Lent in Practice: The Perpetuation of Calvary

Every day upon our altars Calvary is perpetuated: "from the rising of the sun even to the going down...there is offered a clean oblation." (Malachi 1:11) Infinite Purity to Infinite Majesty. Daily, hourly Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God "empties Himself" not only of every suggestion of His Divinity, but of every semblance of His Manhood. For our sakes He becomes utter Sacrifice. This inconceivable Self-Sacrifice of Divine Love takes place at our very doors, day in and day out, and most frequently we ignore It. A thousand petty reasons of comfort or convenience hold us excused from accepting the invitations lavished upon us by our Mother, the Church, to come to the Mount of Calvary and be drawn to Him Who is "lifted up" for us in the Holy Sacrifice. Or perhaps we come so full of self, so wrapped in preoccupations that Christ comes and goes because He finds no place for Him within our hearts. This is the most enormous of all daily tragedies.

To gauge the immensity of this waste of opportunity, we need only explore the liturgy of the Mass. There we find invitations so pressing and promises so vast that our minds seem too small and our hearts too narrow to grasp them. Yet they are the inspired words of God, Who is Truth. Day by day the Church sets them before us as if to lure us to the mount of Sacrifice with the sweets of divine love. Nowhere is this purpose more patent than in the season of Lent. At the very outset she says to us so solemnly: "Thus saith the Lord: Be converted to Me with all your heart, in fasting and in weeping and in mourning. And rend your hearts and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy.... I will send you corn and wine and oil and you shall be filled" (Joel 2). Plainly stating the need for conversion accompanied by external penance, she accentuates the deep truth that it is the heart that must be broken open to the influences of God, and sets before it a picture of that God calculated to melt a heart of stone - a gracious God waiting to fill in plentiful measure the heart rent to admit Him.

Again, as if she would forestall the possible temptation to consider or protect self, she urges: "Cast your care upon the Lord and He shall sustain thee." (Psalm 54) Dost you fear to pay too great a penalty of fatigue for going to the mount of Sacrifice; are you troubled about the cares of life, or fearful to abandon self to God lest He ask too much? Cast your care upon the Lord, for "thus saith the Lord: I have heard your prayer and have seen your tears; behdld I will add to your days." "I will come and heal." Or she exacts the practical exercise of Christian charity: "Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute and caluminate you; that you may be the children of your Father," and sums it up in that tremendous command: "Be you perfect as also your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:28), buoying us to effort by the promise of reward from the All-seeing Father.

In Holy Mass the Passion and Death of our Lord is not a memory but a fact. No wonder that the Church is lavish of invitations to draw us into this holy way; that she counts attendance at Mass as the first and most important step in the practice of Lent. Nowhere as here will the humility of Christ so shame our pride; the immensity of His Sacrifice so stimulate our zeal; nowhere else will we find His teaching more vivid. His example more palpitating. If we have not heeded His invitation hitherto, let us come to Him now, and make daily Mass our practice for Lent. If it is already our blessed habit to do so, we may still find ample practice for penance in increase of punctuality, in intensified fervor. We have never assisted at Mass so well, that we may not do so better. There is always room for great self-denial in our mode of prayer: of reaching out to closer cooperation with the ends and aims of our Divine Victim Who offers Himself for the glory of God, for the salvation of all souls, in thanksgiving for God's gifts, in atonement for man's many sins.

For if in our manner of hearing Mass we endeavor more and more to realize it as the perpetuation of Calvary, fervor will inevitably put forth new leaves and our whole being will begin to grow "unto the measure of Christ." Self will not loom so large and obstruct our view of the heavens. A practical step in this direction is to follow the Mass word for word in the missal: to feed our minds with the divine word as well as our souls with the divine Presence. Unconsciously minds and hearts brought thus in touch with the mind and Heart of Christ continue to echo His sentiments, to fashion themselves by His example when acted upon by the influences and inducements of the world.

"We exhort you that you receive not the grace of God in vain," says Saint Paul, "behold now is the acceptable time; behold now is the day of salvation." If we make the effort that in us lies to brush aside difficulties, to surmount obstacles that must surely be met in the following of Christ to the mount of Sacrifice in Holy Mass, we will not struggle alone. The Church promises that "the Lord will overshadow thee with His shoulders and under His wings you shalt trust: His truth shall compass thee with a shield." (Psalm 90) How wonderfully close God is to us at Mass: there He shares our humanity that we may be made "partakers of His divinity": there He is Jesus Christ, the Man-God.

Come, then, and "dwell in the house of the Lord" and "the Lord will fill your soul with brightness, and you shalt be like a watered garden and like a fountain of water whose waters shall not fail." (Isaiah 58)

- text from Lent in Practice: The Spirit of Penance, by Father John J Burke, C.S.P.; printed by "The Missionary Society of Saint Paul the Apostle in the State of New York"