Today we dawn the violet garbs at the altar and remove from the Holy Mass the Alleluia and Gloria. Septuagesima refers to the “seventy days” (actually 63 days) before Easter in which we recall the 70 year Babylonian exile of the Old Testament. The psalmist says of this exile:
For there they that led us into captivity required of us the words of songs. And they that carried us away, said: Sing ye to us a hymn of the songs of Sion. How shall we sing the song of the Lord in a strange land? (Psalm 137:3-4)
For this reason we remove the songs of praise, i.e. the Alleluia and Gloria. My good people, are we too not in a strange land? Is this Valley of Tears not terribly foreign to the paradise for which our hearts long? Are we not poor, banished children of Eve? We refrain from the use of joyful praise in lieu of a more somber supplication so as to one day return to Eden.
This Sunday calls us to repentance. The Introit says, “The sorrows of death surround me, the sorrows of hell encompass me: and in my affliction I called upon the Lord…” The Tract echoes the Introit: “Out of the depths I have cried to Thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. Let Thine ears be attentive to the prayer of Thy servant. If Thou, O Lord, wilt mark iniquities: Lord, who shall stand it?” The Blessed Apostle Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians of the need to run the race and fight the fight so as to win. Part of this repentance entails penance for the Apostle writes, “I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection.” Beyond penance and relinquishing the goods of this earth, repentance requires that we turn from our evil ways and seek a better way. In this way, we become the day laborers whom Christ finds late in the day but still calls to work for the good of the vineyard, for the good of the kingdom.
Yet it is not without mercy that salvation occurs. Is not the end of repentance ultimately mercy? It is forgiveness that we seek in repentance and forgiveness is the fruit of mercy. Naturally we ought to always do will of God, but is it necessary that He give to us salvation as a reward for doing what we ought? No. But in His infinite mercy He does offer it. The Introit goes on, “…I called upon the Lord, and He heard my voice from His holy temple…the Lord is my firmament, my refuge, and my deliverer.” So too the Tract continues, “…who shall stand? For with Thee there is merciful forgiveness…” The communion antiphon begs our Lord to show Himself to us: “Make Thy face to shine upon Thy servant, and save me in Thy mercy: let me not be confounded, O Lord, for I have called upon you.” Ultimately the gospel shows that the Lord does not wish to “leave our souls among the dead, nor let his beloved know decay.” Rather, the Master comes at the last hour looking for those who had not yet come looking for work. At the end of the day, He gives to every laborer the same reward regardless of the duration of each man’s work. This is not punishment to those who came early! This is mercy to those who came late.
How upset we often become when the wicked receive good things when little do we know of the repentance in the hearts of these men. When a school project rolls around and a group member does little, but receives the same grade, we feel a sense of injustice. But the distribution of goodness is not our prerogative! The grade, the wage, the kingdom of Heaven is not ours to give away. We ought to rejoice with our brethren who gain an eternal inheritance regardless of the time in which the were adopted as heirs. We ought to pray for those who have not come yet looking for work in the Lord’s vineyard that they might share in our reward. And we must bare the good work that we tirelessly perform for the kingdom with great patience, anticipating the generosity of our Master. Even those who come late had to wait for the Lord to call them. Nearly every proper of today’s mass speaks of endurance. The end of the Tract says, “…by reason of Thy law, I have waited for Thee, O Lord.” This waiting presents us with the passive aspect of our active work. Any man who did not work in due manner did not receive payment, but any man who did not wait did not receive payment. So too we, like the young prophet Samuel, must wait upon the Lord day and night, restlessly wait for the call of the Master. Remember that He has waited for you firstly, He waits for you to seek His face, since the beginning of time He has waited.
Take these next three weeks to prepare your heart for the season of Lent. The season of Lent is much like the labor in the vineyard, it is arduous and time consuming with little consolations. So allow yourself to now wait, preparing your heart for the labor of Lent. The glory of these next three weeks before Ash Wednesday is that we are given the time to condition our body, mind, and souls for the labors to come. In many Eastern churches, the faithful begin today giving up a series of foods and goods until Lent wherein they given up the most. The Church does not want to shock us with the austerities of Lent, but wants to condition us. My good people, in the words of Saint Paul, “Run so that you may obtain [the victory]. And everyone that striveth for mastery refraineth himself from all things…”