Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
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
Lenten Observance

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 fortitude.

    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.[2]  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 ministers.

    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.[3]  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.”[4]  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.”[5]  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 providence.

    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 “Messianic Psalms.[6]  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.”


[1]   Epistle II Corinthians vi: 1-10.

[2]   Epistle,  ibid.

[3]   Matthew iv: 1-11.

[4]   Luke iv: 2.

[5]   Psalm xc: 11.  Matthew ibid.

[6]   CE s.v. “Psalms” Sec IX Theological Value.


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