Reflections for Quinquagesima Sunday

By

Abbe Dom Prosper Gueranger

      As taken from The Liturgical Year


    The Meaning of 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. ("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.

        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.



Reflections for Quinquagesima Sunday