Station at St Laurence-without-the-walls
In order to understand fully the meaning of the text of to-day's Mass we must study it in connection with the lessons of the Breviary, since in the Church's mind, the Mass and the Divine Office form one whole. The lessons and responses in the night office are taken this week from the book of Genesis. In them is related the story of the creation of the world and of man, of our first parents' fall and the promise of a Redeemer, followed by the murder of Abel and a record of the generations from Adam to Noah.
"In the beginning," we read, "God created heaven and earth and upon the earth He made man ... and He placed Him in a garden of paradise to be mindful of it and tend it " (Third and fourth responsory at Matins).
All this is a figure. Here is St. Gregory's exposition. "The kingdom of heaven is compared to the proprietor who hires labourers to work in his vineyard. Who can be more justly represented as head of a household than our Creator who governs all creatures by His Providence and who, just as a master has servants in his house, has his elect in this world from the just Abel to the last of His chosen, destined to be born at the very end of time? The vineyard which He owns is His Church, while the labourers in this vineyard are all those who with a true faith have set themselves, and urged others, to the task of doing good. By those who came at the first, as well as at the third, sixth and ninth hours, are meant the ancient people of the Hebrews, who from the beginning of the world, striving in the person of their saints to serve God with a right faith ceased not, as it were, to work in the cultivation of the vineyard. But at the eleventh hour, the Gentiles are called and to them are spoken the words, "Why stand ye here all the day idle?" (Third Nocturn). Thus all are called to work in the Lord's vineyard, by sanctifying themselves and their neighbour in glorifying God, since sanctification consists in searching for our supreme happiness in Him alone.
Adam failed in his task and God told Him: "Because thou hast eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat, cursed is the earth in thy work; with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee ... In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth out of which thou wast taken."
"Being exiled from Eden," says St. Augustine, "the first man involved all his descendants in the penalty of death and reprobation, being corrupted in the person of him from whom they sprung. The whole mass of condemned humanity was therefore, plunged in misery, enslaved and cast headlong from one evil to another" (Second Nocturn.) "The sorrows of death surrounded me," says the Introit, and as a matter of fact, it is in the basilica of St. Laurence-without-the-walls close to the cemetery at Rome that the "Station" for this Sunday is made. The Collect adds that we are "justly afflicted for our sins." In the Epistle, the Christian life is represented by St. Paul as an arena where a man must take pains and strive to carry off the prize, while the Gospel bears witness that the reward of eternal life is only given to those who work in God's vineyard, where work is hard and painful since the entrance of sin. "O God," prays the Church, "grant to thy people who are called by the name of vines and harvests, that they may root out all thorns and briars, and bring forth good fruit in abundance" (Prayer on Holy Saturday after the 8th Prophecy).
"In His wisdom," says St. Gregory, "almighty God preferred rather to bring good out of evil than never allow evil to occur." For God took pity on men and promised them a Second Adam, who restoring the order disturbed by the first, would allow them to regain heaven to which Adam had lost all right, when expelled from Eden, which was "the shadow of a better life" (Fourth lesson). "Thou, O Lord, art our helper in time of tribulation" (Gradual); "with Thee there is merciful forgiveness" (Tract). "Make Thy face to shine upon Thy servant and save me in Thy mercy " (Communion). "Show Thy face, O Lord, and we shall be saved," the Church cries similarly in the season of Advent, when calling upon her Lord. The truth is that God, "who has wonderfully created man, has more wonderfully redeemed him " (Prayer on Holy Saturday after 1st Prophecy), for "the creation of the world in the beginning was not a more excellent thing than the immolation of Christ our Passover at the end of time " (Prayer on Holy Saturday after 9th Prophecy).
This Mass when studied in the light of Adam's fall prepares our mind for beginning the season of Septuagesima, and understanding the sublime character of the Paschal mystery for which this season prepares our hearts.
In response to the call of the Master, who comes to seek us even in the depths wherein we are plunged, through our first parents' sin (Tract), Let us go and work in the Lord's vineyard, or enter the arena and take up with courage the struggle which will intensify during Lent.
Circumdederunt me gemitus mortis, dolores inferni circumdederunt me: et in tribulatione mea invocavi Dominum, et exaudivit de templo sancto suo vocem meam. * Diligam te, Domine, fortitudo mea: Dominus firmamentum meum, et refugium meum, et liberator meus.
The groans of death surrounded me, and the sorrows of hell encompassed me; and in my affliction I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice from his holy temple. * I will love thee, O Lord, my strength: the Lord is my firmament, my refuge, and my deliverer.
(Psalm 17:5-7,2-3 from the Introit of Mass)
Preces populi tui, quaesumus Domine, clementer exaudi, ut qui juste pro peccatis nostris affligimur, pro tui Nominis gloria misericorditer liberemur.
Mercifully hear, we beseech thee, O Lord, the prayers of thy people; that we who are justly afflicted for our sins, may be mercifully delivered for the glory of thy name.
A cunctis nos, quaesumus, Domine, mentis et corporis defende periculis: et intercedente beata et gloriosa semperque Virgine Dei Genitrice Maria, cum beatis Apostolis tuis Petro et Paulo, atque beato N., et omnibus Sanctis, salutem nobis tribue benignus et pacem: ut destructis adversitatibus et erroribus universis, Ecclesia tua secura tibi serviat libertate.
Preserve us, O Lord, we beseech thee, from all dangers of soul and body: and by the intercession of the glorious and blessed Mary, the ever Virgin-Mother of God, of the blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul, of Blessed N. and of all the Saints, grant us, in thy mercy, health and peace; that all adversities and errors being removed, thy Church may serve thee with undisturbed liberty.
Continuation of the holy Gospel according to Matthew.
At that time, Jesus spoke to his disciples this parable: The kingdom of heaven is like to a householder who went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And having agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour, he saw others standing in the market-place idle. And he said to them: Go you also into my vineyard, and I will give you what shall be just. And they went their way. And again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did in like manner. But about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing, and he saith to them: Why stand you here all the day idle? They say to him: Because no man hath hired us. He saith to them: Go ye also into my vineyard. And when evening was come, the lord of the vineyard saith to his steward: Call the labourers amid pay them their hire, beginning from the last even to the first. When, therefore, they were come that came about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first also came, they thought that they should receive more: and they also received every man a penny. And receiving it they murmured against the master of the house, saying: These last have worked but one hour, and thou hast made them equal to us that have borne the burden of the day, and the heats. But he answering said to one of them: Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst thou not agree with me for a penny? Take what is thine, and go thy way: I will also give to this last even as to thee. Or, is it not lawful for me to do what I will? Is thy eye evil, because I am good? So shall the last be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.
(St Matthew 20)
From the Catholic Encyclopaedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13721b.htm
From Dom Gueranger's Liturgical Year: http://www.liturgialatina.org/lityear/septuagesima/sept_sun.htm