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The Seventeenth Week after Pentecost

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

The Gospel, which is now assigned to the Mass of the seventeenth Sunday, has given it the name of the Sunday of the love of God, dating, that is, from the time when the Gospel of the cure of the dropsy and of the invitation to the wedding-feast was anticipated by eight days. Previously even to that change, and from the very first, there used to be read, on this seventeenth Sunday, another passage from the new Testament, which is no longer found in this series of Sundays: it was the Gospel which mentions the difficulty regarding the resurrection of the dead, which the Sadducees proposed to our Lord.[1]

 

MASS

 

The judgments of God are always just, whether it be, in His justice, humbling the proud, or, in His mercy, exalting the humble. This day last week we saw this sovereign disposer of all things, allotting to each his place at the divine banquet. Let us recall to mind the behaviour of the guests, and the respective treatment shown to the humble and the proud. Adoring these judgments of our Lord, let us sing our Introit; and, as far as regards ourselves, let us throw ourselves entirely upon His mercy.

Introit

Justus es, Domine, et rectum judicium tuum : fac cum servo tuo secundum misericordiam tuam.

Ps. Beati immaculati in via : qui ambulant in lege Domini. Gloria Patri. Justus es.
Thou art just, O Lord, and thy judgment is right; deal with thy servant according to thy mercy.

Ps. Blessed are the undefiled in the way : who walk in the law of the Lord. Glory, etc. Thou.

The most hateful of all the obstacles which divine love has to encounter upon earth is the jealousy of satan, who endeavours, by an impious usurpation, to rob God of the possession of our souls—souls, that is, which were created by and for Him alone. Let us unite with holy Church in praying, in the Collect, for the supernatural assistance we require for avoiding the foul contact of the hideous serpent.

Collect

Da, quæsumus Domine, populo tuo diabolica vitare contagia : et te solum Deum pura mente sectari. Per Dominum.

Grant, we beseech thee, O Lord, that thy people may avoid all the contagions of the devil; and, with a pure mind, follow thee, who alone art God. Through, etc.


The other Collects, as on page 120.


Epistle

Lectio Epistolæ beati Pauli Apostoli ad Ephesios.

Cap. iv.

Fratres, Obsecro vos ego vinctus in Domino, ut digne ambuletis vocatione, qua vocati estis, cum omni humilitate, et mansuetudine, cum patientia, supportantes invicem in charitate, solliciti servare unitatem spiritus in vinculo pacis. Unum corpus, et unus Spiritus, sicut vocati estis in una spe vocationis vestræ. Unus Dominus, una fides, unum baptisma. Unus Deus et Pater omnium, qui est super omnes, et per omnia, et in omnibus nobis. Qui est benedictus in sæcula sæculorum. Amen.

Lesson of the Epistle of St. Paul, the Apostle, to the Ephesians.

Ch. iv.

Brethren: I, a prisoner in the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation in which you are called, with all humility and mildness, with patience, supporting one another in charity. Careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. One body and one spirit; as you are called in one hope of your calling. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God, and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all, who is blessed for ever and ever. Amen.


The Church, by thus giving these words from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, again takes up the subject so dear to her, viz., the dignity of her children. She beseeches them to correspond, in a becoming manner, to their high vocation. This vocation, this call, which God gives us is, as we have been so often told, the call, or invitation, made to the human family to come to the sacred nuptials of divine union; it is the vocation given to us to reign in heaven with the Word, who has made Himself our Spouse, and our Head.[2] The Gospel read to us last week was formerly the one appointed for this present Sunday, and was thus brought into close connexion with our Epistle. These words of St. Paul to the Ephesians are an admirable commentary on that Gospel, and it, in turn, throws light on the apostle’s words about the vocation. ‘When thou art invited to a wedding (cum vocatus fueris) sit down in the lowest place!’ These were our Lord’s words to us last Sunday; and now we have the apostle saying to us : Walk worthy of the vocation in which you are called, yes, walk in that vocation with all humility!

Let us now attentively hearken to our apostle, telling us what we must do, in order to prove ourselves worthy of the high honour offered to us by the Son of God. We must practise, among other virtues, these three—humility, mildness, and patience. These are the means for gaining the end that is so generously proposed to us. And what is this end? It is the unity of that immense body, which the Son of God makes His own, by the mystic nuptials He vouchsafes to celebrate with our human nature. This Man-God asks one condition from those whom He calls, whom He invites, to become, through the Church, His bride, bone of His bones and flesh of His flesh.[3] This one condition is, that they maintain such harmony among them, that it will make one bodyand one spirit of them all, in the bond of peace. ‘Bond most glorious!’ cries out St. John Chrysostom—‘bond most admirable, which unites us all with one another, and then, thus united, unites us with God.’[4] The strength of this bond is the strength of the holy Spirit Himself, who is all holiness and love; for it is that holy Spirit who forms these spiritual and divine ties; He it is who, with the countless multitude of the baptized, does the work which the soul does in the human body— that is, gives it life, and unites all the members into oneness of person. It is by the Holy Ghost that young and old, poor and rich, men and women, distinct as all these are in other respects, are made one, fused, so to say, in the fire which eternally burns in the blessed Trinity. But, in order that the flame of infinite love may thus draw into its embrace our regenerated humanity, we must get rid of selfish rivalries, and grudges, and dissensions, which, so long as they exist among us, prove us to be carnal,[5] and, therefore, to be unfit material either for the divine flame to touch, or for the union which that flame produces. According to the beautiful comparison of St. John

Chrysostom,[6] when the fire lays hold of various species of wood which have been thrown into it, if it find the fuel properly dry, it makes one burning pile of all the several woods; but, if they are damp and wet, it cannot act on them separately, nor reduce the whole to one common blaze. So is it in the spiritual order; the unhealthy humidity of the passions neutralizes the action of the sanctifying Spirit; and union, which is both the means and the end of love, becomes an impossibility.

Let us, therefore, bind ourselves to our brethren by that blessed link of charity, which, if it fetters at all, fetters only our bad tempers; but, in all other respects, it dilates our hearts, by the very fact of its giving free scope to the Holy Ghost to lead them safely to the realization of that one hope of our common vocation and calling, which is to unite us to God by love. Of course, charity, even with the saints, is, so long as they are on this earth, a laborious virtue; because, even with the best, grace seldom restores to a perfect equilibrium the faculties of man, which were put out of order by original sin. From this it follows that the weaknesses of human nature will sometimes show themselves, either by excess or by deficiency; and when these weaknesses do appear, not only the saint himself is humbled by their getting the better of him, but, as he is well aware, those who live with him have to practise kindness and patience towards him. God permits all this, in order to increase the merit of us all, and make us long more and more for heaven. For it is there alone that we shall find ourselves, not only totally, but without any effort, in perfect harmony with our fellow-men; and this because of the perfect peaceful submissiveness of our entire being under the absolute sway of the thrice holy God, who will then be all in all.[7]In that happy land God Himself will wipe away the tears of His elect, for their miseries will all be gone; and their miseries will be gone because their whole being will be renovated, because united with Him, who is its infinite source.[8] The eternal Son of God, having then conquered in each member of His mystical body the hostile powers and death itself,[9]will appear, in the fullness of the mystery of His Incarnation, as the true Head of humanity, sanctified, restored,[10] and developed in Him. He will rejoice at seeing how, by the workings of the sanctifying Spirit, there has been wrought the destined degree of perfection in each of the several parts of that marvellous body,[11] which He vouchsafed to aggregate to Himself by the bond of love; and all this in order that He might Himself eternally celebrate, in concert with all creation, the glory of the ever adorable Trinity. How will the sweetest music of earth be then surpassed! How will our most perfect choirs seem to us then to have been almost like the noise of children singing out of tune, compared with the concord and harmony of that eternal song! Let us make ourselves ready for that heavenly concert. Let us put our voices in order, by now attuning our hearts to that plenitude of love, which, alas! is not often enjoyed here below, but which we should ever be trying to realize, by patiently supporting the faults of our brethren and ourselves, as the Epistle so earnestly impresses upon us.

In the ecstasy of her delight at hearing these few sounds of heaven’s music brought to her by such a singer as her apostle, our mother the Church seems to feel herself carried away far beyond time, and boldly joins a short song of her own to that of Jesus and His apostle; for by way of a conclusion to the text of our Epistle, she adds an ardent expression of praise, which is not in the original; and thus she forms a kind of doxology to the inspired words of her apostolic cantor.

We now know the priceless gifts brought to our earth by the Man-God. [12] Thanks to the prodigies of power and love achieved by the divine Word and the sanctifying Spirit, the soul of the just man is a little heaven on earth. Let us sing in our Gradual and Alleluia the happiness of the Christian people, chosen by God for His own inheritance.

Gradual

Beata gens, cujus est Dominus Deus eorum : populus, quem elegit Dominus in hæreditatem sibi.

V. Verbo Domini cœli firmati sunt : et spiritu oris ejus omnis virtus eorum. Alleluia, alleluia.

V. Domine, exaudi orationem meam : et clamor meus ad te perveniat. Alleluia.

Blessed is the nation that hath the Lord for its God : the people whom he hath chosen for his inheritance.

V. By the word of the Lord, and the breath of his mouth, were the heavens formed, and the whole host thereof. Alleluia, alleluia.

V. O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come unto thee. Alleluia.


Gospel

Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Matthæum.

Cap. xxii. 

In illo tempore : Accesserunt ad Jesum Pharisæi, et interrogavit eum unus ex eis legis doctor, tentans eum : Magister, quod est mandatum magnum in lege? Ait illi Jesus : Diliges Dominum Deum tuum ex toto corde tuo, et in tota anima tua, et in tota mente tua. Hoc est maximum, et primum mandatum. Secundum autem simile est huic : Diliges proximum tuum sicut teipsum. In his duobus mandatis universa lex pendet, et prophetæ. Congregatia autem Pharisæis, interrogavit eos Jesus, dicens : Quid vobis videtur de Christo? cujus filius est? Dicunt ei : David. Ait illis: Quomodo ergo David in spiritu vocat eum Dominum, dicens : Dixit Dominus Domino meo : Sede a dextris meis, donec ponam inimicos tuos scabellum pedum tuorum? Si ergo David vocat eum Dominum, quomodo filius ejus est? Et nemo poterat ei responded verbum; neque ausus fuit quisquam ex illa die eum amplius interrogare.

Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Matthew.

Ch. xxii.

At that time : The Pharisees came to Jesus: and one of them, a doctor of the law, asked him, tempting him: Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said to him : Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets. And the Pharisees being gathered together, Jesus asked them saying: What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say to him: David’s. He saith to them : How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying : The Lord said to my Lord, Sit on my right hand, until I make thy enemies thy footstool? If David then called him Lord, how is he his son? And no man was able to answer him a word; neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.


The Man-God allowed temptation to approach His sacred Person in the desert;[13] He disdained not to sustain the attacks, which the devil’s spiteful cunning has, from the world’s beginning, been inventing, as the surest means of working man’s perdition. Our Jesus permitted the demon thus to tempt Him, in order that He might show His faithful servants how they are to repel the assaults of the wicked spirit. To-day, our adorable Master, who would be a model to His children in all their trials,[14] is represented to us as having to contend, not with satan’s perfidy, but with the hypocrisy of His bitterest enemies, the pharisees. They seek to ensnare Him in His speech,[15] just as the representatives of the world, which He has condemned,[16] will do to His Church, and that in all ages, right to the end of time. But as her divine Spouse triumphed, so will she; for He will enable her to continue His work upon earth, and amidst the same temptations and the same snares. She is ever to obtain the victory, by maintaining a most inviolable fidelity to God’s law and truth. The tools of satan, who are the heretics and the princes of the world, chafing at the restraint put by Christianity on their ambition and lust, will always be studying how best to outwit the guardian of the divine oracles, by their captious propositions or questions. When necessity requires her to speak, she is quite ready; for, as bride of that divine Word, who is His Father’s eternal and substantial utterance, what can she be but a voice, either to announce Him on earth, or to sing Him in heaven? That word of hers, endowed as it is with the power and penetration of God Himself, will not only never be conquered by surprise, but, like a two-edged sword, it will generally go much deeper than the crafty questioners of the Church anticipated; it will not only refute their sophistry, it will also expose the hypocrisy and wickedness of their intentions.[17] By their sacrilegious attempts, they will have gained nothing but disgrace and shame, and the mortification of having occasioned a fresh lustre to truth by the new light in which it has been put, and of having procured a clearer knowledge of dogma or morals for the devoted children of the Church.

It was thus with the pharisees of to-day’s Gospel. As the homily upon it tells us, they wanted to see if Jesus, who had declared Himself to be God, would not, consequently, make some addition to the commandment of divine love; and if He did they would be justified in condemning Him as having tried to change the letter of the law in its greatest commandment.[18] Our Lord disappointed them. He met their question by giving it a longer answer than they had asked for. Having first recited the text of the great commandment as given in the Scripture, he continued the quotation, and, by so doing, showed them that He was not ignorant of the intention which had induced them to question Him. He reminded them of the second commandment, like unto the first, the commandment of love of our neighbour, which condemned their intended crime of deicide. Thus were they convicted of loving neither their neighbour, nor God Himself, for the firstcommandment cannot be observed if the second, which flows from and completes it, be broken.

But our Lord does not stop there; He obliges them to acknowledge, at least implicitly, the Divinity of the Messiah. He puts a question, in His turn, to them, and they answer it by saying, as they were obliged to do, that the Christ was to be of the family of David; but if He be his Son, how comes it that David calls Him his Lord, just as he calls God Himself, as we have it in Psalm cix., where he celebrates the glories of the Messiah? The only possible explanation is, that the Messiah, who in due time, and as Man, was to be born of David’s house, was God, and Son of God, even before time existed, according to the same psalm: ‘From my womb, before the day-star, I begot thee.’[19] This answer would have condemned the pharisees, so they refused to give it; but their silence was an avowal; and, before very long, the eternal Father’s vengeance upon these vile enemies of His Son will fulfil the prophecy of making them His footstool in blood and shame: that time is to be the terrible day when the justice of God will fall upon the deicide city.

Let us Christians, out of contempt for satan, who stirred up the expiring Synagogue thus to lay snares for the Son of God, turn these efforts of hatred into an instruction which will warm up our love. The Jews, by rejecting Christ Jesus, sinned against both of the commandments which constitute charity, and embody the whole law; and we, on the contrary, by loving that same Jesus, fulfil the whole law.

Jesus is the brightness of eternal glory,[20] one, by nature, with the Father and the Holy Ghost; He is the God whom the first commandment bids us love, and it is in Him also that the second has its truest and adequate application. For not only is He as truly Man as He is truly God, but He is the Man par excellence,[21] the perfect Man, on whose type, and for whom, all other men were formed;[22] He is the model and the brother of all of them;[23] He is at the same time the leader who governs them as their King,[24] and offers them to God as their High Priest;[25] He is the Head who communicates to all the members of the human family beauty, and life, and movement, and light; He is the Redeemer of that human family since it has fallen, and on that account He is twice over the source of all right, and the ultimate and highest motive, even when not the direct object, of every love that deserves to be called love here below. Nothing counts with God, excepting so far as it has reference to Jesus. As St. Augustine says,[26]God loves men only inasmuch as they either are, or may one day become, members of His Son; it is His Son that He loves in them; thus He loves, with one same love though not equally, His Word, and the Flesh of His Word, and the members of His Incarnate Word. Now, charity is love—love such as it is in God, communicated to us creatures by the Holy Ghost. Therefore, what we should love, by charity, both in ourselves, and in others, is the divine Word, either as being, or, according to another expression of the same St. Augustine, ‘that He may be,’ in others and in ourselves.[27]

Let us take care, also, as a consequence of this same truth, not to exclude any human being from our love, excepting the damned, who are absolutely and eternally cut off from the body of the Man-God. Who can boast that he has the charity of Christ if he do not embrace His unity? The question is St. Augustine’s again.[28] Who can love Christ, without loving, with Him, the Church, which is His body? without loving all His members? What we do—be it to the least, or be it to the worthiest, be it of evil, or of good—it is to Him we do it, for He tells us so.[29] Then, let us love our neighbour as ourselves, because of Christ, who is in each of us, and who gives to us all union and increase in charity.[30]

That same apostle who says, 'The end of the law is charity,’[31] says also: ‘The end of the law is Christ;’[32] and we now see the harmony existing between these two distinct propositions. We understand, also, the connexion there is between the word of the Gospel: On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets, and that other saying of our Lord: Search the Scriptures, for the same are they that give testimony of Me.[33] The fullness of the law, which is the rule of men’s conduct, is in charity,[34] of which Christ is the end; just as the object of the revealed Scriptures is no other than the Man-God, who embodies in His own adorable unity, for us His followers, all moral teaching, and all dogma. He is our faith and our love, ‘the end of all our resolutions,’ says St. Augustine; 'for all our efforts tend but to this—to perfect ourselves in Him; and this is our perfection —to reach Him: having reached Him, seek no farther, for He is your End.’[35]The holy Doctor gives us, when we have reached this point, the best instruction as to how we are to live in the divine union: 'Let us cling to One, let us enjoy One, let us all be one in Him; hcereamus Uni, fruamur Uno, permaneamus unum'[36]

The beautiful anthem for to-day’s Offertory, separated, as we now have it, from the verses which formerly accompanied it, does not suggest why, in the earliest ages, it was assigned to this Sunday. We subjoin these verses to the anthem, which has been retained. The second concludes with the announcement of the arrival of the prince of the heavenly hosts, who is coming to the aid of God’s people. This gives the desired explanation; and it becomes all the clearer, when we remember that this Sunday begins the week of the great archangel in the antiphonary published, from the most ancient manuscripts, by the blessed Thomasi; and that the following Sunday is there designated as the first Sunday after Saint Michael (post Sancti Angeli).

Offertory

Oravi Deum meum ego Daniel, dicens : Exaudi, Domine, preces servi tui : illumina faciem tuam super sanctuarium tuum : et propitius intende populum istum, super quem invocatum est nomen tuum, Deus.

V. I. Adhuc me loquente et orante, et narrante peccata mea, et delicta populi mei Israel. Super quem.

V. II. Audivi vocem dicentem mihi : Daniel, intellige verba quæ loquor Ubi; quia ego missus sum ad te; nam et Michael venit in adjutorium meum.

Et propitius intende.

I Daniel prayed unto my God, saying : Graciously hear, O Lord, the prayers of thy servant : show thy face upon thy sanctuary : and mercifully look upon this people, upon which is invocated thy name, O God.

V. I. Whilst I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sins, and the sins of my people of Israel. Upon which.

V. II. I heard a voice saying unto me : Daniel! understand the words that I speak unto thee; for I am sent unto thee; for Michael likewise cometh to help me.

And mercifully look.


Forgiveness of our past sins, and preservation from future ones, these are the effects produced by the holy sacrifice. Let us pray for them, in the Secret, together with the Church.

Secret

Majestatem tuam, Domine, suppliciter deprecamur : ut hæc sancta, quægerimus, et a præteritis nos delictis exuant, et futuris. Per Dominum.
We humbly beseech thy majesty, O Lord: that the sacred mysteries we are celebrating may rid us of our past sins, and preserve us from sin for the future. Through, etc.

The other Secrets, as on page 130.


It is while assisting at these great mysteries that the Christian soul, in the enthusiasm of her love, presents to her God her promises and her engagements. Let her, then, give herself unreservedly to God, who overwhelms her with His favours; but, while thus giving free vent to the holy emotions which she so justly feels, let her not forget, that He who hides Himself, out of consideration for our weakness, under the eucharistic veil, is the Most High, who is terrible to the kings of the earth, and an avenger of infidelity to what is vowed.

Communion

Vovete, et reddite Domino Deo vestro omnes, qui in circuitu ejus affertis munera : terribili et ei, qui aufert spiritum principum : terribili apud omnes reges terræ.

Vow ye, and pay to the Lord your God, all ye that, round about him, bring gifts : to him that is terrible; even to him, who taketh away the spirit of princes : to the terrible with the kings of the earth.


It is the very holiness of God that in this divine Sacrament comes for the purpose of curing our vices, and fortifying our faltering steps on the road which leads to eternity. In the prayer of the Postcommunion, let us yield our souls to His almighty influence.

Postcommunion

Sanctificationibus tuis, omnipotens Deus, et vitia nostra curentur, et remedia nobis æterna proveniant. Per Dominum.

May our vices be cured, O almighty God, and eternal remedies procured for us, by these thy holy mysteries. Through, etc.


The other Postcommunions, as on page 131.


 

VESPERS

 


The psalms, capitulum, hymn, and versicle, as above, pages 71-81.


Antiphon of the Magnificat

Quid vobis videtur de Christo? cujus filius est? Dicunt ei omnes : David. Dicit eis Jesus : Quomodo David in spiritu vocat eum Dominum, dicens: Dixit Dominus Domino meo: Sede a dextris meis?

Oremus.

Da, quæsumus Domine, populo tuo diabolica vitare contagia : et te solum Deum pura mente sectari. Per Dominum. 

What think ye of Christ? whose Son is he? They all say to him: David’s. Jesus saith unto them : How doth David, in spirit, call him Lord, saying: the Lord said unto my Lord, sit on my right hand?

Let us Pray.

Grant, we beseech thee, O Lord, that thy people may avoid all the contagions of the devil; and, with a pure mind, follow thee, who alone art God. Through, etc.


[1] St. Matt. xxii. 23-33.
[2] Eph. ii. 5.
[3] Eph. v. 30.
[4] St. Chrys., in Ep. ad Eph., Hom. ix. 3.
[5] 1 Cor. iii. 3.
[6] St. Chrys., ubi supra.
[7] 1 Cor. xv. 28.
[8] Apoc. xxi. 4, 5
[9] 1 Cor. xv. 24-28.
[10] Eph. i. 10.
[11] Ibid. iv. 13-16.
[12] Eph. iv. 8.
[13] St. Matt. iv. 1-11.
[14] Heb. ii. 17, 18; iv. 15.
[15] St. Matt. xxii. 15.
[16] St. John xvi. 8-11.
[17] Heb. iv. 12.
[18] St. Chrys., Hom, lxxvii. in Matt.
[19] Ps. cix. 3.
[20] Heb. i. 3.
[21] St. John xix. 5.
[22] Rom. viii. 29.
[23] Heb. ii. 17.
[24] St. John xviii. 37.
[25] Heb. x. 14.
[26] S. Aug., in Joan. Tract cx.
[27] Serm. cclv., in dieb pasch.
[28] Epist. lxi.
[29] St. Matt. xxv. 40-45.
[30] Eph. iv. 15, 16.
[31] 1 Tim. i 5
[32] Rom. x. 4.
[33] St. John v. 39.
[34] Rom. xiii. 10.
[35] St. Aug., in Ps. Ivi.
[36] De Trinit., L. iv. 11.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

For the fourth time in her year, holy Church comes claiming from her children the tribute of penance, which, from the earliest ages of Christianity, was looked upon as a solemn consecration of the seasons. The historical details relative to the institution of the Ember-days will be found on the Wednesdays of the third week of Advent and of the first week of Lent; and on those same two days, we have spoken of the intentions which Christians should have in the fulfilment of this demand made upon their yearly service.

The beginnings of the winter, spring, and summer quarters were sanctified by abstinence and fasting, and each of them, in turn, has received heaven’s blessing; and now autumn is harvesting the fruits which divine mercy, appeased by the satisfactions made by sinful man, has vouchsafed to bring forth from the bosom of the earth, notwithstanding the curse that still hangs over her.[1] The precious seed of wheat, on which man’s life mainly depends, was confided to the soil in the season of the early frosts, and, with the first fine days, peeped above the ground; at the approach of glorious Easter, it carpeted our fields with its velvet of green, making them ready to share in the universal joy of Jesus' resurrection; then, turning into a lovely image of what our souls ought to be in the season of Pentecost, its stem grew up under the action of the hot sun; the golden ear promised a hundred-fold to its master; the harvest made the reapers glad; and, now that September has come, it calls on man to fix his heart on that good God, who gave him all this store. Let him not think of saying, as that rich man of the Gospel did, after a plentiful harvest of fruits : 'My soul! thou hast much goods laid up for many years! Take thy rest, eat, drink, make good cheer!’ And God said to that man : ‘Thou fool! this night do they require thy soul of thee; and whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?’[2] If we would be truly rich before God, if we would draw down His blessing on the preservation, as well as on the production, of the fruits of the earth, let us, at the beginning of this last quarter of the year, have recourse to those penitential exercises whose beneficial effects we have always experienced in the past. The Church gives us the commandment to do so, by obliging us, under penalty of grievous sin, to abstain and fast on these three days, unless we be lawfully dispensed.

We have already spoken of the necessity of private penance for the Christian who is at all desirous to make progress in the path of salvation. But in this, as in all spiritual exercises, a private work of devotion has neither the merit nor the efficacy of one that is done in company with the Church, and in communion with her public act; for the Church, as bride of Christ, communicates an exceptional worth and power to works of penance done, in her name, in the unity of the social body. St. Leo the Great is very strong on this fundamental principle of Christian virtue. We find him insisting on it in the sermons he preached to the faithful of Rome, on occasion of this fast, which was then called the fast of the seventh month. He says:

Although, it be lawful for each one of us to chastise his body by self-imposed punishments, and restrain, with more or less severity, the concupiscences of the flesh which war against the spirit, yet need is that, on certain days, a general fast be celebrated by all. Devotion is all the more efficacious and holy, when the whole Church is engaged in works of piety, with one spirit and one soul. Everything, in fact, that is of a public character is to be preferred to what is private; and it is plain, that so much the greater is the interest at stake, when the earnestness of all is engaged upon it. As for individual efforts, let each one keep up his fervour in them; let each one, imploring the aid of divine protection, take to himself the heavenly armour, wherewith to resist the snares laid by the spirits of wickedness; but the soldier of the Church (ecclesiasticus miles), though he may act bravely in his own private combats (specialibus prœliis), yet will he fight more safely and more successfully, when he shall confront the enemy in a public engagement; for in that public engagement, he has not only his own valour to which to trust, but he is under the leadership of a King who can never be conquered, and engaged in a battle fought by all his fellow-soldiers; so that, being in their company and ranks, he has the fellowship of mutual aid.’[3]

Another year, when preaching for the same occasion, this eloquent pontiff and doctor of the Church was even more energetic and lengthy, in putting these great truths before the people; would to God the words of such a Pope as Leo the Great could make themselves heard by our present generation, and induce us Christians to mistrust the individualistic tendencies of modern piety. Fortunately, the words of the saint exist, and in all their ‘pontifical eloquence we invite our readers to peruse his sermons; we have only space for a short selection from his third sermon on the fast of the seventh month (our September Ember-days).

God has sanctioned this privilege, that what is celebrated in virtue of a public law is more sacred than that which depends on a private regulation. The exercise of self-restraint which an individual Christian practises by his own will is for the advantage of that single member; but a fast undertaken by the Church at large includes everyone in the general purification. God’s people never is so powerful as when the hearts of all the faithful join together in the unity of holy obedience, and when, in the Christian camp, one and the same preparation is made by all, and one and the same bulwark protects all. . . . See, most dearly beloved, here is the solemn fast of the seventh month urging us to profit by this invincible unity. . . . Let us raise up our hearts, withdraw from worldly occupations, and steal some time for furthering our eternal welfare. ... The plenary remission of sin is obtained when the whole Church unites in the like prayer and the like confession; for, if the Lord promises that when two or three shall, with a holy and pious unanimity, agree to ask Him anything whatsoever, it shall be granted to them,[4] what can be refused to many thousands, who are all engaged in observing one and the same practice of religion, and in praying with one and the same spirit? In the eyes of God, my dearly beloved, it is a great and precious sight, when all Christ’s people are earnest at the same Offices; and when, without any distinction, men and women of every grade and order are all working together with one heart. To depart from evil and do good,[5] that is the one determination of them all. They all give glory to God for the works He achieves in His servants. They all unite in returning hearty thanks to the loving Giver of all blessings. The hungry are fed; the naked are clad; the sick are visited; and no one seeketh his own profit, but that of others. ... By this grace of God, who worketh all in all,[6]the fruit is common, and the merit is common; for the affection of all may be the same, although all are not equally rich; and those who have less to bestow can rejoice in the liberality of others. There is nothing inordinate in such a people as that; there are no variances; for all the members of the whole body are alike in the energy of the same piety. . . . The beauty of the whole becomes the excellence of each member. . . . Let us, then, embrace this blessed solidity of holy unity, and with the same resolution and the same good will, let us enter upon this solemn fast.[7]

Let us not, in our prayers and fasts, forget the new priests and other ministers of the Church, who, on Saturday next, are to receive the imposition of hands. The September ordination is not usually the most numerous of those given by the bishop during the year. The sublime function, to which the faithful owe their fathers and guides in the spiritual life, has, however, a special interest at this period of the year, which, more than any other, is in keeping with the present state of the world in its rapid decline towards ruin. Our year, too, is on the fall, as we say. The sun, which we beheld rising at Christmas as a giant who would burst the bonds of frost asunder and restrain the tyranny of darkness, now, as though he had grown wearied, is drooping towards the horizon; each day we see him gradually leaving that glorious zenith, where we admired his dazzling splendour on the day of our Emmanuel’s Ascension; his fire has lost its might; and though he still holds half the day as his, his disc is growing pale. All this foretells the approach of those long nights, when nature, stripped of all her loveliness by angry storms, seems as though she would bury herself for ever in the frozen shroud which is to bind her. So is it with our world. Illumined as it was by the light of Christ, and glowing with the fire of the Holy Ghost, it sees, in these our days, that charity is growing cold,[8] and that the light and glow it had from the Sun of justice are on the wane. Each revolution takes from the Church some jewel or other, which does not come back to her when the storm is over; tempests are so frequent, that tumult is becoming the normal state of the times. Error predominates, and lays down the law. Iniquity abounds. It is our Lord Himself who said: ‘When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find, think ye, faith on earth?’[9]

Lift up your heads, then, ye children of God! for your redemption is at hand.[10] But, from now until that time shall come when heaven and earth are to be made new for the reign that is to be eternal, and shall bloom in the light of the Lamb, the Conqueror,[11] days far worse than these must dawn upon this world of ours, when the elect themselves would be deceived, if that were possible![12] How important is it, in these miserable times, that the pastors of the flock of Christ be equal to their perilous and sublime vocation! Let us then fast and pray; and how numerous soever may be the losses sustained in the Christian ranks, of those who once were faithful in the practices of penance, let us not lose courage. Few as we may be, let us group ourselves closely round the Church, and implore of Jesus, her Spouse, that He vouchsafe to multiply His gifts in those whom He is calling to the now more than ever dread honour of the priesthood; that He infuse into them His divine prudence, whereby they may be able to disconcert the plans of the impious; His untiring zeal for the conversion of ungrateful souls; His perseverance even unto death, in maintaining without reticence or compromise the plenitude of that truth which He has destined for the world, and the unviolated custody of which is to be, on the last day, the solemn testimony of the bride’s fidelity.


[1] Gen. iii. 17.
[2] St. Luke xii. 16-21.
[3] St. Leo, Serm, iv., De Jejun. Sept. Mensis,
[4] St Matt. xviii. 19, 20.
[5] Ps. xxxiii. 15.
[6] 1 Cor. xii. 6.
[7] St. Leo, Serm. iii., De Jejun Sept, Mensis.
[8] St. Matt. xxiv. 12.
[9] St. Luke xviii. 8.
[10] Ibid. xxi. 28-31.
[11] Apoc. xxi.
[12] St. Mark xiii. 22.

 

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