top of page

Lent series part 1 - Sunday before Lent

The following is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)

THE Church gives us to-day 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 people that should be peculiarly His, and among whom should be preserved

those sacred truths, which the Gentiles were to lose sight of. This new people was 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.

The following passage from the Book of Genesis, which the Church gives us in her Matins

of today, will serve as the text of our considerations.

From the Book of Genesis. Ch. xii.

And ,the Lord said to Abram: Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred and out of

thy father’s house, and come into the land which I shall show thee. And I will make of thee a

great nation, and I will bless thee, and magnify thy name, and thou shalt be blessed. I will

bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee; and in thee shall all the kindred

of the earth be blessed. So Abram went out as the Lord had commanded him, and Lot went

with him. Abram was seventy five years old when he went forth from Haran. And he took

Sarai his wife, and Lot, his brother’s son, and all the substance which they had gathered, and

the souls which they had gotten in Haran: and they went out to go into the land of Chanaan.

And when they were come into it, Abram passed through the country into the place of

Sichem, as far as the noble vale: now the Chanaanite was at that time in the land. And the

Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him: To thy seed will I give this land. And he built there

an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. And passing on from thence to a mountain,

that was on the east side of Bethel, he there pitched his tent, having on the west, and Hai on

the east. He built there, also, an altar to the Lord, and called upon his name.

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: ‘0 true Christian, even before Christ had come on the earth! He had the

spirit of the Gospel, before the Gospel 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 save 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 honoured, in

the limbo of expectation, in a manner becoming his great virtue and merit. It is in his bosom,

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

honoured; 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. 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.’

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 used it not; to have an abiding

conviction of our not having here a lasting city, and of the misery and danger we incur when

we forget that death is one day to separate us from everything 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 put a stop to, 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 shrove-tide 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 corrupt nature; otherwise the original intention 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 shrove-tide 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 shrove-tide.

Oh! that Christians would stand on their guard against such delusions as these, and gain

that holy liberty of children of God, 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. Cecily, who thus sang, in her heart,

in the midst of the excitement of worldly harmonies: ‘May my heart, 0 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 them 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.

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 than Him; He offers Himself to His eternal Father for poor sinners, who

not only treat His favours 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 favour 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.

We will now resume our considerations upon the liturgy of Quinquagesima Sunday. The

passage of the Gospel selected by the Church, is that wherein our Saviour 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 tell 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.

In the Greek Church, this Sunday is called Tyrophagos, because it is the last day on which

is allowed the use of white meats, or, as we call them, milk-meats. Beginning with

tomorrow, it is forbidden to eat them, for Lent then begins, and with all the severity

wherewith the oriental Churches observe it.


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 used then to be read in this Sunday’s Office. Moses 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


The Introit is the prayer of mankind, blind and wretched as the poor man of Jericho; it asks for

pity from its Redeemer, and beseeches Him to guide and feed it.

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 neighbour, 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 splendour 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 be 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.

In the Gradual and Tract, the Church sings the praises of God’s goodness towards His elect. He

has set them free from the slavish yoke of the world, by enlightening them with His grace; they are

His own children, the favoured sheep of His pasture.

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 Saviour’s

mission; still, they do not abandon Him; they love Him too 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

show 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.

In the Offertory, the Church prays that her children may have the light of life, which consists in

knowing the Law of God. She would have our lips pronounce His doctrine and the divine

commandments, which He has brought us from heaven.

The Communion antiphon commemorates the miracle of the manna, which fed in the desert the

descendants of Abraham; and yet this food, though it came from heaven, did not preserve them

from death. The living Bread, which we have had given to us from heaven, gives eternal life to the

soul: and he who eats it worthily shall never die.


bottom of page