(LifeSiteNews) — The holy Church gave us, as the subject of our meditation for the first Sunday of Lent, the temptation which our Lord Jesus Christ deigned to suffer in the desert. Her object was to enlighten us how to conquer them.
Today, she wishes to complete Her instruction on the power and stratagems of our invisible enemies; and for this, She reads to us a passage from the Gospel of St. Luke.
During Lent, the Christian ought to repair the past, and provide for the future; but he can neither understand how it was he fell, nor defend himself against a relapse, unless he have correct ideas as to the nature of the dangers which have hitherto proved fatal, and are again threatening him. Hence, the ancient Liturgists would have us consider it as a proof of the maternal watchfulness of the Church that She should have again proposed such a subject to us. As we shall find, it is the basis of all today’s instructions.
Assuredly, we should be the blindest and most unhappy of men if – surrounded as we are by enemies who unceasingly seek to destroy us, and are so superior to us both in power and knowledge – we were seldom or never to think of the existence of these wicked spirits. And yet, such is really the case with innumerable Christians nowadays; for truths are diminished from among the children of men. (Psalm 11:2)
So common, indeed, is this heedlessness and forgetfulness of a truth which the Holy Scriptures put before us in almost every page, that it is no rare thing to meet with persons who ridicule the idea of devils being permitted to be on this earth of ours! They call it a prejudice, a popular superstition, of the Middle Ages! Of course they deny that it is a dogma of Faith.
When they read the History of the Church or the lives of the saints, they have their own way of explaining whatever is there related on this subject. To hear them talk, one would suppose that they look on Satan as a mere abstract idea, to be taken as the personification of evil.
When they would account for the origin of their own or others’ sins, they explain all by the evil inclination of man’s heart, and by the bad use we make of our free will. They never think of what we are taught by Christian doctrine; namely, that we are also instigated to sin by a wicked being whose power is as great as is the hatred he bears us. And yet, they know, they believe, with a firm faith, that Satan conversed with our first parents, and persuaded them to commit sin, and showed himself to them under the form of a serpent.
They believe that this same Satan dared to tempt the Incarnate Son of God, and that he carried Him through the air and set Him first upon a pinnacle of the Temple, and then upon a very high mountain. Again: they read in the Gospel, and they believe, that one of the possessed, who were delivered by our Savior, was tormented by a whole legion of devils who, upon being driven out of the man, went by Jesus’ permission, into a herd of swine, and the whole herd ran violently into the see of Genesareth, and perished in the waters.
These and many other such like facts are believed by the persons of whom we speak, with all the earnestness of faith; yet, notwithstanding, they treat as a figure of speech, or a fiction, all they hear or read about the existence, the actions or the craft of these wicked spirits.
Are such people Christians, or have they lost their senses? One would scarcely have expected that this species of incredulity could have found its way into an age like this, when sacrilegious consultations of the devil have been, we might almost say, unfashionable. Means which were used in the days of paganism have been resorted to for such consultations; and they who employed them seemed to forget or ignore that they were committing what God, in the Old Law, punished with death, and which for many centuries was considered by all Christian nations as a capital crime.
But if there be one season of the year more than another in which the faithful ought to reflect upon what is taught us by both Faith and experience, as to the existence and workings of the wicked spirits – it is undoubtedly this of Lent, when it is our duty to consider what have been the causes of our past sins, what are the spiritual dangers we have to fear for the future, and what means we should have recourse to for preventing a relapse.
Let us, then, hearken to the holy Gospel. Firstly, we are told that the devil had possessed a man, and that the effect produced by this possession was dumbness. Our Savior cast out the devil, and immediately the dumb man spoke. So that, the being possessed by the devil is not only a fact which testifies to God’s impenetrable justice; it is one which may produce physical effects upon them that are thus tried or punished. The casting out the devil restores the use of speech to him that had been possessed.
We say nothing about the obstinate malice of Jesus’ enemies, who would have it that his power over the devils came from his being in league with the prince of devils; all we would now do is to show that the wicked spirits are sometimes permitted to have power over the body, and to refute, by this passage from the Gospel, the rationalism of certain Christians.
Let these learn, then, that the power of our spiritual enemies is an awful reality; and let them take heed not to lay themselves open to their worst attacks by persisting in the disdainful haughtiness of their reason.
Ever since the promulgation of the Gospel, the power of Satan over the human body has been restricted by the virtue of the Cross, at least in Christian countries: but this power resumes its sway as often as the faith and the practice of Christian piety lose their influence. And here we have the origin of all those diabolical practices which, under certain scientific names, are attempted first in secret, and then are countenanced by being assisted at by well-meaning Christians.
Were it not that God and his Church intervene, such practices as these would subvert society. Christians! remember your baptismal vow; you have renounced Satan: take care, then, that by a culpable ignorance you are not dragged into apostasy. It is not a phantom that you renounced at the font; he is a real and formidable being who, as our Lord tells us, was a Murderer from the beginning. (John 8:44)
But if we ought to dread the power he may be permitted to have over our bodies; if we ought to shun all intercourse with him and take no share in practices over which he presides, and which are the worship he would have men give him – we ought, also, to fear the influence he is ever striving to exercise over our souls. See what God’s grace has to do in order to drive him from your soul!
During this holy season, the Church is putting within your reach those grand means of victory: fasting, prayer, and almsdeeds. The sweets of peace will soon be yours, and once more you will become God’s temple, for both soul and body will have regained their purity. But be not deceived; your enemy is not slain. He is irritated; penance has driven him from you, but he has sworn to return. Therefore, fear a relapse into mortal sin; and in order to nourish within you this wholesome fear, meditate upon the concluding part of our Gospel.
Our Savior tells us that when the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through places without water. There he writhes under his humiliation; it has added to the tortures of the hell he carries everywhere with him, and to which he fain would give some alleviation, by destroying souls that have been redeemed by Christ.
We read in the Old Testament that sometimes, when the devils have been conquered, they have been forced to flee into some far-off wilderness: for example, the holy Archangel Raphael took the devil that had killed Sara’s husbands, and bound him in the desert of Upper Egypt. (Tobit 8:3) But the enemy of mankind never despairs of regaining his prey. His hatred is as active now as it was at the very beginning of the world, and he says: “I will return into my house, whence I came out.”
Nor will he come alone. He is determined to conquer; and therefore, he will, if he think it needed, take with him seven other spirits, even more wicked than himself. What a terrible assault is this that is being prepared for the poor soul unless she be on the watch, and unless the peace which God has granted her be one that is well armed for war!
Alas! with many souls, the very contrary is the case; and our Savior describes the situation in which the devil finds them on his return: they are swept and garnished, and that is all! No precautions, no defense, no arms. One would suppose that they were waiting to give the enemy admission. Then Satan, to make his repossession sure, comes with a seven-fold force. The attack is made; but there is no resistance, and straightway the wicked spirits entering in, dwell there; so that, the last state becometh worse than the first; for before, there was but one enemy, and now there are many.
In order that we may understand the full force of the warning conveyed to us by the Church in this Gospel, we must keep before us the great reality that this is the acceptable Time. In every part of the world, there are conversions being wrought; millions are being reconciled with God; Divine Mercy is lavish of pardon to all that seek it.
But will all persevere? They that are now being delivered from the power of Satan – will they all be free from his yoke when next year’s Lent comes around? A sad experience tells the Church that she may not hope so grand a result. Many will return to their sins, and that too before many weeks are over. And if the Justice of God overtake them in that state – what an awful thing it is to say it, yet it is true; some, perhaps many, of these sinners will be eternally lost!
Let us, then, be on our guard against a relapse; and in order that we may ensure our perseverance, without which it would have been to little purpose to have been for a few days in God’s grace – let us watch, and pray; let us keep ourselves under arms; let us ever remember that our whole life is to be a warfare. Our soldier-like attitude will disconcert the enemy, and he will try to gain victory elsewhere.
The third Sunday of Lent is called Oculi from the first word of the Introit. In the primitive Church, it was called Scrutiny Sunday, because it was on this day that they began to examine the catechumens, who were to be admitted to baptism on Easter night. All the Faithful were invited to assemble in the Church, in order that they might bear testimony to the good life and morals of the candidates.
At Rome, these examinations, which were called the Scrutinies, were made on seven different occasions, on account of the great number of aspirants to baptism; but the principal Scrutiny was that held on the Wednesday of the fourth week. We will speak of it later on.
The Roman Sacramentary of St. Galasius gives us the form in which the faithful were convoked to these assemblies. It is as follows.:
Dearly beloved Brethren: you know that the day of Scrutiny, when our elect are to receive the holy instruction, is at hand. We invite you, therefore, to be zealous and to assemble on N., (here, the day was mentioned), at the hour of Sext; that so we may be able, by the divine aid, to achieve, without error, the heavenly mystery, whereby is opened the gate of the kingdom of heaven, and the devil is excluded with all his pomps.
The invitation was repeated, if needed, on each of the following Sundays. The Scrutiny of this Sunday ended in the admission of a certain number of candidates: their names were written down and put on the diptychs of the altar, that they might be mentioned in the Canon of the Mass. The same also was done with the names of their sponsors.
The station was, and still is, in the Basilica of Saint Laurence outside the walls. The name of this, the most celebrated of the martyrs of Rome, would remind the catechumens that the Faith they were about to profess would require them to be ready for many sacrifices.
The catechumen that is now promised the grace of baptism, and the penitent who is looking forward to the day of his Reconciliation, express, in the Introit, the ardor of their longings. They humbly confess their present misery; but they are full of hope in Him who is soon to set them free from the snare.
My eyes are ever towards the Lord, for he shall pluck my feet out of the snare: look thou upon me, and have mercy on me, for I am alone and poor.
Ps. To thee, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul; in thee, O my God, I put my trust, let me not be ashamed. ℣. Glory, etc.
The great battle with the enemy of mankind is now fiercely raging: the Church beseeches her God to stretch forth his right hand in her defense. Such is the petition she makes in today’s Collect.
Be attentive, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, to the prayers of thy servants, and stretch forth the arm of thy divine Majesty in our defense. Through, etc.
The second and third Collects are given on the first Sunday of Lent.
Lesson of the Epistle of Saint Paul the Apostle to the Ephesians 5:1-9:
Brethren: Be ye therefore followers of God, as most dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God, for an odor of sweetness. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not such as be named among you, as becometh saints; or obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility, which is to no purpose: but rather giving of thanks. For know ye this and understand, that no fornicator, or unclean, or covetous person, which is serving of idols, hath inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the anger of God upon the children of unbelief. Be ye not therefore partakers with them. For you were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord. Walk ye as children of the light: for the fruit of the light is in all goodness, and justice and truth.
The Apostle, speaking to the faithful of Ephesus, reminds them how they once were darkness; but now, he says, ye are Light in the Lord. What joy for our Catechumens to think that the same change is to be their happy lot!
Up to this time, they have spent their lives in all the abominations of paganism; and now they have the pledge of a holy life, for they have been received as candidates for baptism. Hitherto, they have been serving those false gods, whose worship was the encouragement to vice; and now, they hear the Church exhorting her children to be followers of God, that is to say, to imitate Infinite Holiness.
Grace – that divine element which is to enable even them to be perfect as their Heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48) – is about to be bestowed upon them. But they will have to fight hard in order to maintain so elevated a position; and of their old enemies. Two, in particular, will strive to re-enslave them: impurity and avarice. The apostle would not have these vices so much as named among them from this time forward; for they, he says, that commit such sins are idolaters, and by your vocation to baptism you have abandoned all your idols.
Such are the instructions given by the Church to her future children. Let us apply them to ourselves, for they are also intended for us. We were sanctified almost as soon as we came into the world; have we been faithful to our baptism? We, heretofore, were Light; how comes it that we are now darkness?
The beautiful likeness to our Heavenly Father, which was once upon us, is perhaps quite gone! But thanks to Divine Mercy, we may recover it. Let us do so, by again renouncing Satan and his idols. Let our repentance and penance restore within us that Light whose fruit consists in all goodness, justice and truth.
The Gradual expresses the sentiments of a soul that sees herself surrounded by enemies, and begs her God to deliver her.
The Tract is taken from the 122nd Psalm, which is a canticle of confidence and humility. The sincere avowal of our misery always draws down the mercy of God upon us.
Arise, O Lord, let not man prevail: let the Gentiles be judges in thy sight.
℣. When my enemy shall be turned back, they shall be weakened and perish before thy face.
To thee have I lifted up my eyes, who dwellest in heaven.
℣. Behold as the eyes of servants are on the hands of their masters:
℣. And as the eyes of the handmaid are on the hands of her mistress, so are our eyes unto the Lord our God, until he have mercy on us.
℣. Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us.
Sequel of the Holy Gospel according to Luke 11:14-28:
At that time: Jesus was casting out a devil, and the same was dumb: and when he had cast out the devil, the dumb spoke: and the multitudes were in admiration at it: But some of them said: He casteth out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of devils. And others tempting, asked of him a sign from heaven. But he seeing their thoughts, said to them: Every kingdom divided against itself, shall be brought to desolation, and house upon house shall fall. And if Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because you say, that through Beelzebub I cast out devils. Now if I cast out devils by Beelzebub, by whom do your children cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I by the finger of God cast out devils; doubtless the kingdom of God is come upon you. When a strong man armed keepeth his court, those things are in peace which he possesseth. But if a stronger than he come upon him, and overcome him; he will take away all his armor wherein he trusted, and will distribute his spoils. He that is not with me, is against me; and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through places without water, seeking rest; and not finding, he saith: I will return into my house whence I came out. And when he is come, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then he goeth and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and entering in they dwell there. And the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. And it came to pass, as he spoke these things, a certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice, said to him: Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the paps that gave thee suck. But he said: Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it.
As soon as Jesus had cast out the devil, the man recovered his speech, for the possession had made him dumb. It is an image of what happens to a sinner who will not, or dare not, confess his sin. If he confessed it, and asked pardon, he would be delivered from the tyranny which now oppresses him. Alas! how many there are who are kept back by a dumb devil from making the confession that would save them!
The holy season of Lent is advancing; these days of grace are passing away; let us profit by them; and if we ourselves be in the state of grace, let us offer up our earnest prayers for sinners, that they may speak, that is, may accuse themselves in confession, and obtain pardon.
Let us also listen, with holy fear, to what our Savior tells us with regard to our invisible enemies. They are so powerful and crafty that our resistance would be useless, unless we had God on our side, and his holy Angels, who watch over us and join us in the great combat. It was to these unclean and hateful spirits of hell that we delivered ourselves when we sinned: we preferred their tyrannical sway to the sweet and light yoke of our compassionate Redeemer.
Now we are set free, or are hoping to be so; let us thank our Divine Liberator; but let us take care not to re-admit our enemies. Our Savior warns us of our danger. They will return to the attack; they will endeavor to force their entrance into our soul, after it has been sanctified by the Lamb of the Passover.
If we be watchful and faithful, they will be confounded, and leave us: but if we be tepid and careless, if we lose our appreciation of the grace we have received, and forget our obligations to Him who has saved us, our defeat is inevitable; and as our Lord says, our last state is to be worse than the first.
Would we avoid such a misfortune? Let us meditate upon those other words of our Lord, in today’s Gospel: “He that is not with me is against me.” What makes us fall back into the power of Satan, and forget our duty to our God, is that we do not frankly declare ourselves for Jesus, when occasions require us to do so.
We try to be on both sides, we have recourse to subterfuge, we temporize: this takes away our energy; God no longer gives us the abundant graces we received when we were loyal and generous; our relapse is all but certain. Therefore, let us be boldly and unmistakeably with Christ. He that is a soldier of Jesus should be proud of his title!
The Offertory describes the consolation that a soul, rescued from Satan’s grasp, feels in doing the will of her Divine Master.
The justices of the Lord are right, rejoicing hearts; his ordinances are sweeter than honey and the honey-comb: therefore thy servant observeth them.
In the Secret, the Church expresses her confidence in the Sacrifice she is about to offer to God; it is the Sacrifice of Calvary, which redeemed the whole world.
May this offering, O Lord, we beseech thee, cleanse us from our sins, and sanctify the bodies and souls of thy servants for the celebrating of this sacrifice. Through, etc.
The second and third Secrets are given on the first Sunday of Lent.
Borrowing the words of David, the Church, in her Communion-Anthem, describes the happiness of a soul that is united to her God in the Sacrament of love. It is the lot that is reserved for the catechumens, who have just been received as candidates for baptism; it is to be also that of the penitents, who shall have washed away their sins in the tears of repentance.
The sparrow hath found herself a house, and the turtle a nest where she may lay her young ones; in like manner, O Lord of armies, my King and my God, let my abode be near thy altar: blessed are they that dwell in thy house, they shall praise thee for ever and ever.
In the Postcommunion, the Church beseeches her Lord to grant, through the merits of the mystery just partaken of by Her children, that sinners may be loosened from the fetters of their sins, and delivered from the danger they have incurred – the danger of eternal perdition.
Mercifully, O Lord, we beseech thee, deliver us from all guilt and from all danger, since thou admittest us to be partakers of this great mystery. Through, etc.
The second and third Postcommunions are given on the first Sunday of Lent.
The psalms and antiphons are given earlier in the volume.
Brethren: Be ye followers of God, as most dear children: and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odor of sweetness.
For the hymn and versicle, see earlier in the volume.
ANTIPHON OF THE MAGNIFICAT
A certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice, said: Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the paps that gave thee suck. But Jesus said to her: Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.
Let us pray,
Be attentive, we beseech thee, O almighty God, to the prayers of thy servants, and stretch forth the arm of thy divine Majesty in our defense. Through, etc.
The Mozarabic Breviary offers us this beautiful Prayer for the commencement of the third week of Lent.
(In Dominica iii. Quadragesimæ.)
Having now passed the fourteenth day of this Season, which forms the tithe of our year, we lift up our eyes to thee, O Lord, who dwellest in heaven. Show mercy to the miserable, and heal them that are wounded. Grant that the journey we have begun, may be prosperous. Direct our hearts in the way of thy commandments. Through thee may we find the way of light; through thee, may we be inflamed with the bright burning of thy love. Grant rest to our labors, and a home to us that labor; that having gained thy good pleasure by our observance of these days, we may deserve to be partakers of thy glory.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875). LifeSiteNews is grateful to The Ecu-Men website for making this classic work easily available online.