(From the St Andrew's Daily Missal)
The Season of Septuagesima has reminded us of the need in which we stand of uniting ourselves in the spirit of penance with the redeeming work of Christ. Lent, with its fast and penitential exercises, will enable us to associate ourselves with that work still more closely. Our souls, in their rebellion against God have become truly the slaves of the world, the flesh and the devil. During this holy season, the Church shows us our Lord in the desert (First Sunday of Lent) and in His public life, fighting to deliver us from the triple chain of pride, luxury and avarice by which we are bound to created things. When, by His teachings and sufferings, He has rescued us from our captivity and restored us to the liberty of the children of God, He will give back to us in the Easter festivities, that divine life which we have lost.
Further, the liturgy in Lent, wholly flowing as it does from the Master's teachings and from His spirit of penance, was used formerly for the instruction of catechumens and to deepen the contrition of public penitents, both of whom looked forward to rising again with Christ, by receiving the sacraments of Baptism or Penance during the Paschal Triduum.
The spirit and even the ceremonies of these two sacraments of the dead are found in the liturgy for Lent; indeed they sum up this period of purgative discipline in which, with our Lord, we die to sin.
These are the two thoughts which we shall find the Church constantly developing throughout the whole of Lent as she shows us, in the faithless Jews, the sinners who can only return to God by sharing in our Lord's fast (Gospel for the First Sunday), and in the Gentiles called in their place, the effects of the Sacrament of Regeneration (Gospel for the Second and Third Sundays) and of the Eucharist (Gospel for the Fourth Sunday) in our souls.
In the divine Office the lessons from the Old Testament continue. On the First Sunday of Lent the thought of Isaac, so to speak, is swallowed up by the thought of our Lord in the desert; besides, that great patriarch, Abraham's son, has already been before us when the Church spoke about him last Sunday, During the Second Week in Lent we read in the liturgy, the story of Jacob who is a type of Christ and His Church, which God protects and blesses as He did the holy patriarch. During the Third Week it is Joseph, who is before us in the lessons of the Office, and in him the Church sees another type of Christ and of the Church herself, returning blessing for outrage, and shining in an altogether special way by their most pure life. Finally, the Fourth Week is devoted to Moses the deliverer of God's people, who was the means of bringing them into the Promised Land, a type once again, of what our Lord and His Church accomplish for souls at Paschaltide.
As the liturgy reminds us, it is "in the light of the New Testament that almighty God shows us the meaning of the miracles wrought in primitive times, making us behold in the Red Sea, a figure of the holy Font, and in the people freed from Egyptian slavery, a type of the Christian people".
As has been said elsewhere, we prepare to celebrate with the Church the Paschal sacrament, " by the scriptures of both Testaments,"which give us the fullest understanding of the boundless mercy of God.
Lent is a kind of long retreat made by the Christians of the whole world finishing with Easter Confession and Communion.
Just as our Lord, in His retirement from the world, fasted and prayed for forty days and then by His life of apostleship taught us that we must die to ourselves, so the Church, during this holy quarantine preaches the death in us of the man of sin. This "death" will be revealed in our soul by the struggle against pride and self-love, by a spirit of prayer and a more diligent meditation on God's word; in our bodies by fasting, abstinence and mortification of the senses ; and finally, in our whole life by a greater detachment from the pleasures and riches of this world, leading us to be more generous in almsgiving and to abstain from worldly amusements.
In short the Lenten Fast should be none other than the expression of those dispositions of penance which fill our soul, who will concern herself more freely with the things of God the more she withdraws herself from sensual pleasure. For all generous hearts this "acceptable time" is a source of holy joy, which the Lenten liturgy itself exhibits at every point.
This work of purification takes place under the direction of the Church by whom our sufferings are united to those of Christ. Therefore the weak enter with courage into the lists, relying on the grace of Christ which will not fail them, while the strong are not puffed up at the vigour of their observance, knowing that it is the Passion of Christ alone that saves them and that only "by sharing in it by their patience can they apply its fruits to themselves".
"The observance of Lent," says Pope Benedict XIV, "is the bond of union in our army; by it we are distinguished from the enemies of the Cross of Christ; by it we turn aside the chastisements of God's wrath; by its means, being guarded by heavenly succours during the day, we fortify ourselves against the prince of darkness. If this observance comes to be relaxed it is to the detriment of God's glory, to the dishonour of the Catholic religion and to the peril of souls; nor can it be doubted that such negligence will become a source of misfortune to nations, of disaster in public affairs and of adversity to individuals."