Twofold character of Lent

Daily Reading for March 16

For the faithful . . . Lent has a two-fold character. On the one hand, it is reparatory and restorative: the time when “all past slothfulnesses are chastised, all negligences atoned for” (Leo the Great, Sermon 39). Ideally, Leo maintains, “we should remain in God’s sight always the same, as we ought to be found on the Easter feast itself.” But since few actually do so, “The Divine Providence has with great beneficence taken care that the discipline of the forty days should heal us and restore the purity of our minds, during which the faults of other times might be redeemed by pious acts and removed by chaste fasting” (Sermon 40). On the other hand, it affords opportunity for the virtuous to penetrate more deeply into that ever new life which knows no bounds. Because no one “is so perfect and holy as not to be able to be more perfect and more holy, let us all together,” urges Leo, “without difference of rank, without distinction of desert, with pious eagerness pursue our race from what we have attained to what we yet aspire to, and make some needful addition to our regular devotions” (Sermon 39). In either case the Christian must be ready for combat, trial, and strife, since the enemy of salvation grows more hostile as his reign is threatened. In this way the forty days become a period of spiritual warfare, a theme which Leo develops vividly on the first Sunday. “As we approach then, dearly beloved, the beginning of Lent, which is a time for the more careful serving of the Lord, because we are, as it were entering on a kind of contest in good works, let us prepare our souls for fighting with temptations, and understand that the more zealous we are for our salvation, the more determined must be the assaults of our opponents” (Sermon 49).

From Patrick Regan, O.S.B., “The Three Days and the Forty Days,” reprinted in Maxwell Johnson, editor, Between Memory and Hope: Readings on the Liturgical Year (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2000).

Past Posts