In the same way that the first three prophecies of Holy Saturday, with their accompanying prayers, are concerned with Adam, Noah and Abraham, so during the Septuagesima season, our attention is called in Missal and Breviary to these same patriarchs, known respectively by the Church, as the father of the human race, the father of future generations and the father of those who believe.
Adam, Noah and Abraham were types of Christ in the paschal mystery, a fact which we have already shown to be true in the case of the first two, in our notes on Septuagesima and Sexagesima Sunday. That it is true of Abraham also, we shall see to-day.
In the Ambrosian Liturgy, Passion Sunday was called "Abraham's Sunday" and the "Response of Abraham" was read in the Office for that day; in the Roman Liturgy also, he is still the subject of the Gospel for Passion Sunday. "Abraham your father," says our Lord, "rejoiced that he might see my day, he saw it and was glad ... Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham was made, I am." God had indeed promised Abraham that the Messias should descend from him, and he was overwhelmed with great joy, when by faith he contemplated beforehand the day of the Redeemer's coming. Again, when this was fulfilled, he still contemplated it with a fresh joy in Limbo, where he was waiting with the just men of the Old Law for Jesus to come and deliver them after His Passion. When the three weeks of the Septuagesima Season were added to Lent, Quinquagesima became the Sunday on which the liturgy is devoted to Abraham, so that in the lessons and responses for to-day the whole history of the Patriarch is described.
With the desire of forming a people who should be specially His own in the midst of the idolatrous nations of the world (Gradual and Tract), almighty God chose Abraham as its head and gave him his name which means Father of many nations. "And He took him from Ur in Chaldee, and kept him from harm in all his wanderings." By faith, St. Paul tells the Hebrews, Abraham, when the call came, "obeyed and went into a place which he was to receive for an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing whither he went." It was by faith, that he obtained the land of Canaan, where he lived more than twenty-five years as a stranger; that in his old age he became the father of Isaac and did not hesitate to offer him in sacrifice at God's command, although he was his only son in whom lay all his hope that the divine promises concerning a numerous posterity for himself would be fulfilled." Accounting that God is able to raise up even from the dead. Whereupon also he received him for a parable." Indeed, it was as a type of Christ that Isaac was chosen "to be the most glorious victim of his father," that he carried the bundle of wood on which he was about to be sacrificed, just as our Lord carried the Cross on which he merited glory by His Passion; that his place was taken by a ram caught by its horns in a thicket of brambles, just as, according to the Fathers, Jesus the Lamb of God had His sacred head entangled in the thorns of His Crown; and above all that, being miraculously delivered from death he was in some sense restored to life to proclaim that Christ having been put to death should rise again.
Thus, by his faith, Abraham, who without hesitation believed in what was to come to pass, contemplated from afar our Lord's triumph on the Cross and rejoiced in it. It was then that God confirmed the promises to him: "Because thou hast not spared the only-begotten son for my sake, I will bless thee, and I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand that is by the sea shore." It was Christ who fulfilled these promises by His Passion. As St. Paul says: "Christ hath redeemed us ... (for it is written, cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree), that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Christ Jesus"; that we may receive the promise of the Spirit by faith, that is the Spirit of adoption which has been promised to us. It is for this reason that in the prayer which follows the lesson about Abraham on Holy Saturday, almighty God is addressed as "the supreme Father of all the faithful, who all over the world multipliest the children of Thy promise by diffusing the grace of Thy adoption: and by this Paschal Sacrament makest Thy servant Abraham, according to Thy oath, the father of all nations".
In reality it is by baptism with water, which was formerly administered at Easter, and of the Holy Ghost suggesting Pentecost, that having been made children of Abraham we enter upon the inheritance promised to us, that is the Church, the Heavenly Jerusalem, of which the Holy Land was a type. The Church prays on Holy Saturday: "Grant that all the nations of the world may become the children of Abraham, and by holy adoption, multiply the sons of the promise." We can see from this why to-day's station is made at St. Peter's, since the prince of the apostles was chosen by Christ to be the Head of the Church in a still more excellent sense than Abraham, "the father of all them that believe."
Faith in Christ, dead and risen again, is the subject of the Gospel, that faith by which Abraham merited to become the Father of all nations and which enables us to become his children. We read how Christ foretold His Passion and His victory and how He restored the sight of a blind man, and told him: "Thy faith hath saved thee." On this St. Gregory comments: "This blind man recovered his sight under the very eyes of the apostles so that to have seen deeds wrought by the divine power might strengthen the faith of those who could not yet grasp the message that a heavenly mystery was revealed to the world. Indeed it was necessary, that when later they should see our Lord die in the very way foretold by Him, they should have no doubt at all that He must also rise from the dead."
In the epistle, in its turn, Abraham's faith is set forth in all its merit, and we are told what our own faith should be like. "So faith also," writes St. James, "if it hath not works, is dead in itself. Wilt thou know that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, offering up Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou, that faith did cooperate with his works; and by works faith was made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled, saying: Abraham believed God, and it was reputed to him to justice, and he was called the friend of God. Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only?"
A man is not saved by being a son of Abraham according to the flesh but by being Abraham's son by means of a faith like his. So St. Paul writes: "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision (to be a Jew) availeth anything, nor uncircumcision (to be a Gentile), but a new creature." "Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered Himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness ."
If the custom of allowing ourselves a little relaxation of spirit, before undertaking the Lenten penance which binds us all, is of liturgical origin, let us not forget that the Church condemns all excess. To atone therefore, for those sins, that are committed, let us make a solemn adpration of the Blessed Sacrament, beside saying this prayer of reconciliation known as the Forty Hours' prayer , which was instituted either by S. Anthony-Mary Zaccaria (+ 1539); or by the Capuchin Father Joseph a Ferno (about 1636), a prayer richly indulgenced by Pope Clement XIII (1765). [This devotion orginated from the 40 hours Jesus passed in the tomb. Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament was included but at a later date, and regulated by Clement XI in 1705.]
Esto mihi in Deum protectorem, et in locum refugii, ut salvum me facias : quoniam firmamentum meum, et refugium meum es tu: et propter nomen tuum dux mihi eris, et enutries me. * In te, Domine, speravi, non confundar in aeternum : in justitia tua libera me, et eripe me.
Be Thou unto me a God, a protector, and a place of refuge, to save me : for Thou art my strength and my refuge : and for Thy Name's sake Thou wilt lead me, and nourish me. * In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped, let me never be confounded : deliver me in Thy justice, and save me.
(Psalm 30:3-4,2 from the Introit)
Preces nostras, quaesumus, Domine, clementer exaudi: atque a peccatorum vinculis absolutos, ab omni nos adversitate custodi.
Do Thou, we beseech Thee, O Lord, mercifully hear our prayers, that we being loosed from the bonds of our sins, may by Thee be defended against all adversity.
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.