Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Mystery of Lent

A meditation on Lent by Abbot Dom Guéranger, O.S.B.

We may be sure that a season so sacred as this of Lent is rich in mysteries. The Church has made it a time of recollection and penance, in preparation for the greatest of all her feasts; she would, therefore, bring into it everything that could excite the faith of her children, and encourage them to go through he arduous work of atonement for their sins. During Septuagesima, we had the number seventy, which reminds us of those seventy years of captivity in Babylon, after which God's chosen people, being purified from idolatry, was to return to Jerusalem and celebrate the Pasch. It is the number forty that the Church now brings before us: a number, as St. Jerome observes, which denotes punishment and affliction.[1]
Let us remember the forty days and forty nights of the deluge[2] sent by God in His anger, when He repented that He had made made, and destroyed the whole human race with the exception of one family. Let us consider how the Hebrew people, in punishment for their ingratitude, wandered forty years in the desert, before they were permitted to enter the promised land.[3] Let us listen to our God commanding the Prophet Ezechiel to lie forty days on his right side, as a figure of the siege which was to bring destruction on Jerusalem.[4]
There are two persons in the Old Testament who represent the two manifestations of God: Moses, who typifies the Law; and Elias, who is the figure of the Prophets. Both of these are permitted to approach God: the first on Sinai,[5] the second on Horeb;[6] but both of them have to prepare for the great favor by an expiatory fast of forty days.
With these mysterious facts before us, we can understand why it is that the Son of God, having become Man for our salvation and wishing to subject Himself to the pain of fasting, chose the number of forty days. The institution of Lent is thus brought before us with everything that can impress the mind with its solemn character, and with its power of appeasing God and purifying our souls. Let us, therefore, look beyond the little world which surrounds us, and see how the whole Christian universe is, at this very time, offering this forty days’ penance as a sacrifice of propitiation to the offended Majesty of God; and let us hope that, as in the case of the Ninivites, He will mercifully accept this year’s offering of our atonement, and pardon us our sins.
[1] In Ezechiel, cap. xxix.
[2] Gen. 7:12
[3] Num. 14:33
[4] Ezechiel 4:6
[5] Exodus 24:18
[6] 3 Kings 19:8

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