hour is late, and we may be starting to work on our salvation long after our fellow workers.  This parable is one designed to encourage us with the knowledge the God loves us, and it is not too late for us if we are just willing to get to work.  It is one of Mercy on God's part, and Hope on our own part.

    Again, today's Epistle is one which has been carefully chosen to convey the message of the season.[2]  St. Paul tells us that we are entering a contest—a race of sorts—and that it makes little sense to enter the contest if we are not going to make the effort to win.  He describes our salvation in terms like you would use to describe Olympic athletes—those out to win the gold medal, or at least the silver or the bronze.  He reminds us that winning athletes train long and hard to win their medals.  By reading this particular Epistle, the Church is suggesting to us that if we are going to benefit at all form this liturgical year, we need to get into the Lenten training which will prepare us for the glory of Easter.

    The reference to “our fathers passing through the sea” refers to the exodus of the Jewish people from bondage in Egypt.  You are probably aware that they were held captive for many generations, working as slaves of the Pharao.  Only with the leadership of Moses and the intervention of God were they able to leave and return to the land that had been settled by Abraham long ago.  The exodus was a long and arduous journey through inhospitable land, with many dangers along the way.  God sustained them miraculously with food and drink—on at least one instance, Moses was able to produce water from a the rock by hitting it with his staff.[3]  Quite regularly, God rained a bread-like substance called “manna” down upon them, and at other times quail.[4]

    But they were often given to complaint, some of them even suggesting that it would be better to return to the Egyptian bondage.  As Paul wrote, “with these people God was not well pleased.”

    But complaining about the food was not the people's worst offense.  As they travelled they encountered other peoples—tribes of non-Jews who worshipped other “gods.”  In some cases they married women from these tribes and adopted their false worship.  You have probably heard the story of them making a golden calf to worship while Moses was away on Mount Sinai, but such infidelity was not a one-time thing.  During their journey the Jews took to the worship of a number of false "gods," including some who demanded that they offer their children as human sacrifices.  With these people, God was definitely “not well pleased.”

    The Old Testament account of the Exodus sounds rather violent, for God commanded that they destroy the people who tempted them to false worship.  There was no such thing as “ecumenism” in God's lexicon.  In fact, He even commanded that if someone came and induced them to false worship the Jews were to destroy the whole city from whence the tempter came—even putting the cattle to the sword.[5]

    Because of their infidelity, God kept the Jews wandering in the desert for forty years.  No one who started out as an adult in Egypt would get to see the promised land in Chaanan.[6]  But to their descendants the promised land was almost paradisiacal—a land “flowing with milk and honey.”

    God was not pleased with those who followed Moses, but who just, so to speak, “went through the motions,” without following God's will in their hearts.  And likewise that God is not pleased with modern Christians—Christians in name only—hangers on, who are really pagans, with just a thin veneer of Christianity covering their lives—who, like their Old Testament counterparts, fail to follow God's will in their hearts.

    So today is Septuagesima—the beginning of the penitential season.  It is not yet Lent, and we are not required to fast, and do penance, and increase our prayer life—although, we certainly may do so if we are willing.  But this definitely is a time for developing an understanding of what it is that God expects from us.  It is a time for planning our Lenten program—how will we fast—do we need to rearrange our schedule a bit to allow a full prayer life—what spiritual reading will we pursue this year—what positive good works will we try to accomplish—and so on?

    This is the time to get our affairs in order—to begin our bodily and spiritual training—so that we can strive to win God's race.



[1]   Gospel:  Matthew xx: 1-16

[2]   Epistle:  1 Corinthians ix: 24-x: 5

[3]   Numbers xx: 6-13

[4]   Numbers xvi: 11-32

[5]   Deuteronomy xiii: 6-15

[6]   Numbers xiv: 21-24


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