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The collects of the Lenten season -- the First Sunday


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Grant, almighty God,

through the yearly observances of holy Lent,

that we may grow in understanding

of the riches hidden in Christ

and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.

This very ancient prayer was found in the earliest Sacramentaries, but was lost to the Church by the time printing presses churned out the first liturgical books in the sixteenth century. When it was rediscovered by scholars in the last century, this collect was restored to the place it once held on the first Sunday of Lent.

Attributed by some to Pope Leo the Great, the prayer contains a curious phrase in the second line, making reference to "the sacramentum of holy Lent." For us, the phrase "the Sacrament of Lent" seems very strange. However, the "observances of holy Lent" to which we are called do have a certain sacramental character to them.

What is a Sacrament? I remember the answer from my Baltimore Catechism: "A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace."

The observances of holy Lent are just such outward signs: for when I fast from food and from vengeance and from anger and from hate, I grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ: Christ who graciously showers me with mercy and peace and love.

The observances of holy Lent are outward signs. When I go to the Stations of the Cross on Friday night, or to confession on Saturday afternoon, when I pray an extra fifteen minutes at the end of each day, I grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ: Christ who fills my heart with his hope and strength and a clear vision of his love for me.

The observances of holy Lent are outward signs. When I go down to the food pantry and stock shelves with boxes of canned goods, or serve supper at the soup kitchen, or buy a coat for the shivering guy who lives on the street, I grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ: Christ who will judge me on the last day by how much I have loved him in the poor and the forgotten and the lonely and the afraid.

Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving all draw us closer to Christ. And the closer we are drawn to him, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the more our minds are opened to understand the riches he has to share with us. (Cf. Luke 24:44)

This is the conduct worthy of the children of God: to fast, to pray, and to give alms; in the words of Saint Leo the Great, to seek not just a penance of the flesh, "but a purification of the mind...to banish the errors of the imaginations of the human heart." (Sermon 46)

So what are you going to do for Lent? Mother Teresa once asked that of a very wealthy businessman, who, smiling from ear to hear, told her that he was planning to contribute a very large sum to the Missionaries of Charity. Mother replied quietly: "Don't be satisfied with just giving money. Money is not enough, money can be got, but people need your heart to love them. So spread your love everywhere you go."

In fasting, in prayer, and in loving the poor,

Grant, almighty God,

through the yearly observances of holy Lent,

that we may grow in understanding

of the riches hidden in Christ

and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.

Msgr. James P. Moroney, presently professor of liturgy at St. John's Seminary, Brighton becomes the 120th rector there on July 1, 2012. This is the first of a series of reflections on the collects of the Lenten season which continues throughout this holy season.

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