February 18, 2007
vol 18, no. 49

The Story of Quinquagesima
by
Abbe Dom Prosper Gueranger

    Lent is almost here, the short Week of Quinquagesima is the portal for Ash Wednesday. One can understand the rationale for fifty days before Easter in the excellent, inspiring reflections which the wise and holy abbot of the 19th century, Abbe Dom Gueranger provides in properly preparing our bodies, minds and souls for the penitential time of Lent.

      Editor's Note: Because the Liturgical Season of Lent, which officially began with the Septuagesima Sunday and continued last week with Sexagesima Sunday, we have decided to bring you excerpts for this season focusing today on Quinquagesima Week (the excerpts below are taken from Volume 4, pages 178-205). 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."

    "While admitting all this, we would ask, what right or title have they to share in these Shrovetide rejoicings, whose Lent will pass and find them out of the Church, because they will not have complied with the precept of Easter Communion? And they, too, who claim dispensations from abstinence and fasting during Lent, and, for one reason or another, evade every penitential exercise during the solemn forty days of penance, And will find themselves at Easter as weighed down by the guilt and debt of their sins as they were on Ash Wednesday - what meaning, we would ask, can there possibly be in their feast-making at Shrovetide?"

Quinquagesima

    The Church gives us today another subject for our meditation: it is the vocation of Abraham. When the waters of the deluge had subsided, and mankind had once more peopled the earth, the immorality, which had previously excited God's anger, again grew rife among men. Idolatry, too, into which the antediluvian race had not fallen, now showed itself, and human wickedness seemed thus to have reached the height of its malice. Foreseeing that the nations of the earth would fall into rebellion against Him, God resolved to select one whom should be preserved those sacred truths, of which the Gentiles were to lose sight. This new people were to originate from one man, who would be the father and model of all future believers. This was Abraham. His faith and devotedness merited for him that he should be chosen to be the father of the children of God, and the head of that spiritual family, to which belong all the elect of both the old and the new Testament.

    It is necessary, therefore, that we should know Abraham, our father and our model. This is his grand characteristic: fidelity to God, submissiveness to His commands, abandonment and sacrifice of everything in order to obey His holy will. Such ought to be the prominent virtues of every Christian. Let us, then, study the life of our great patriarch, and learn, the lessons it teaches in Genesis 12.

    Could the Christian have a finer model than this holy patriarch, whose docility and devotedness in following the call of his God are so perfect? We are forced to exclaim, with the holy fathers: 'O true Christian, even before Christ had come on the earth! Was preached! He was an apostolic man before the apostles existed!' God calls him: he leaves all things-his country, his kindred, his father's house-and he goes into an unknown land. God leads him, he is satisfied; he fears no difficulties; he never once looks back. Did the apostles themselves more? But see how grand is his reward! God says to him: 'In thee shall all the kindred of the earth be blessed.' This Chaldean is to give to the world Him that shall bless and it. Death will, it is true, close his eyes ages before the dawning of that day, when one of his race, who is to be born of a Virgin And be united personally with the divine Word, shall redeem all generations, past, present, and to come. But meanwhile, till heaven shall be thrown open to receive this Redeemer and the countless just who have won the crown, Abraham shall be honored, in the limbo of expectation, in a manner becoming his great virtue and merit. It is in his bosom, (1)-{St. Luke xvi: 22} that is, around him, that our first parents (having atoned for their sin by penance), Noah, Moses, David, and all the just, including poor Lazarus, received that rest and happiness, which were a foretaste of, and a preparation for, eternal bliss in Heaven. Thus is Abraham honored; thus does God requite the love and fidelity of them that serve Him.

    When the fullness of time came, the Son of God, who was also Son of Abraham, declared His eternal Father's power, by saying that He was about to raise up a new progeny of Abraham's children from the very stones, that is, from the Gentiles (1)-{St. Matthew iii: 9}. We Christians are this new generation. But are we worthy children of our father? Let us listen to the apostle of the Gentiles: 'By faith, Abraham, when called (by God), obeyed to go out into a place, which he was to receive for an inheritance: And he went out not knowing whither he went. By faith, he abode in the land, dwelling in tents, with Isaac and Jacob, the co-heirs of the same promise; for he looked for a city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God'(2)-{Heb. Xi. 8-10}.

    If, therefore, we be children of Abraham, we must, as the Church tells us during Septuagesima, look upon ourselves as exiles on the earth, and dwell by hope and desire in that true country of ours, from which we are now banished, but towards which we are each day drawing nigher, if, like Abraham, we are faithful in the various stations allotted us by our Lord. We are commanded to use this world as though we need it not,(3)-{1 Corinthians vii: 31} to have an abiding conviction of our not having here a lasting city (4)-{Hebrews xiii: 14} and of the misery and danger we incur when we forget that death is one day to separate us from every thing we possess in this life.

    How far from being true children of Abraham are those Christians who spend this and the two following days in intemperance and dissipation, because Lent is soon to be upon us! We can easily understand how the simple manners of our Catholic forefathers could keep a leave-taking of the ordinary way of living, which Lent was to interrupt, and reconcile their innocent carnival with Christian gravity; just as we can understand how their rigorous observance of the laws of the Church for Lent would inspire certain festive customs at Easter. Even in our own times, a joyous Shrovetide is not to be altogether reprobated, provided the Christian sentiment of the approaching holy season of Lent be strong enough to check the evil tendency of an innocent custom would be perverted, and the forethought of penance could in no sense be considered as the prompter of our joyous farewell to ease and comforts.

    While admitting all this, we would ask, what right or title have they to share in these Shrovetide rejoicings, whose Lent will pass and find them out of the Church, because they will not have complied with the precept of Easter Communion? And they, too, who claim dispensations from abstinence and fasting during Lent, and, for one reason or another, evade every penitential exercise during the solemn forty days of penance, And will find themselves at Easter as weighed down by the guilt and debt of their sins as they were on Ash Wednesday - what meaning, we would ask, can there possibly be in their feast-making at Shrovetide?

    Oh! That Christians would stand on their guard against such delusions as these, and gain that holy liberty of children of God,(1)-{Romans viii: 21} which consists in not being slaves to flesh and blood, and preserves man from moral degradation! Let them remember that we are now in that holy season, when the Church denies herself her songs of holy joy, in order the more forcibly to remind us that we are living in a Babylon of spiritual danger, and to excite us to regain that genuine Christian spirit, which everything in the world around us is quietly undermining. If the disciples of Christ are necessitated, by the position they hold in society, to take part in the profane amusements of these few days before Lent, let it be with a heart deeply imbued with the maxims of the Gospel. If, for example, they are obliged to listen to the music of theatres and concerts, let them imitate St. Cecilia, who thus sang, in her heart, in the midst of the excitement of worldly harmonies; 'May my heart, O God, be pure, and let me not be confounded!' Above all, let them not countenance certain dances, which the world is so eloquent in defending, because so evidently according to its own spirit; and therefore they who encourage they will be severely judged by Him, who has already pronounced woe upon the world. Lastly, let those who must go, on these days, and mingle in the company of worldlings, be guided by St. Francis of Sales, who advises them to think, from time to time, on such considerations as these: that while all these frivolous, and often dangerous, amusements are going on, there are countless souls being tormented in the fire of hell, on account of the sins they committed on similar occasions; that, at that very hour of the night, there are many holy religious depriving themselves of sleep in order to sing the divine praises and implore God's mercy upon the world, and upon them that are wasting their time in its vanities; that there are thousands in the agonies of death, while all that gaiety is going on; that God and His angels are attentively looking upon this thoughtless group and finally, that life is passing away, and death so much nearer each moment(1)-{Introduction to a Devout Life,' part iii. Chapter xxiii}.

    We grant that, on these three days immediately preceding the penitential season of Lent, some provision was necessary to be made for those countless souls, who seem scarce able to live without some excitement. The Church supplies this want. She gives a substitute for frivolous amusements and dangerous pleasures; and those of her children upon whom faith has not lost its influence, will find, in what she offers them, a feast surpassing all earthly enjoyments, and a means whereby to make amends to God for the insults offered to His divine Majesty during these days of carnival. The Lamb, that taketh away the sins of the world, is exposed upon our altars. Here, on this His throne of mercy, He receives the homage of them who come to adore Him, and acknowledge Him for their King; He accepts the repentance of those who come to tell Him how grieved they are at having ever followed any other master but Him; He offers Himself to His eternal Father for poor sinners, who not only treat His favors with indifference, but seem to have made a resolution to offend Him during these days more than at any other period of the year.

    It was the pious Cardinal Gabriel Paleotti, archbishop of Bologna, who first originated the admirable devotion of the Forty Hours. He was a contemporary of St. Charles Borromeo, and, like him, was eminent for his pastoral ZEAL. His object in this solemn Exposition of the most blessed Sacrament was to offer to the divine Majesty some compensation for the sins of men, and, at the very time when the world was busiest in deserving His anger, to appease it by the sight of His own Son, the Mediator between heaven and earth. St. Charles immediately introduced the devotion into his own diocese and province. This was in the sixteenth century. Later on, that is, in the eighteenth century, Prosper Lambertini was archbishop of Bologna; he zealously continued the pious design of his ancient predecessor, Paleotti, by encouraging his flock to devotion towards the blessed Sacrament during the three days of carnival; and when he was made Pope, under the name of Benedict XIV, he granted many Indulgences to all who, during these days, should visit our Lord in this mystery of His love, and should pray for the pardon of sinners. This favor was, at first, restricted to the faithful of the Papal States; but in the year 1765 it was extended, by Pope Clement XIII, to the universal Church. Thus, the Forty Hours' Devotion has spread throughout the whole world, and become one of the most solemn expressions of Catholic piety. Let us, then, who have the opportunity, profit by it during these last three days of our preparation for Lent. Let us, like Abraham, retire from the distracting dangers of the world, and seek the Lord our God. Let us go apart, for at least one short hour, from the dissipation of earthly enjoyments, and, kneeling in the presence of our Jesus, merit the grace to keep our hearts innocent and detached, whilst sharing in those we cannot avoid.(1)-{The Litanies for the Forty Hours are given at the end of this volume.}


Quinquagesima Sunday

    We will now resume our considerations upon the liturgy of Quinquagesima Sunday. (A HREF="http://www.DailyCatholic.org/issue/07Feb/feb18sun.htm">"Esto mihi in Deum") The passage of the Gospel selected by the Church, is that wherein our Savior foretells to His apostles the sufferings He was to undergo in Jerusalem. This solemn announcement prepares us for Passiontide. We ought to receive it with feeling and grateful hearts, and make it an additional motive for imitating the devoted Abraham, and giving our whole selves to our God. The ancient liturgists tells us that the blind man of Jericho spoken of in this same Gospel is a figure of those poor sinners, who, during these days, are blind to their Christian character, and rush into excesses, which even paganism, would have coveted. The blind man recovered his sight, because he was aware of his wretched state, and desired to be cured and to see. The Church wishes us to have a like desire, and she promises us that it shall be granted.

Sunday Mass Missa "Esto mihi in Deum"

    The station is in the church of St. Peter, on the Vatican. The choice was suggested, as we learn from the Abbot Rupert's 'Treatise on the Divine Offices,' by the lesson of the Law given to Moses, which was looked upon, by the early Christians of Rome, as a type of St. Peter. The Church having, since that time, substituted the vocation of Abraham for the passage from Exodus (which is now deferred till Lent), the station for this Sunday is still in the basilica of the prince of the apostles, who was prefigured also by Abraham, the father of believers.

    Lesson of the Epistle of Saint Paul the Apostle to the 1 Corinthians xiii: 1-13

    How appropriate for this Sunday is the magnificent eulogy of charity, here given by our apostle! This virtue, which comprises the love both of God and of our neighbor, is the light of our souls. Without charity, we are in darkness, and all our works are profitless. The very power of working miracles cannot give hope of salvation, unless he who does them have charity. Unless we are in charity, the most heroic acts of other virtues are but one snare more for our souls. Let us beseech our Lord to give us this light. But let us not forget that, however richly He may bless us with it here below, the fullness of its brightness is reserved for when we are in heaven; and that the sunniest day we can have in this world, is but darkness when compared with the splendor of our eternal charity. Faith will then give place, for we shall be face to face with all truth; hope will have no object for we shall possess all good; charity alone will continue, and, for this reason, is greater than faith and hope, which must needs accompany her in this present life. This being the glorious destiny reserved for man when redeemed and enlightened by Jesus, is it to be wondered at that we should leave all things, in order to follow such a Master? What should surprise us, and what proves how degraded is our nature by sin, is to see Christians, who have been baptized in this faith and this hope, and have received the first-fruits of this love, indulging during these days, in every sort of worldliness which is only the more dangerous because it is fashionable. It would seem as though they were making it their occupation to extinguish within their souls the last ray of heavenly light, like men that had made a covenant with darkness. If there is charity within our souls, it will make us feel these offences that are committed against our God, and inspire us to pray to Him to have mercy on these poor blind sinners, for they are our brethren.

    Sequel of the holy Gospel according to St. Luke xviii: 31-43.

    Jesus tells His apostles, that His bitter Passion is at hand; it is a mark of His confidence in them; but they understand not what He says. They are as yet too carnal-minded to appreciate our Savior's mission; still, they do not abandon Him; they love Him to much to think of separating from Him. Greater by far than this is the blindness of those false Christians, who, during these three days, not only do not think of the God who shed His Blood and died for them, but are striving to efface from their souls every trace of the divine image. Let us adore that sweet mercy, which has drawn us, as it did Abraham, from the midst of a sinful people; and let us, like the blind man of our Gospel, cry out to our Lord, beseeching Him to grant us an increase of His holy light. This was his prayer: Lord! That I may see! God has given us His light; but He gave it us in order to excite within us the desire of seeing more and more clearly. He promised Abraham, that He would show him the place He had destined for him; may He grant us, also, to see the land of the living! But our first prayer must be, that He shows us Himself, as St. Augustine has so beautifully expressed it, that we may love Him, and show us ourselves that we may cease to love ourselves.


Monday in Quinquagesima Week

    The life of a faithful Christian, like that of the patriarch Abraham, is neither more nor less than a courageous journeying onwards to the place destined for him by his Creator. He must put aside everything that could impede his progress, nor must he look back. This is, undoubtedly, hard doctrine; but if we reflect, for a moment, on the dangers which surround fallen man during his earthly pilgrimage, and on what our own sad experience has taught us, we shall not think it hard or strange, that our Savior has made the renouncing and denying of ourselves an essential condition of our salvation. But, independently of this, is it not far better to put our life under God's guidance, than to keep it in our own? Are we so wise or so strong, as to be able to guide ourselves? We may resist as we please, but God is our sovereign Lord and Master; and by giving us free-will, whereby we may either resist His will or follow it, He has not abdicated His own infinite rights to His creatures' obedience. Our refusal to obey would not make Him less our Master.

    Had Abraham, after receiving the divine call, chosen to remain in Chaldea, and refused to break up the home which God had bade him leave, God would then have selected some other man to be the patriarch of His chosen people, and father of that very family, which was to have the Messias as one of its children. This substitution of one for another in the order of grace is frequently forced upon divine justice; but what a terrible punishment it is for him that caused the substitution! When a soul refuses salvation, heaven does not therefore lose one of its elect: God, finding that He is despised by the one He called, offers the grace to another, until His call is followed.

    The Christian life consists in this untiring, unreserved obedience to God. The first effect of this spirit of submission is, that it takes the soul from the region of sin and death, wherein she was wasting away her existence; it takes her from the dark Chaldea, and places her in the promised land of light. Lest she should faint on her way along the narrow path, and fallen victim to the dangers which never leave her because they are within herself, God asks her for sacrifices, add these race her. Here, again, we have Abraham for our model. God loves him, and promises him the richest of blessings; He gives him a son, as pledge of the promise; and then, shortly after, tests the holy patriarch's devotedness, by commanding him to slay with his own hand this dear child, on whom he has been told to build his hopes!

    Man's path on earth is sacrifice. We cannot go out from evil except by the way of self-resistance, nor keep our footing on good ground but by constant combating. Let us imitate Abraham: fix our eyes steadfastly on the eternal hills, and consider this world as a mere passing dwelling, tent, put up for a few days. Our Jesus has said to us: 'I came not to send peace, but the sword; for I came to separate'(1)-{St. Matthew x: 34, 35} Separation, then, and trials are sure to be sent us; but we are equally sure that they are for our good, since they are sent us by Him who so loved us, that He became one of ourselves. But this same Jesus has also said: 'Where thy treasure is, there, too, is thy heart'(2)-{Ibid. vi. 21}. Christians! Can our treasure be in this wretched world? No it must be in that fair land above. There, then, must we be, in desire and affection.

    These are the thoughts the Church would have us meditate upon during these days, which immediately precede the forty of Lent. They will help to purify our hearts and make them long to be with their God. The noise of the world's sins and scandals reaches our ears: let us pray, that the kingdom of God may come to us and to those poor sinners; for God's infinite mercy can change THEM, IF He will, into children of Abraham. Not a day passes but He so changes many a sinner. He has, perhaps, shown that miracle of His mercy to us, and those words of the apostle may be applied to us: 'You, who some time were afar off, are now made nigh (to God) by the Blood of Christ'(1)- {Ephesians ii: 13}.


Shrove Tuesday in Quinquagesima Week

    The fundamental rule of Christian life is, as almost every page of the Gospel tells us, that we should live out of the world, separate ourselves from the world, hate the world. The world is that ungodly land which Abraham, our sublime model, is commanded by God to quit. It is that Babylon of our exile and captivity, where we are beset with dangers. The beloved disciple cries out to us: 'Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him.'(1)- {St. John ii. 15} Our most merciful Jesus, at the very time when He was about to offer Himself as a sacrifice for all men, spoke these words: 'I pray not for the world.'(2)- {Ibid. xvii: 9) When we were baptized, and were signed with the glorious and indelible and were signed with the glorious and indelible character of Christians, the condition required of us, and accepted, was that we should renounce the works and pomps of the world (which we expressed under the name of Satan); and this solemn baptismal promise we have often renewed.

    But what is the meaning of our promise to renounce the world? Is it that we cannot be Christians, unless we flee into the desert and separate ourselves from our fellow-creatures? Such cannot be God's will for all, since, in that same Scripture, wherein He commands us to flee from the world, He also tells us what are our duties to each other, and sanctions and blesses those ties which He Himself has willed should exist among us. His apostle, also, tells us to use this world as though we did not use it. (3)- {1 Corinthians vii: 31} It is not, therefore, forbidden us to live in, and to use the world. Then, what means this renouncing the world? Can there be contradiction in God's commandments? Is it possible that we are condemned to wander blindly on the brink of a precipice, into which we must at last inevitably fall?

    There is neither contradiction nor snare. If by the world, we mean these visible things around us which God created in His power and goodness; if we mean this outward world, which He made for His own glory and our benefit; it is worthy of it a ladder whereby our souls may ascend to their God. Let us gratefully use this world; go through it, without making it the object of our hope; not waste upon it that love, which God alone deserves; and ever be mindful, that we are not made for this, but for another and a happier, world.

    But the majority of men are not thus prudent in their use of the world. Their hearts are fixed upon it, and not upon Heaven. Hence it was, that when the Creator deigned to come into this world, in order that He might save it, the world knew Him not.(1)-{St. John I: 10} Men were called after the name of the object of their love. They shut their eyes to the light; they became darkness; God calls them 'the world.'

    In this sense, then, the world is everything that is opposed to our Lord Jesus Christ, that refuses to recognize Him, and that resists His divine guidance. Those false maxims which tend to weaken the love of God in our souls; which recommended the vanities that fasten our hearts to this present life; which cry down everything that can raise us above our weaknesses or vices; which decoy and gratify our corrupt nature by dangerous pleasures, which, far from helping us to the attainment of our last end, only mislead us-all these are 'the world.'

    This world is everywhere, and holds a secret league within our very hearts. Sin has brought it into this exterior world created by God for Himself, and has given it prominence. Now, we must conquer it, and trample upon it, or we shall perish with it. There is no being neutral; we must be its enemies, or its slaves. During these three days, its triumphs are fearful; and thousands of those who, at their Baptism, swore eternal enmity to it, are enrolling themselves its votaries. Let us pray for them; but let us also tremble for ourselves; and that our courage may not fail us, let us ponder those consoling words, which our Savior, at His last Supper, addressed to His eternal Father. He is speaking of His disciples, and He says: 'Father! I have given them Thy word, and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, as I also am not of the world. I pray not, that Thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldst keep them from evil'(1)- {St. John xvii: 14, 15}.


Ash Wednesday in Quinquagesima Week



    Quinquagesima Week
    LIVING IN TRADITION