February 11, 2007
vol 18, no. 42

The Story of Sexagesima
Abbe Dom Prosper Gueranger

    We have examined the History, Mystery and Practice of the Liturgical Season of Septuagesima, and now, thanks to the wise and holy abbot of the 19th century, we understand better Sexagesima Week as Abbe Dom Gueranger provides the nourishment necessary to properly prepare our bodies, minds and souls in concert with what is expected of the Mystical Body of Christ in preparation of the Lenten Season.

      Editor's Note: Because the Liturgical Season of Lent, which officially began last week with Septuagesima Sunday, we have decided to bring you excerpts for this season with today focusing on Sexagesima Week (the excerpts below are taken from Volume 4, pages 148-178)and we have thus turned to the most traditional and practical Catholic source available, none other than the inspired and motivating words of the esteemed Abbot of Solesmes Dom Prosper Louis Pascal Gueranger, renowned for his masterful work The Liturgical Year, which is often considered the Summa for the Church's Liturgy in History, Mystery and Practice. It is in those areas that we feel it is important to address in order to help readers live as better Catholics in knowing, living, and applying their Faith to the fullest and giving to Christ and His Blessed Mother all that they can. Few capture the essence as this humble but brilliant abbot who is known simply as "the Gardener of the Canticles of Eternity."

    "When the Saracen invasion came sweeping into ruin the eastern world, and menacing the whole of Europe, which would have been lost had not the energy of thy sons repelled the infidel horde, was it not within thee, O Ark of salvation! That the few Christians took refuge, who had resisted schism and heresy , and who, whilst the rest of their brethren apostatized from the faith, still kept alive the holy flame? Under thy protection they are even now perpetuating, in their unfortunate countries, the traditions of faith, until the divine mercy shall bring happier times, and they be permitted to multiply, as did of old the sons of Sem, in that land once so glorious and holy."

Sexagesima Week

    The Church offers to our consideration, during this week of Sexagesima, the history of Noah and the deluge. Man has not profited by the warnings already given him. God is obliged to punish him once more, and by terrible chastisement. There is found out of the whole human race one just man; God makes a covenant with him, and with us through him. But, before He draws up this new alliance, He would show that He is the sovereign Master, and that man, and the earth whereon he lives, subsist solely by His power and permission.

Sexagesima Sunday

    At Rome the Station is in the basilica of St. Paul outside the walls. It is around the tomb of the Doctor of the Gentiles, the zealous sower of the divine seed, the father by his preaching of so many nations, that the Roman Church assembles her children on this Sunday, whereon she is about to announce to them how God spared the earth on the condition that it should be peopled with true believers and with faithful adorers of His name.

    (For the Gospel Abbe Dom Gueranger references for Sexagesima Sunday, see Sexagesima Sunday) St. Gregory the Great justly remarks, that this parable needs no explanation, since eternal Wisdom Himself has told us its meaning. All that we have to do, is to profit by this divine teaching, and become the good soil, wherein the heavenly seed may yield a rich harvest. How often have we, hitherto, allowed it to be trampled on by them that passed by, or to be torn up by the birds of the air! How often has it found our heart like a stone, that could give no moisture, or like a thorn plot, that could but choke! We listened to the word of God; we took pleasure in hearing it; and from this we argued well for ourselves. Nay, we have often received this word with joy and eagerness. Sometimes, even, it took root within us. But, alas! Something always came to stop its growth. Henceforth, it must both grow and yield fruit. The seed given to us is of such quality, that the divine Sower has a right to expect a hundred-fold. If the soil, that is, our heart, be good; if we take the trouble to prepare it, by profiting by the means afforded us by the Church; we shall have an abundant harvest to show our Lord on that grand day, when rising triumphant from His tomb, He will come to share with His faithful people the glory of His Resurrection.

Monday in Sexagesima Week

    All flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth(1)-{Gen. vi. 12} The terrible lesson, then, which men had received, by being driven out of paradise in the person of our first parents, had been without effect. Neither the certainty of death, when they would have to stand before the divine Judge, nor the humiliations which attend man's first coming into this world, nor the pains and fatigues and trials which beset the whole path of life, had subdued men's hearts, or brought them into submission to that sovereign Master whose hand lay thus heavy upon them. They had the divine promise that a Savior should be given to them, and that this Redeemer (who was to be the Son of her that was to crush the serpent's head), would not only bring them salvation, but would moreover reinstate them in all the happiness and honors they had lost. But even this was not enough to make them rise above the base passions of corrupt nature. The example of Adam's nine hundred years' penance, and the admonitions he could so feelingly give who had received such proofs of God's love and anger, began to lose their influence upon his children; and when he at last descended into the grave, his posterity grew more and more heedless of what they owed to their Creator. The long life, which had been granted to man in this the first age of the world, was made but a fresh means of offending Him who gave it. When, finally, the sons of Seth took to themselves wives of the family of Cain, the human race reached the height of wickedness, rebelled against the Lord, and made their own passions their god.

    Yet, all this while, they had had granted to them the power of resisting the evil propensities of their hearts. God had offered them His grace, whereby they were enabled to conquer pride and concupiscence. The merits of the Redeemer to come were even them present to divine justice, and the Lamb, slain, as St. John tells us, from the beginning of the world, (1)-{Apoc. Xiii. 8} applied the merits of His Blood to this as to every generation which existed before the great Sacrifice was really immolated. Each individual of the human family might have been just, as Noah was, and, like him, have found favor with the Most High; but the thought of their heart was bent upon evil, and not upon good and the earth became peopled with enemies of God. Then it was that it repented God that He had made man,(2)-{Gen. vi. 6} as the sacred Scripture forcibly expresses it. He decreed that man's life on earth should be shortened in order that the thought of death might be ever before us. He, moreover, resolved to destroy, by a universal deluge, the whole of this perverse generation, saving only one family. The world would thus be renewed, and man would learn from this awful chastisement to serve and love this his sovereign Lord and God.

Tuesday in Sexagesima Week

    When we reflect upon the terrible events which happened in the first age of the world, we are lost in astonishment at the wickedness of man, and at the effrontery wherewith he sins against his God. How was it that the dread words of God, which were spoken against our first parents in Eden, could be so soon forgotten? How could the children of Adam see their father suffering and doing such endless penance, without humbling themselves and imitating this model of repentance? How as it that the promise of a Mediator, who was to reopen the gate of heaven for the, could be believed, and yet not awaken in their souls the desire of making themselves worthy to be His ancestors, and partakers of that grand regeneration, which He was to bring to mankind? And yet, the years which followed the death of Adam were years of crime and scandal; nay, he himself lived to see one of his own children become the murderer of a brother. But why be thus surprised at the wickedness of these our first brethren? The earth is now six thousand years old in the continued reception of divine blessings and chastisements; and are men less dull of heart, less ungrateful, less rebellious towards their Maker? For the generality of men-we mean, of those who deign to believe in the fall and chastisement of our first parents, and in the destruction of the world by the deluge-what are these great truths? Mere historical facts, which have never once inspired them with a fear of God's justice. More favored than these early generations of the human race, they know that the Messias has been sent, that God has come down upon the earth, that He has been made Man, that He has broken Satan's rule, that the way to heaven has been made easy by the graces embodied by the Redeemer in the Sacraments: and yet, sin reigns and triumphs in the midst of Christianity. Undoubtedly, the just are more numerous than they were in the days of Noah; but then, what riches of grace has our Redeemer poured out on our degenerate race by the ministry of His bride the Church! Yes, there are faithful Christians to be found upon the earth, and the number of the elect is every day being added to; but the multitude are living at enmity with God, and their actions are in contradiction to their faith.

    When, therefore, the holy Church reminds us of those times, wherein all flesh had corrupted its way, she is urging us to think about our own conversion. Her motive in relating to us the history of the sins committed at the beginning of the world, is to induce us to examine our own consciences. Why, too, does she read to us those pages of sacred Writ, which so vividly describe the flood-gates of heaven opening and deluging the guilty earth, if not that she would warn us against mocking that great God, who thus chastised the sad consequences of Adam's sin, a sin which we ourselves did not commit, but the effects of which lie so heavy upon us. This week we must reflect upon the sins we ourselves have committed. Though God has loaded us with favors, guided us by His light, redeemed us with His Blood, and strengthened us against all our enemies by His grace, yet we have corrupted our way, and caused our God to repent of having created us. Let us confess our wickedness, and humbly acknowledge that we owe it to the mercies of the Lord, that we have not been consumed.(1)-{Lam. Iii. 22}

Wednesday in Sexagesima Week

    O God of infinite justice! We have sinned; we have abused the lie Thou hast given us: and when we read, in Thy Scriptures how Tjine anger chastised the sinners of former days, we are forced to acknowledge, that we have deserved to be treated in like manner. We have the happiness to be Christians and children of Thy Church; the light of faith, and the power of Thy grace, have brought us once more into Thy friendship; but how can we forget that we were once Thy enemies? And are we so deeply rooted in virtue, that we can promise ourselves perseverance in it to the end? Pierce, O Lord! Pierce my flesh with Thy fear. (1)(Ps. Cxviii. 120} Man's heart is hard and unless it fear Thy sovereign Majesty, it may offend Thee.

    We are penetrated with fear, when we remember that Thou didst bury the world and destroy mankind by the waters of the deluge; for we learn by this, how Thy patience and long-suffering may be changed into inexorable anger. Thou art just, O Lord! And who shall presume to take scandal, or to murmur, when Thy wrath is enkindled against sinners?

    We have defied Thy justice, we have braved Thine anger; for, though Thou hast told us that Thou wilt never more destroy sinners by a deluge of water, yet we know that Thou has created, in Thy hatred for sin, a fire, which shall eternally prey on them that depart this life without being first reconciled with Thy offended Majesty.

    O wonderful dignity of our human nature! We cannot be indifferent towards that infinite Being created us: we must be His friends of His enemies! It could not have been otherwise. He gave us understanding and free-will: we know what is good and what is evil, and we must choose the one or the other: we cannot remain neutral. If we choose good, God turns towards us and loves us; if evil, we separate from Him, who is our sovereign Good. But, whereas He bears most tender mercy towards this frail creature whom He created out of pure love, and because He wills that all men should be saved, He waits with patience for the sinner to return to Him, and, in countless ways, draws his heart to repentance.

    But woe to him that obeys not the divine call, when that call is the last! Then justice takes the place of mercy, and revelation tells us how fearful a thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God. (1)- {Heb. X. 31.} Let us, then, flee from the wrath to come, (2)-(St. Matt. iii. 7.) by making our peace with the God we have offended. If we be already restored to grace, let us walk in His fear, until love shall have grown strong enough in our hearts to make us run the way of the commandments.(3)-(Ps, Cxviii. 32)

Thursday in Sexagesima Week

    God promised Noah that He would never more punish the earth with a deluge. But, in His justice, He has many times visited the sins of men with a scourge which, in more senses than one, bears a resemblance to a deluge: the invasion of enemies. We meet with these invasions in every age; and each time we see the hand of God. We can trace the crimes that each of them was sent to punish, and in each we find a manifest proof of the infinite justice wherewith God governs the world.

    It is not requisite that we should have mention the long list of these revolutions, which we might almost say make up the history of mankind, for in its every page we read of conquests, extinction of races, destruction of nations, and violent amalgamations, which effaced the traditions and character of the several peoples that were thus forced into union. We will confine our considerations to the two great invasions, which the just anger of God has permitted to come upon the world since the commencement of the Christian era.

    The Roman Empire had made itself as preeminent in crime as it was in power. It conquered the world, and then corrupted it. Idolatry and immorality were the civilization it gave to the nations which had come under its sway. Christianity could save individuals in the great empire, but the empire itself could not be made Christian. God let loose upon it the deluge of barbarians. The stream of the wild invasion rose to the very dome of the Capitol; the empire was engulfed. The ruthless ministers of divine justice were conscious of their being chosen for this mission of vengeance, and they gave themselves the name of 'God's scourge.'

    When, later on, the Christian nations of the east had lost the faith which they themselves had transmitted to the western world; when they had disfigured the sacred symbol of faith by their blasphemous heresies; the anger of God sent upon them, from Arabia, the deluge of Mahometanism. It swept away the Christian Churches, that had existed from the very times of the Apostles. Jerusalem, the favored Jerusalem, on which Jesus had lavished His tenderest love, even she became a victim to the infidel hordes. Antioch and Alexandria with their patriarchates, were plunged into the vilest slavery; and at length Constantinople, that had so obstinately provoked the divine indignation, was made the very capital of the Turkish empire.

    And we, the western nations, if we return not to the Lord our God, shall we be spared? Shall the flood-gates of heaven's vengeance, the torrent of fresh Vandals, ever be menacing to burst upon us, yet never come? Where is the country of our own Europe, that has not corrupted its way, as in the days of Noah? That has not made conventions against the Lord and against His Christ?(1)-(Ps. Ii. 2.) that has not clamored out that old cry of revolt: Let us break their bonds asunder, let us cast away their yoke from us?(1)-(Ps. ii. 3) Well may we fear lest the time is at hand, when, despite our haughty confidence in our means of defense, Christ our Lord, to whom all nations have been given by the Father, shall rule us with a rod of iron, and break us in pieces like a potter's vessel.(2)- (Ibid. 9.} Let us propitiate the anger of our offended God, and follow the inspired counsel of the royal prophet: Serve ye the Lord with fear; embrace the discipline of His Law; lest, at any time, the Lord be angry, and ye perish from the just way.(3)-(Ibid., 12).

Friday in Sexagesima Week

    God chastises the world by the deluge; but He is faithful to the promise made to our first parents, that the head of the serpent should be crushed. The human race has to be preserved, therefore, until the time shall come for the fulfillment of this promise. The Ark gives shelter to the just Noah, and to his family. The angry waters reach even to the tops of the highest mountains; but the frail yet safe vessel rides peacefully on the waves. When the day fixed by God shall come, they that dwell in this Ark shall once more tread the earth, purified as it then will be; and God will say to the, as heretofore to our first parents: 'Increase, and multiply, and fill the earth.'(1)-(Gen. ix. 1)

    Mankind, then, owes it safety to the Ark. O saving Ark, that wast planned by God Himself, and didst sail unhurt amidst the universal wreck! But it we can thus bless this contemptible wood,(2)-(Wisdom X 4.) how fervently should we love that other Ark, of which Noah's was but the figure, and which, for now, eighteen hundred years, has been saving and bringing men to their God! How fervently should we bless that Church, the bride of our Jesus, out of which there is no salvation, and in which we find that truth which delivers us from error and doubt,(3)-(St. John viii. 32) that grace which purifies the heart, and that food which nourishes the soul and fits her for immortality!

    O sacred Ark! Thou art inhabited, not by one family alone, but by people of every nation under the sun. Ever since that glorious day, when our Lord launched thee in the sea of this world, thou hast been tossed by tempests, yet never wrecked. Thou wilt reach the eternal shore, witnessing, by thy unworn vigor and beauty, to the divine guidance of the Pilot, who loves thee, both for thine own sake, and for the work thou art doing for His glory. It is by thee that He peoples the world with His elect and it is for them that He created the world.(1)-(St. Matt. Xxiv. 22) When He is angry, He remembers mercy,(2)-(Hab. iii. 4) because of thee, for it is through thee that He has made His covenant with mankind.

    O venerable Ark! Be thou our refuge in the deluge. When Rome's great empire, that was drunk with the blood of the martyrs,(3)-(Apoc. Xvii. 6) sank beneath the invasion of the barbarians, the Christians were safe, because sheltered by thee; the waters slowly subsided, and the race of men that had fled to thee for protection, though conquered according to the flesh, was victorious by the spirit. Kings, who till them had been haughty despots and barbarians, kissed reverently the hand of the slave, who was no their pastor and baptized them. New peoples sprang up, and, with the Gospel as their law, began their glorious career in those very countries which the Caesars had degraded and forfeited.

    When the Saracen invasion came sweeping into ruin the eastern world, and menacing the whole of Europe, which would have been lost had not the energy of thy sons repelled the infidel horde, was it not within thee, O Ark of salvation! That the few Christians took refuge, who had resisted schism and heresy , and who, whilst the rest of their brethren apostatized from the faith, still kept alive the holy flame? Under thy protection they are even now perpetuating, in their unfortunate countries, the traditions of faith, until the divine mercy shall bring happier times, and they be permitted to multiply, as did of old the sons of Sem, in that land once so glorious and holy.

    O! happy we, dear Church of God! That are sheltered within thee, and protected by thee against that wild sea of anarchy, which the sins of men have let loose on our earth! We beseech our Lord to check the tempest with that word of His omnipotence: 'Thus far shalt thou come, and no further, and here shalt thou break thy swelling waves.'(1)-(Job xxxviii. 11.) But if His divine justice has decreed that it prevail for a time, we know that it cannot reach such as dwell in thee. Of this happy number are we. In thy peaceful bosom, dear mother, we find those true riches of the soul, of which no violence can deprive us.(2)-(St. Matt. vi. 20) The life thou givest us is the only real life. Our true fatherland is the kingdom formed by thee. Keep us, O thou Ark of our God! Keep us, and all that are dear to us, and shelter us beneath thy roof, until the deluge of iniquity be passed away.(3)- (Ps. lvi. 2) When the earth, purified by its chastisements, shall once more receive the seed of the divine word which produces the children of God, those among us, whom thou shalt not have led to our eternal home, will then venture forth, and preach to the world the principles of authority and law, of family and social rights: those sacred principles, which came from heaven, and which thou O holy Church, art commissioned to maintain and teach, even to the end of time.

Saturday in Sexagesima Week

    On the Saturday of the preceding week, which was devoted to the consideration of the fall of our first parents both in its own malice and in its sad consequences upon us, we turned our thoughts towards our blessed Lady, who, though a daughter of Eve, was, by the special mercy of God, preserved from the stain of original sin. Let us end this week with a like act of veneration and love towards this Immaculate Queen of Heaven. We, even the most saintly among us, have not only been stained with original sin; we have our actual sins to grieve over and do penance for. This should give us a higher appreciation of her, the one single member of the human family who never committed the slightest sin. Let us turn towards her, and give expression t our feelings.

    We, O Mary! Have corrupted our way; we have disobeyed our Lord: we have broken His law; we have preferred our own selfish gratifications to the service we owed Him: but thou was ever filled with His holy love and there passed not even a shadow of sin upon thy soul, O spotless Mirror of justice and holiness! Virgin most faithful! The grace of the Son ever triumphed in thy heart. Mystical rose! The fragrance of thy virtues unceasingly ascended to His throne, changing only in its daily increase of sweetness. Tower of ivory! Fair beyond measure, without one spot to mar thy purity! House of gold! Thou dist ever reflect the precious gifts of the Holy Ghost. Have pity, then, upon us, for we are sinners.

    We have obliged our God to repent that He made us: but in thee dear Mother, He has ever been well pleased. Thou art the good land, wherein His divine seed yielded its thousandfold of fruit: pray for us, that He give fresh fertility to our hearts, and root up from them the thorns, which choke the heavenly plant. We are defiled by sin: may He, through the merits of the tears thou didst shed at the foot of the cross, mercifully cleanse us. If thy divine Son have already pardoned us, there are the consequences of our sins, which still weaken and humble us, like the sores of wounds that have been cured: take us, sweet Mother of our Jesus under the mantle of thy tender care. We have too little dread of sin; we are so often on the verge of offending our God; oh! Obtain for these poor children of thine courage and firmness of resolution, and ambition for holiness of life. Thy intercession must win for us that precious devotedness to God's honor, which kills self-love, the root of sin. Oh! Accursed self-love, which may lead us to hell, who are now perhaps in the grace of thy divine Son!

    The deluge, brought on by our sins, is hurrying its vengeance against mankind; and we, O Mary! Are resolved to seek our refuge in the Ark of the Church, the safe shelter created for us by thy Jesus. But we presume to pray to thee for our brethren throughout the world. Our God has given thee a power to stay His anger, and to win for guilty mortals an extension of mercy: show this power now for our world is provoking its Master to destroy it. If the flood-gate of His just indignation burst upon the face of our earth, millions of souls that have been redeemed by the Blood of thy divine Son would be lost eternally. If the sweet dove of peace bring her olive-branch only when that terrible justice is appeased, it would be too late for thy loving heart. Come before the deluge, O beautiful rainbow of our Father's reconciliation! The love of a Mother, who is the very Queen of mercy, emboldens us to sue for universal mercy. Can the prayer of her, in whose purity and innocence the very God of holiness finds no blemish, be denied? Pray Him, then, to pardon us, and all sinners!

    For past articles of LIVING IN TRADITION, see 2007lit.htm Archives

    February 11, 2007
    vol 18, no. 42