The great season of preparation for Lent began on Septuagesima Sunday, Janaury 31, 2021. As is the case with many of the Uniat rites of the East, the calendar of the Roman Rite has a period of preparation prior to the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday today. Such a period of preparation has to be taken seriously. For above and beyond all of the tragic but necessary polemics of this moment in Church history, we have to remember that it will be impossible to build up the Social Kingship of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and Savior Jesus Christ in this passing vale of tears if we do not attempt to build up His Kingship and Lordship over us in every aspect of our daily lives.
It has been traditional practice of the Church over the centuries to impose under penalty of sin a number of penances. The Ember Days, replete with fasting and partial abstinence from meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays (total abstinence on Fridays, of course), were observed with a spirit of great solemnity.
To wit, it is still the practice of the Catholic Church in the catacombs that every day of Lent, except for Sundays, is a fast-day. Every day of Lent save for Sundays is a day of partial-abstinence from meat. The abandonment of such rigor in the counterfeit church of conciliarism, whose synthetic liturgy makes few references to a God Who judges our souls and to the possibility of our going to Hell for all eternity, has been disastrous for the good of souls and for the making of a solemn, penitential Lent in preparation for a joyous celebration of the fifty days of Easter.
That is, human beings are by their fallen natures sedentary and slothful. A life of ready luxury and physical pampering appeals to our desire to create a Paradise on earth. It is thus necessary for fallen man to be coerced into renouncing luxury and an inordinate concern for bodily comfort and pleasures by means of penances imposed by the power of the disciplinary authority of the Church. Human nature being what it is, you see, it is very necessary to mandate certain penances under penalty of sin as the first step in the direction of creating motives of love to deepen our desire to embrace our daily crosses and to be conscious at all times of our need to do penance and to live penitentially in reparation for our sins and for the sins of the whole world. The Catholic Church has always understood that the exercise of her disciplinary powers was an important, indeed, indispensable, means to help point earthbound souls in the direction of the pursuit of eternal glories.
Consider the words of Pope Leo XIII in Tametsi Futura Prospicientibus, November 1, 1900, containing a prophetic rebuke to those who would consider the relaxation of penances to be in the interests of the eternal salvation of souls:
It must therefore be clearly admitted that, in the life of a Christian, the intellect must be entirely subject to God’s authority. And if, in this submission of reason to authority, our self-love, which is so strong, is restrained and made to suffer, this only proves the necessity to a Christian of long-suffering not only in will but also in intellect. We would remind those persons of this truth who desire a kind of Christianity such as they themselves have devised, whose precepts should be very mild, much more indulgent towards human nature, and requiring little if any hardships to be borne. They do not properly under stand the meaning of faith and Christian precepts. They do not see that the Cross meets us everywhere, the model of our life, the eternal standard of all who wish to follow Christ in reality and not merely in name. (Pope Leo XIII, Tametsi Futura Prospicientibus, November 1, 1900.)
The season of Lent is supposed to unite us more fully to the Cross of the Divine Redeemer by spending forty days in a figurative desert of prayer, penance, self-denial, and almsgiving. None of us can possibly imagine what the least one of our Venial Sins caused Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to suffer in His Sacred Humanity during His Passion and his fearful death on the wood of the Holy Cross. No suffering we can endure, including that of the horrors of the counterfeit church of conciliarism, is the equal of what one of those least Venial Sins did to Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is thus very important for us to use the special season of penance that is Lent to become so detached from our sins and sinful inclinations that even the thought of sinning will be as repugnant to us as it was to the saints. Each of us has the obligation to try to scale the heights of sanctity by cooperating with the graces won for us by Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ on Calvary so as to have the highest place possible in Heaven next to that of the Blessed Mother herself, to whose Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart we must be totally consecrated.
Dom Prosper Gueranger. O.S.B., explained in The Liturgical Year that the time for our withdrawal the world and its attractions has come. Men grow lax in their devotions and their practices of voluntary penance, thus becoming lukewarm and prone to succumb to a veritable welter of temptations. It is for this reason that Holy Mother Church, knowing the weakness of our fallen human nature, requires us to engage in our nine week period of prayer, fasting and almsgiving in order to discipline the body and its senses as the means to bring our souls to delight more and more in the things of Heaven:
Yesterday, the world was busy in its pleasures, and the very children of God were taking a joyous farewell to mirth: but this morning, all is changed. The solemn announcement, spoken of by the prophet, has been proclaimed in Sion: the solemn fast of Lent, the season of expiation, the approach of the great anniversaries of our Redemption. Let us, then, rouse ourselves, and prepare for the spiritual combat.
But in this battling of the spirit against the flesh we need good armour. Our holy mother the Church knows how much we need it; and therefore does she summon us to enter into the house of Go, that she may arm us for the holy contest. What this armour is we know from St. Paul, who describes it: ‘Have your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of justice. And your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace. In all things, taking the shield of faith. Take unto you the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. The very prince of the apostles, too, addresses these solemn words to us: ‘Christ having suffered in the flesh, be ye also armed with the same thought.’ We are entering, to-day, upon a long campaign of the warfare spoken of by the apostates: forty days of battle, forty days of penance. We shall not turn cowards, if our souls can but be impressed with the conviction, that the battle and the penance must be gone through. Let us listen to the eloquence of the solemn rite which opens our Lent. Let us whither our mother leads us, that is, to the scene of the fall.
The enemies we have to fight with, are of two kinds: internal, and external. The first are our passions; the second are the devils. Both were brought on us by pride, and man’s pride began when he refused to obey his God. God forgave him his sin, but He punished him. The punishment was death, and this was the form of the divine sentence: ‘Thou art dust, and into dust thou shalt return.’ Oh that we had remembered this! The recollection of what we are and what we are to be, would have checked that haughty rebellion, which has so often led us to break the law of God. And if, for the time to come, we would persevere in loyalty to Him, we must humble ourselves, accept the sentence, and look on this present life as a path to the grave. The path may be long or short; but to the tomb it must lead us. Remembering this, we shall see all things in their true light. We shall love that God, who has deigned to set His heart on us notwithstanding our being creatures of death: we shall hate, with deepest contrition, the insolence and ingratitude, wherewith we have spent so many of our few days of life, that is, in sinning against our heavenly Father: and we shall be not only willing, but eager, to go through these days of penance, which He so mercifully gives us for making reparation to His offended justice.
This was the motive the Church had in enriching her liturgy with the solemn rite, at which we are to assist this morning. When, upwards of a thousand years ago, she decreed the anticipation of the Lenten fast by the last four days of Quinquagesima week, she instituted this impressive ceremony of signing the forehead of her children with ashes, while saying to them those awful words, wherewith God sentenced us to death: ‘Remember, O man, that thou are dust, and unto dust thou shalt return!’ But the making use of ashes as a symbol of humiliation and penance, is of a much earlier date than the institution to which we allude. We find frequent mention of it in the Old Testament. Job, though a Gentile, sprinkle his flesh with ashes, that, thus humbled, he might propitiate the divine mercy: and this was two thousand years before the coming of the coming of our Saviour. The royal prophet tells us of himself, that he mingled ashes with his bread, because of the divine anger and indignation. Many such examples are to be met in the sacred Scriptures; but so obvious is the analogy between the sinner who thus signifies his grief, and the object whereby he signifies it, that we reach such instances without surprise. When fallen man would humble himself before the divine justice, which has sentenced is body to return to dust, how could he more aptly express his contrite acceptance of the sentence, than by sprinkling himself, or his food, with ashes, which is the dust of wood consumed by fire? This earnest acknowledgement of his being himself but dust and ashes, is an act of humility, and humility ever gives him confidence in that God who resists the provide and pardons the humble.
It is probable that, when this ceremony of Wednesday in Quinquagesima week was first instituted, it was not intended for all the faithful, but only for such as had committed any of those crimes for which the Church inflicted public penance. Before the Mass of the day, they presented themselves at the church, where the people were all assembled. The priests received the confession of their sins, and then clothed them in sackcloth, and sprinkled ashes on their heads. After this ceremony, the clergy and the faithful prostrated, and recited aloud the seven Penitential Psalms. A process, in which the penitents walked barefooted, then followed; and on its return, the bishop addressed those words to the penitents: ‘Behold, we drive you from the doors of the church by reason of your sins and crimes, as Adam, the first man, was driven out of paradise because of his transgression.’ The clergy then sang several responsories, taken from the Book of Genesis, in which mention was made of the sentence pronounced by God when He condemned man to eat his bread in the sweat of his brow, for that the earth was cursed on account of sin. The doors were then shut, and the penitents were not to pass the threshold until Maundy Thursday, when they were to come and receive absolution.
Dating from the eleventh century, the discipline of public penance began to fall into disuse, and the holy rite of putting ashes on the heads of all the faithful indiscriminately became so general that, at length, it was considered as forming an essential part of the Roman liturgy. Formerly, it was the practice to approach bare-footed to receive the solemn memento of our nothingness; and in the twelfth century, even the Pope himself, when passing from the church of St. Anastasia to that of St. Sabina, at which the station was held, went the whole distance bare-footed, as did the Cardinals who accompanied him. The Church no longer requires this exterior penance; but she is as anxious as ever that the holy ceremony, at which we are about to assist, should produce in us the sentiments she intended to convey by it, when she first instituted it.
As we have just mentioned, the station in Rome is at St. Sabina on the Aventine Hill. It is under the patronage of the holy martyr that we open the penitential season of Lent. (Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year: Septuagesima, pp. 202-205.)
Dom Propser Gueranger also reminded us that the ashes that are administered by priests today is a sign of our death sentence. “Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.” Remember, O man, that thou art dust, and unto dust you shall return!”:
When the priest puts the holy emblem of penance upon you, accept in a spirit of submission, the sentence of death, which God Himself pronounces upon you: ‘Remember, O man, that thou art dust, and unto dust you shall return!” Humble yourself, and remember what it was that brought the punishment of death upon us; man wished to be as a god, and preferred his own will to that of his sovereign Master. Reflect, too, on that long list of sins which you have added to the sin of your first parents, and adore the mercy of your God, who asks only one death for all these your transgressions. (Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year: Septuagesimapp, 208-209.)
The lesson for Holy Mass today reminds us of the necessity of doing penance for our sins to satisfy God’s justice. We need to do penance to sanctify and thus to save our immortal souls, purchased as they have been the shedding of every single drop of the Most Precious Blood of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ during His Passion and Death on the wood of the Holy Cross on Good Friday:
Thus says the Lord: Return to Me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is He, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. Perhaps He will again relent and leave behind Him a blessing, offerings and libations for the Lord, your God. Blow the trumpet in Sion! proclaim a fast, call an assembly; gather the people, notify the congregation; assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast; let the bridegroom quit his room, and the bride her chamber. Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep, and say, ‘Spare, O Lord, Your people, and make not Your heritage a reproach, with the nations ruling over them! Why should they say among the peoples: Where is their God?’ Then the Lord was stirred to concern for His land and took pity on His people. The Lord answered and said to His people: See, I will send you grain, and wine, and oil, and you shall be filled with them; no more will I make you a reproach among the nations, say the Lord almighty. (Joel 2: 12-19.)
To this end, therefore, we must observe the traditional penitential practices of the Catholic Church.
Such practices remind Catholics of our need to withdraw from the activities of this passing world as much as our states in life will permit. Indeed, Catholics used to understand that all unnecessary and mirthful activities are inappropriate in Lent, actually serving to detract from its penitential character and from the way in which the Easter season of joy is to be distinguished from its forty days of prayer and penance.
In contemporary terms this means that as many legitimate pleasures (the quality and quantity of food, the partaking of moral means of entertainment, the watching and attending of sporting activities, unnecessary shopping, idle conversations, among many others) as possible should be avoided so as to discipline the soul and to demonstrate to God our desire to seek Him above all things in this passing vale of tears.
Our voluntary renunciation of these legitimate pleasures and activities during Lent will make them more pleasurable after Easter, to say nothing of reminding us that we strive after Heavenly glories that far surpass anything we might enjoy as members of the Church Militant. Indeed, one thing that should go out of our lives in this Lent, if it hasn’t already been tossed out, is the television. Toss it out. For good. Don’t ever turn back. And this is from a child of the 1950s and 1960s television. The saints did not need television. We don’t need television. Indeed, it is a hindrance to our sanctification and thus to our salvation. “Goodbye, Mister T.V.”
Dom Prosper Gueranger amplified on the fact that penance is not an option if we want to save our souls, and one cannot do penance if he is immersed in the world, especially during this holy season of Lent.This means, for instance, no "March Madness" for those who think that college basketball is important to follow and no Spring Training in baseball, one again, for those who think that the sport, many of whose teams celebrate perverse sins against nature with "pride nights," is something that God wants us to waste our time on at this last date of salvation history.
Sure, these are following fasts, but those who like such things will please God the more by giving them up during the entirety of Lent, yes, even to the point where they may never return to mere distractions that anesthetize the simple reality that around four thousand babies a day are being butchered by surgical means in the United States of America alone.
Although Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., saw the practice of penance falling into disuse in the middle of the Nineteenth Century, we know that the “Second” Vatican Council and its aftermath has eviscerated any true understanding of the constituent elements of Lenten penanances, which is why there are only two days of mandatory fast and total abstinence in the Protestant and Judeo-Masonic mockery of the Roman Rite, namely, today, Ash Wednesday, and Good Friday.
Here is what Dom Gueranger wrote by way of reflecting upon the lesson taken from the Book of the Prophet Joel:
We learn from this magnificent passage of the prophet Joel how acceptable to God is the expiation of fasting. When the penitent sinner inflicts corporal penance upon himself, God’s justice is appeased. We have a proof of it in the Ninivites. If the Almighty pardoned an infidel city, as Ninive was, solely because its inhabitants sought for mercy under the garb of penance; what will He not do in favour of His own people, who offer Him the two-fold sacrifice, exterior works of mortification, and true contrition of heart? Let us, then courageously enter on the path of penance. We are living in an age when, through want of faith and fear of God, these practices which are as ancient as Christianity itself, and on which we might almost say it was founded, are falling into disuse; it behooves us to be on our guard lest we, too, should imbibe the false principles, which have so fearfully weakened the Christian spirit. Let us never forget our own personal debt to the divine justice, which will remit neither our sins nor the punishment due to them, except inasmuch as we are ready to make satisfaction. We have just been told that these bodies, which we are so inclined to pamper, are but dust; and as to our souls, which we are so often tempted to sacrifice by indulging the flesh, they have claims upon the body, claims of both restitution and obedience. (Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year: Septuagesima, p. 213.)
The forty days of Lent remind us also that life involves repetitious cycles.
God led the Hebrews in circles in the desert for forty years to test their fidelity and gratitude to Him. In like manner, we, the people of the New and Eternal Covenant, which has superseded the Mosaic Covenant, are led in circles over and over again to test our fidelity and gratitude for all that we have been given, starting with the gift of the true Faith we received in the baptismal font. Like the Jews before us, we can grow weary as we journey through the desert of life to the Promised Land, although, unlike the Jews, we know that the Promised Land is Heaven, which has been made possible for us by the immolation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity made Man to the Father in Spirit and in Truth made on the Tree of Life that is the Holy Cross. Thus, we need to have periods of time in which our interior lives of prayer and penance are fortified and renewed so that we can continue the desert journey of life by being prepared at all times for the moment of our own Particular Judgments.
Six weeks is a long period, just about one-ninth of a year. It is not possible on our own power to keep a good Lent for that period of time. So many Lenten resolutions begin with such conviction on Ash Wednesday and dissipate gradually over the course of the ensuing weeks. A really good Lent, which is supposed to be intensified during Passion and Holy Weeks, is only possible by the graces won for us on Calvary by Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and that flow into our hearts and souls through the loving hands of Our Lady, the Mediatrix of All Graces and the Co-Redemptrix, who stood so valiantly at the foot of the Cross as her Immaculate Heart was pierced with the sword of sorrow that Simeon had prophesied at her Purification she would feel.
A Catholic devoted to the authentic liturgical tradition of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church knows full well how to make a good Lent. Knowing is one thing, doing is another. And, practically speaking, a Catholic who assists exclusively at the Immemorial Mass of Tradition (as it is offered by true priests who make not even one concession to the legitimacy of the conciliar officials wherever they may be found in the catacombs at this time) on a daily basis may be unable to do so, which itself is a penance that can be offered up to the Blessed Trinity through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. Those of us who are totally consecrated to Our Lord through Our Lady’s Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, obviously, give her the fruit of whatever merits we earn from our prayers and penances. Those Catholics, though, who are blessed to have the Mass of tradition available to them on a daily basis under the conditions described above should avail themselves of this great treasure as the first and most important part of a well-lived Lent.
Secondly, we are called to be more consistent in our spending time in prayer before Our Eucharistic King if His Real Presence is accessible in this time of apostasy and betrayal, that is. Spending time with Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’s Real Presence is an important part of Lent. We should make the time necessary to keep a prayerful vigil before Him, not knowing if this is the last Lent we will ever be privileged to experience in this mortal life.
Thirdly, our devotion to the Mother of God must be intensified during Lent. Many Catholics pray all fifteen decades of Our Lady’s Most Holy Rosary (it is sometimes the case that I can’t count beyond fifteen, thank you) each day during Lent. Our Lady remained close to her Divine Son even after He left her side to begin His Public Ministry. She is close to us.
Our Lady gave birth to Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ painlessly in Bethlehem, placing Him in the wood of the manger. She gave birth to us in great pain and sorrow at the foot of the Cross as adopted sons and daughters of God, watching our sins place her Divine Son on the wood of the Holy Cross, which has become for us the true manger from which we are fed His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in Holy Communion. We need Our Blessed Mother’s help and protection to make a good Lent. Our very visible wearing of the Miraculous Medal reminds others of the fact that they, too, have a Mother who stands ready to help them.
Consider these words, contained in Pope Leo XIII’s Iucunda Semper Expectatione, September 8, 1894:
In the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus is in an agony; in the judgment-hall, where He is scourged, crowned with thorns, condemned to death, not there do we find Mary. But she knew beforehand all these agonies; she knew and saw them. When she professed herself the handmaid of the Lord for the mother’s office, and when, at the foot of the altar, she offered up her whole self with her Child Jesus — then and thereafter she took her part in the laborious expiation made by her Son for the sins of the world. It is certain, therefore, that she suffered in the very depths of her soul with His most bitter sufferings and with His torments. Moreover, it was before the eyes of Mary that was to be finished the Divine Sacrifice for which she had borne and brought up the Victim. As we contemplate Him in the last and most piteous of those Mysteries, there stood by the Cross of Jesus His Mother, who, in a miracle of charity, so that she might receive us as her sons, offered generously to Divine Justice her own Son, and died in her heart with Him, stabbed with the sword of sorrow. (Pope Leo XIII, Iucunda Semper Expectatione, September 8, 1894.)
Fourthly, we should endeavor to make the Way of the Cross as frequently as we can. So many people do so daily during Lent. There are wonderful meditations to use without relying on recent innovations and improvisations. The meditations of Saint Alphonsus Liguori are among the best. The late John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote a very powerful set of meditations (Here are links to these meditations; one can ignore the invitation to read about the 1968 “rules” of indulgences: Cardinal Newman’s long meditations; 2. Cardinal Newman’s shorter meditations.) The discipline of making the Stations, especially on a daily basis, will help to unite us with the sense of fatigue and exhaustion we imposed upon Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ during His Passion and Death by means of our sins.
Fifthly, there is fasting. This was alluded to earlier in connection with the general sense we must have of abstaining from food and from other legitimate pleasures we enjoy so much. Self-denial and mortification are traditional Catholic practices that simply can’t be replaced merely by doing “something positive,” as so many conciliarist apologists urge upon Catholics who are still within their Modernist clutches. What these apostates don’t understand is that fasting is a positive decision made on the part of a Catholic to discipline his soul and prove his love for the Blessed Trinity. Indeed, the prayers of the Immemorial Mass of Tradition throughout the year–but especially during Lent–stress our need for external acts of penance as a means of proving our love for God and our detestation of sin. We should embrace such acts of penance with a ready spirit.
Today’s reading from the Gospel of Saint Matthew serves as a reminder to us erring sinners that we are not to be glum about our Lenten penances. We are to embrace them with true joy as show our gratitude to the Divine Redeemer for making it possible for us to save our souls by the merits of His own Passion, Death and Resurrection:
At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, who disfigure their face in order to appear to men as fasting. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But you, when you do fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father, Who is in secret; and your Father, Who sees in secret, will reward you. Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where rust and moth consume, and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither rust nor moth consumes, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. (Matthew 6: 16-21.)
Dom Prosper Gueranger's The Liturgical Year contains a brief reflection on this passage that reminds us not to seek after the glitter of a fickle, passing world:
Our Redeemer would not have us receive the announcement of the great fast as one of sadness and melancholy. The Christian who understands what a dangerous thing it is to be behindhand with divine justice, welcomes the season of Lent with joy; it consoles him. He knows that if he be faithful in observing what the Church prescribes, his debt will be less heavy upon him. These penances, these satisfactions (which the indulgences of the Church has rendered so easy), being offered to God, unitedly with those of our Saviour Himself, and being rendered fruitful by that holy fellowship which blends into one common propitiatory sacrifice the good works of all the members of the Church militant, will purify our souls and make them worthy to partake in the grand Easter joy. Let us not, then, be sad, because we are to fast; let us be sad only because we have sinned and made fasting a necessity. In this same Gospel our Redeemer gives us a second counsel, which the Church will often bring before us during the whole course of Lent: it is that of joining almsdeeds with our fasting. He bids us to lay up treasures in heaven. For this we need intercessors; let us seek them among the poor. ((Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year: Septuagesima, pp. 215-216.)
This theme is amplified in the readings for Matins in today's Divine Office:
It is evident that by these precepts we are bidden to seek for inner gladness, lest, by running after that reward which is without, we should become conformed to the fashion of this world, and should so lose the promise of that blessing which is all the truer and more stable that it is inward, that blessing wherein God hath chosen us to be conformed to the likeness of His Son. In this chapter we will principally consider the fact that vain-glory findeth a ground for its exercise in struggling poverty as much as in worldly distinction and display; and this development is the most dangerous, because it entices under pretence of being the serving of God.
He that is characterised by unbridled indulgence in luxury or in dress, or any other display, is by these very things easily shown to be a follower of worldly vanities, and deceiveth no one by putting on an hypocritical mask of godliness. But those professors of Christianity, who turn all eyes on themselves by an eccentric show of grovelling and dirtiness, not suffered by necessity, but by their own choice, of them we must judge by their other works whether their conduct really proceedeth from the desire of mortification by giving up unnecessary comfort, or is only the mean of some ambition the Lord biddeth us beware of wolves in sheep's clothing, but by their fruits, saith He, ye shall know them.
The test is when, by divers trials, such persons lose those things which under the cover of seeming unworldliness they have either gained or sought to gain. Then must it needs appear whether they be wolves in sheep's clothing, or indeed sheep in their own. But that hypocrites do the contrary maketh it no duty of a Christian to shine before the eyes of men with a display of needless luxury the sheep need not to lay aside their own clothing because wolves sometimes falsely assume it. (Saint Augustine, Sermons on the Sermon on the Mount, as found in Matins, Divine Office, Ash Wednesday.)
There are many other aspects to a good Lent, including almsgiving. However, I want to spend a few moments discussing the importance of the Sacrament of Penance.
Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ instituted the Sacrament of Penance following His Resurrection. He gave the Apostles the power to forgive and to retain sins. How Protestants get around that passage in the Gospel of Saint John is truly mystifying. We know that we have to confess the kind and the number of each mortal sin, if any, God forbid, committed since our last confession. The normal way for the forgiveness of all mortal sins committed after baptism is auricular confession.
We must go on our knees to an alter Christus in the confessional, which can be viewed as the hospital of Divine Mercy. Although a sinner himself, a priest has been given the power by virtue of his ordination to be an administrator of the sacraments, including the Sacrament of Penance. Acting in the person of Christ the High Priest, a priest must ascertain the completeness and sincerity of a penitent’s confession, assuring himself that the sinner is committed at that moment of the confession to amend his life and to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin. He says the words of absolution restoring a soul once more to a state of sanctifying grace. Auricular confession demonstrates our humility by being willing to prostrate ourselves to make a good confession before one who has been appointed by Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ Himself to take good care of our souls unto eternity. It is a great grace to be able to hear, as the nature of man requires, that we are forgiven from one who has authority from on high to forgive.
A wide array of saints have ratified over the years the wisdom of Holy Mother Church’s desire that we need go to confession regularly. Even a devotional confession, wherein we confess venial sins, shows our desire to make a good examination of conscience in order to receive the supernatural helps provided in the Sacrament of Penance to soar to the heights of spiritual perfection. Some saints went to confession every day of their lives, especially as they became more conscious of the horror of venial sins in their own lives, no less what they did, as I noted earlier, to Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in His Passion and Death. The devotional confessions we make in Lent are particularly pleasing to Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as they are demonstrative of our desire to obey His law, observe the precepts of the Church, and strive to cooperate more fully with the graces sent to us to sanctify every moment of our lives, especially to embrace the sufferings that come our way.
It is important to remember in this regard that the penance we are given by a priest to perform as the condition of our absolution is only part of the life of penance we are called to in this life, most particularly in Lent. Most of the time the penances we are asked to bear are nothing extraordinary. They might involve getting up out of bed when we would prefer to go back to sleep. They might be as simple as just fulfilling the tasks and duties of our states-in-life. They could be as ordinary as seeing in a stubbed toe an opportunity to thank Our Lady for the chance to once again be reminded of all of the sufferings of her Divine Son. A good confession, therefore, can cleanse us so much that we are more willing, as one of the prayers in the Miraculous Medal Novena reminds us, to recover by penance what we have lost by sin, thus enlightening our intellects and strengthening our wills to be ready for more crosses and to bear a witness to Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ that is more consistent in zeal for souls founded in truth and authentic charity:
Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ Jesus and Our Mother, penetrated with the most lively confidence in Thine all-powerful and ever-failing intercession, manifested so often through the Miraculous Medal, we Thy loving and trustful children implore Tee to obtain for us the graces and favors we ask during this novena, if they be beneficial to our immortal souls, and the souls for whom we pray.
(Mention your petition)
You know, O Mary, how often our souls have been the sanctuaries of Thy Son who hates iniquity. Obtain for us then a deep hatred of sin and that purity of heart which will attach us to God alone so that our every thought, word and deed may tend to His greater glory. Obtain for us also a spirit of prayer and self-denial that we may recover by penance what we have lost by sin and at length attain to that blessed abode where Thou art the Queen of angels and of men. Amen.
Indeed, charity itself is such an essential part of Lent. We are sinners. We are the beneficiaries of a mercy we do not merit, from Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ Himself, flowing so freely from His Sacred Heart through His Wounded Side and into our souls through the hands of Our Lady. As beneficiaries of this ineffable Divine Mercy, we have the obligation to bestow that mercy upon those who transgress against us. Et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. (“And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.) We must forgive those who sin against us.” This is an imperative. There is no exception. As the late Father John A. Hardon, S.J., noted in 1997, “God permits us to sin so that we can forgive each other. Let me repeat myself: God permits us to sin so that we can forgive each other.”
Fallen human nature inclines to nurture hurts, both real and imagined. We want others to forgive us when we hurt them while at the same time we might tend to be niggardly in the forgiveness we offer those who hurt us. However, Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is very clear: “My Father will treat you in exactly the same way if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
This does not mean that we have to restore a person to friendship or that we cannot seek justice be administered to one responsible for a particularly heinous act.
This does mean, though, that we must forgive as we are forgiven, making it a point to pray for a person who has hurt us. Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ really did mean it when He taught us in the Sermon on the Mount to pray for our enemies. Even though we can offer forgiveness to another, we might never be fully reconciled to that person until the Last Day, if, that is, each of us dies in a state of sanctifying grace. No disagreement or quarrel in this life will matter to the elect who have forgiven as they have been forgiven. Conversely, those who have persisted in mercilessness and hardness of heart, those who seek to “settle scores” or to nurture grudges over being criticized and slighted or having their “expertise” doubted, will be tortured in Hell for all eternity as a result of their by their unwillingness to forgive.
It was Saint Stephen’s prayers from eternity that converted Saul of Tarsus. A fundamental exercise of charity, which wills the good of others (the ultimate expression of which is the conversion of all people to the true Faith and the salvation of their souls), is to pray for those who misunderstand us, reject us, refuse to communicate with us, or acknowledge us, or who go out of their way to attack us. Once again, none of this matters if we and they die in states of grace. This is especially true for those of us who have been given the grace of embracing the fullness of Catholic Tradition without compromise. We can never despise those who call us names or believe that we have entered into schism. We must always be charitable towards others, no matter our real disagreements with them, and we must always pray for the needs of those who will not understand our words and actions until the Last Day the General Judgment of the Living and the Dead.
Consider the words of Father Edward Leen, found in his masterful In the Likeness of Christ:
With the exception of that comparatively small number of heroic men and women who have, from the dawn of consciousness, pursued unfalteringly the path of perfection, Christians as a rule belie the promises of their baptism and continually present obstacles to the increase of divine grace in their souls. Differing in many respects, we are alike in this, that we are all sinners, and that we have not only once, but perhaps several times in our lives disappointed God.
Under the reign of Satan men were hard and unfeeling, without pity or tenderness. The one thing they looked up to was the physical power to dominate, and the one thing they feared was the helplessness of poverty. Their life was divided between pleasure and cruelty. Pride and haughtiness instead of being regarded as defects were regarded as manly virtues. Weakness was almost synonymous with vice, and all this tended to fashion hearts imperverious to the grace of God and to every human feeling. Conversion of heart was for them extremely difficult. What God required on the part of man as a necessary condition of their friendship with Him was to them abhorrent, for the practice of the Christian virtues of submission, humility, and patience would be regarded by them as degrading. They had to learn that what was not degrading to God–since nothing could degrade Him in reality–could not be degrading to them. Turning to God postulated on their part not only a change of heart, but also a change of mentality. Their human values were almost all wrong. In the terse words of St. Ignatius describing the pagan world” “They smite, they slay and they go down to Hell”.
In other words, it is the law of things as they actually are that we must continually suffer from others; it is the condition of our being that we shall be the victims of others’ abuse of their free wills; it belongs to our position that our desires and inclinations should be continually thwarted and that we should be at the mercy of circumstances. And it is our duty to bear that without resentment and without rebellion. To rebel is to assert practically that such things are not our due, that they do not belong to our position. It is to refuse to recognize that we are fallen members of a fallen race. The moment we feel resentment at anything painful that happens to us through the activity of men or things, at that moment we are resentful against God’s Providence.
We are in this really protesting against His eternal determination to create free beings; for these sufferings which we endure are a consequence of the carrying into effect of that free determination. If we expect or look for a mode of existence in which we shall not endure harshness, unkindness, misunderstanding, and injustice, we are actually rebelling against God’s Providence, we are claiming a position that does not belong to us as creatures. This is to sin against humility. It is pride. (Father Edward Leen, In The Likeness of Christ, Sheed and Ward, 1936, pp, 17-18; 182-183.)
Why do we think that we are exception to having to suffer from others?
We must be content to be humiliated before men and to rejoice in this fact, recognizing that the good, the bad and the ugly of each of our lives will be revealed for all men to see on the Last Day at the General Judgment of the living and the dead. No Catholic who takes the Cross of the Divine Redeemer broods over injuries, gets depressed or scours the internet the find out who is saying what about him. Who cares? It is enough to try to please Christ the King as He has revealed Himself to us exclusively through His true Church. It is enough to beg Our Lady, she who is the Queen of Mercy, to pray for us now, and at the hour of death. We should pray to be humiliated before men as this is truly the imitation of Christ the King, Who was humiliated by us, His own creatures, as He was about to redeem us by the shedding of every single drop of His Most Precious Blood on the wood of the Holy Cross.
Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is so merciful to us erring sinners. He gives us just the number of years of life to make it possible for us to “get it” insofar as the interior life of the soul is concerned. No matter how well we might have lived the Lents of the past, we are called to do better and better with each passing year. Remembering that we are dust and to dust we shall go, therefore, we pray to Our Lady, especially through her Most Holy Rosary, to help us, whose bodies are destined temporarily for the corruption of the grave until the General Resurrection of the dead on the Last Day, to be serious about this particular Lent, aiming for the glories of an unending Easter Sunday of glory in Paradise that await us if we remain faithful to end.
Let us enter into the desert as we try by God’s graces and Our Lady’s intercession to “tame the beast” and emerge from our desert journey truly united to Christ, despising the world and its allurements, seeking only to gain possession of the Beatific Vision of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost for all eternity.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.
Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.
Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.
Saint John the Evangelist, pray for us.
Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Gabriel the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Raphael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saints Joachim and Anne, pray for us.
Saints Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, pray for us.