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Taken from Fr. Leonard Goffine's Explanations of the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays, Holydays, and Festivals throughout the Ecclesiastical Year  36th edition, 1880

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Why is this day thus named?

BECAUSE on this day the Church blesses ashes, and places them on the heads of her faithful children, saying: "Remember man, thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return."

Why is this done?

St. Charles Borromeo gives us the following reasons for this practice : that the faithful may be moved to sincere humility of heart; that the heavenly blessing may descend upon them, by which they, being really penitent, will weep with their whole soul for their sins, remembering how earth was cursed because of sin, and that we have all to return to dust; that strength to do true penance may be given the body, and that our soul may be endowed with divine grace to persevere in penance.

With such thoughts let the ashes be put upon your head, while you ask in all humility and with a contrite heart, for God's mercy and grace.

Is the practice of putting ashes upon our heads pleasing to God?

It is, for God Himself commanded the Israelites to put ashes on their heads for a sign of repentance. (Jer. xxv. 34.) Thus did David (Ps. ci. 10.) who even strewed ashes on his bread; the Ninivites, (Jonas iii. 5.) Judith, (Jud. ix. i.) Mardochai, (Esth. iv. i.) Job, (Job. xlii. 6.) etc. The Christians of the earliest times followed this practice as often as they did public penance for their sins.

Why from this day until the end of Lent are the altars draped in violet?

Because, as has been already said, the holy season of Lent is a time of sorrow and penance for sin, and the Church desires externally to demonstrate by the violet with which she drapes the altar, by the violet vestments worn by the priests, and by the cessation of the organ and festive singing, that we in quiet mourning are bewailing our sins ; and to still further impress the spirit of penance upon us, there is usually only a simple crucifix or a picture of Christ's passion, left visible upon the altar, and devoutly meditating upon it, the heart is mostly prepared for contrition.

In the Introit of this day's Mass the Church uses the following words to make known her zeal for penance, and to move God to mercy: Thou hast mercy upon all, O Lord, and hatest none of the things which Thou hast made, winking at the sins of men for the sake of repentance, and sparing them; for thou art the Lord our God. (Wisd.'&.i. 24.25.) Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me; for my soul trusteth in thee. (Ps. 1-vi. 2.) Glory be to the Father, &c.

PRAYER OF THE CHURCH: Grant to thy faithful, O Lord, that they may begin the venerable solemnities of fasting with suitable piety, and perform them with tranquil devotion. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, etc.

EPISTLE (Joel ii. 1219.; 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, and ready to repent of the evil. Who knoweth but he will return, and forgive, and leave a blessing behind him, sacrifice and libation to the Lord your God? Blow the trumpet in Sion: sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather together the people; sanc- tify the Church; assemble the ancients; gather together the little ones, and them that suck at the breasts; let the bridegroom go forth from his bed, and the bride out of her bride-chamber. Between the porch and the altar the priests, the Lord's ministers, shall weep; and shall say: Spare, O Lord, spare thy people; and give not thine inheritance to reproach, that the heathens should rule over them. Why should they say among the nations: Where is their God? The Lord hath been zealous for his land, and hath spared his people. And the Lord answered, and said to his people: Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and you shall be filled with them; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations, saith the Lord Almighty.

EXPLANATION: The Prophet Joel exhorts the Jews to sorrow and penance for their sins, that they evade the expected judgment to be sent by God upon the city of Jerusalem. He required of them to show their repentance not merely by rending their garments, a sign of mourning with the Jews, but by a truly contrite heart. The Church wishes us to see plainly from this lesson of the prophet what qualities our penance should possess, if we desire rec- onciliation with God, forgiveness of our sins, and deliverance at the Last Day, which qualities are not merely abstinence from food and amusements, but the practice of real mortification of our evil inclinations, thus becoming with our whole heart converted to God.

GOSPEL (Matt. vi. 16 21.) AT THAT TIME, Jesus said to his disciples: When you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face, that thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee ? Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth, where the rust and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to your- selves treasures in heaven, where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.

EXPLANATION: Jesus forbids us to seek the praises of men when performing good works, (fasting is a good work,) and still worse it would be to do good as the Pharisees , through hypocrisy. He also warns us against avarice and the desire for temporal riches, urging us to employ our temporal goods, in giving alms, and doing works of charity, thus laying up treasures in heaven, which are there rewarded and will last there forever. "What folly", says St. Chrysostom, "to leave our goods where we cannot stay, instead of sending them before us where we are going to heaven!"
Taken from The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)

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Yesterday the world was busy in its pleasures, and the very children of God were taking a joyous farewell to mirth: but this morning, all is changed. The solemn announcement, spoken of by the prophet, has been proclaimed in Sion: the solemn fast of Lent, the season of expiation, the approach of the great anniversaries of our Redemption. Let us, then, rouse ourselves, and prepare for the spiritual combat.

But in this battling of the spirit against the flesh we need good armor. Our holy mother the Church knows how much we need it; and therefore does she summon us to enter into the house of God, that she may arm us for the holy contest. What this armor is we know from St. Paul, who thus describes it: Have your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of justice, and your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace. In all things, taking the shield of faith. Take unto you the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. The very prince of the apostles, too addresses these solemn words to us: Christ having suffered in the flesh, be ye also armed with the same thought. We are entering today upon a long campaign of warfare spoken of by the apostles: forty days of battle, forty days of penance. We shall not turn cowards, if our souls can but be impressed with the conviction that the battle and the penance must be gone through. Let us listen to the eloquence of the solemn rite which opens our Lent. Let us go whither our mother leads us, that is, to the scene of the fall.

The enemies we have to fight with are of two kinds: internal and external. The first are our passions; the second are the devils. Both were brought on us by pride, and man’s pride began when he refused to obey his God. God forgave him his sin, but He punished him. The punishment was death, and this was the form of the divine sentence: Thou art dust, and into dust thou shalt return. Oh that we had remembered this! The recollection of what we are and what we are to be would have checked that haughty rebellion which has so often led us to break the law of God. And if, for the time to come, we would persevere in loyalty to Him, we must humble ourselves, accept the sentence, and look on this present life as a path to the grave. The path may be long or short; but to the tomb it must lead us. Remembering this, we shall see all things in their true light. We shall love that God who has deigned to set His heart on us notwithstanding our being creatures of death: we shall hate, with deepest contrition, the insolence and ingratitude wherewith we have spent so many of our few days of life, that is, in sinning against our heavenly Father: and we shall be not only willing, but eager, to go through these days of penance, which He so mercifully gives us for making reparation to His offended justice.

This was the motive the Church had in enriching her liturgy with the solemn rite at which we are to assist this morning. When upwards of a thousand years ago she decreed the anticipation of the lenten fast by the last four days of Quinquagesima week, she instituted this impressive ceremony of signing the forehead of her children with ashes, while saying to them those awful words wherewith God sentenced us to death: Remember, O man, that thou art dust, and into dust thou shalt return! But making use of ashes as a symbol of humiliation and penance is of a much earlier date than the institution we allude to. We find frequent mention of it in the Old Testament. Job, though a Gentile, sprinkled his flesh with ashes, that thus humbled, he might propitiate the divine mercy: and this was two thousand years before the coming of our Savior. The royal prophet tells us of himself, that he mingled ashes with his bread, because of the divine anger and indignation. Many such examples are to be met with in the sacred Scriptures; but so obvious is the analogy between the sinner who thus signifies his grief, and the object whereby he signifies it, that we read such instances without surprise. When fallen man would humble himself before the divine justice, which has sentenced his body to return to dust, how could he more aptly express his contrite acceptance of the sentence, than by sprinkling himself, or his food, with ashes, which is the dust of wood consumed by fire? This earnest acknowledgement of his being himself but dust and ashes is an act of humility, and humility ever gives him confidence in that God who resists the proud and pardons the humble.

It is probable that, when this ceremony of the Wednesday in Quinquagesima week was first instituted, it was not intended for all the faithful, but only for such as had committed any of those crimes for which the Church inflicted a public penance. Before the Mass of the day began, they presented themselves at the church, where the people were all assembled. The priests received the confession of their sins, and then clothed them in sackcloth, and sprinkled ashes on their heads. After this ceremony, the clergy and the faithful prostrated and recited aloud the seven Penitential Psalms. A procession, in which the penitents walked barefooted, then followed; and on its return, the bishop addressed these words to the penitents: “Behold, we drive you from the doors of the church by reason of your sins and crimes, as Adam, the first man, was driven out of paradise because of his transgression.” The clergy then sang several responsories, taken from the Book of Genesis, in which mention was made of the sentence pronounced by God when He condemned man to eat his bread in the sweat of his brow, for that the earth was cursed on account of sin. The doors were then shut, and the penitents were not to pass the threshold until Maundy Thursday, when they were to come and receive absolution.

Dating from the 11th Century, the discipline of Public Penance began to fall into disuse, and the holy rite of putting Ashes on the heads of all the Faithful indiscriminately, became so general, that, at length, it was considered as forming an essential part of the Roman Liturgy. Formerly, it was the practice to approach bare-footed to receive this solemn Memento of our nothingness; and we find, that even so early as the 12th century, the Pope himself, when passing from the Church of Saint Anastasia to that of Saint Sabina, at which the Station was held, went the whole distance bare-footed, as also did the Cardinals, who accompanied him. The Church no longer requires this exterior penance ; but she is as anxious as ever, that the holy ceremony, at which we are about to assist, should produce in us the sentiments she intended to convey by it, when she first instituted it.

As we have just mentioned, the Station, in Rome, is at Saint Sabina, on the Aventiue Hill. It is under the patronage of this holy Martyr that she opens the penitential Season of Lent.

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The Function begins with the Blessing of the Ashes, which are to be put on our foreheads. These Ashes are made from the Palms, which were blessed the previous Palm Sunday. The Blessing they are now to receive in this their new form, is given in order that they may be made more worthy of that mystery of contrition and humility, which they are intended to symbolise.

The Choir begins by chanting this Antiphon, which is a prayer for Mercy.

Exaudi nos, Domine, quoniam benigna est misericordia tua: secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum, respice nos, Domine.
Hear us, O Lord, for thy mercy is kind: look on us, O Lord, according to the multitude of thy mercies.

Ps. Salvum me fac, Deus: quoniam intraverunt aquæ usque ad animam meam. ℣. Gloria Patri. Exaudi nos.
Ps. Save me, O God: for the waters have reached my soul. ℣. Glory, &c. Hear us, &c.

The priest, standing at the altar, and having the ashes near him, begs of God, by the following prayers, that He would make them an instrument of our sanctification.

℣. Dominus vobiscum. ℣. The Lord be with you.
℟. Et cum spiritu tuo. ℟. And with thy spirit.

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, parce pœnitentibus; propitiare supplicantibus: et mittere digneris sanctum angelum tuum de cœlis, qui bene ✠ dicat, et sancti ✠ ficet hos cineres, ut sint remedium salubre omnibus nomen sanctum tuum humiliter implorantibus, ac semetipsos pro conscientia delictorum suorum accusantibus, ante conspectum divinæ clementiæ tuæ facinora sua deplorantibus, vel serenissimam pietatem tuam suppliciter obnixeque flagitantibus: et præsta, per invocationem sanctissimi nominis tui: ut quicumque per eos aspersi fuerint, pro redemptione peccatorum suorum, corporis sanitatem et animæ tutelam percipiant. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. ℟. Amen.

Let us Pray.
O almighty and eternal God, spare those that repent, show mercy to those that humbly entreat thee; and vouchsafe to send from heaven thy holy angel, to bless ✠ and sanc ✠ tify these ashes, that they may be a wholesome remedy to all who humbly call upon thy holy name, and conscious of their sins, accuse themselves, and deplore their crimes in sight of thy divine Majesty, or humbly and earnestly have recourse to thy sovereign bounty; and grant, by our calling on thy most holy name, that whoever shall be touched by these ashes for the remission of their sins, may receive health of body and defense of soul. Through Christ our Lord. ℟. Amen.

Deus, qui non mortem sed pœnitentiam desideras peccatorum: gfragilitatem conditionis humanæ benignissime respice: et hos cineres, quos causa proferendæ humilitatis, atque promerendæ veniæ, capitibus nostris imponi decernimus, bened ✠ icere pro tua pietate dignare: ut, qui nos cinerem esse, et ob pravitatis nostræ demeritum in pulverem reversuros cognoscimus, peccatorum omnium veniam, et præmia pœnitentibus repromissa, misericorditer consequi mereamur. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. ℟. Amen.

Let us Pray.
O God, who desirest the conversion, and not the death of sinners, graciously consider the weakness of human nature, and mercifully vouchsafe to bless ✠ these ashes, which we design to receive on our heads, in token of our humiliation, and to obtain forgiveness; that we, who know what we are but ashes, and must return to dust because of our wickedness, may obtain through thy mercy, pardon of all our sins, and the recompense promised to penitents. Through Christ our Lord. ℟. Amen.

Deus qui humiliatione flecteris et satisfactione placaris: aurem tuæ pietatis inclina precibus nostris: et capitibus servorum tuorum, horum cinerum aspersione contactis, effunde propitius gratiam tuæ benedictionis: ut eos et spiritu compunctionis repleas, et quæ juste postulaverint, efficaciter tribuas; et concessa perpetuo stabilita et intacta manere decernas. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. ℟. Amen.

Let us Pray.
O God, who art appeased by humiliation, and pacified by sanctification, incline to our prayers the ears of thy mercy; and pour upon the heads of thy servants, covered with these ashes, the grace of thy blessing, so as both to fill them with the spirit of compunction, and to grant them the effects of their just desires; and, when granted, to remain stable and untouched for ever. Through Christ our Lord. ℟. Amen.

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui Ninivitis in cinere et cilicio pœnitentibus indulgentiæ tuæ remedia præstitisti: concede propitius, ut sic eos imitemur habitu, quatenus veniæ prosequamur obtenu. Per Dominum. ℟. Amen.

Let us Pray.
O almighty and eternal God, who forgavest the Ninivites, when they did penance in sackcloth and ashes; mercifully grant us so to imitate their penance, that we may obtain pardon of our sins. Through, &c. ℟. Amen.

Having said the last of these prayers, the priest sprinkles the ashes with holy water, and censes them. The first in order of the priests who are present, marks the celebrant’s forehead with them. Then the ministers at the altar and the clergy receive them from the celebrant, who finally gives them to the faithful, saying:

Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.
Remember, man, that thou art dust, and into dust thou shalt return.

When the priest puts the holy emblem of penance upon you, accept in a spirit of submission the sentence of death which God Himself pronounces against you: Remember, O man, that thou art dust, and into dust thou shalt return! Humble yourself, and remember what it was that brought the punishment of death upon us: man wished to be as a god, and preferred his own will to that of his sovereign Master. Reflect, too, on that long list of sins which have added to the sin of your first parents, and adore the mercy of your God, who asks only one death for all these your transgressions.

During the time the priest is giving the ashes, the choir sings the following antiphons and responsory.

Immutemur habitu, incinere et cilicio: jejunemus et ploremus ante Dominum, quia multum misericors est dimittere peccata nostra Deus noster.
Let us change our dress for ashes and sackcloth; let us fast and weep in the presence of the Lord; for our God is very merciful to forgive us our sins.

Inter vestibulum et altare plorabunt sacerdotes ministri Domini, et dicent: Parce, Domine, parce populo tuo: et ne claudas ora canentium te, Domine. The priests, the ministers of the Lord, shall weep between the porch and the altar, and say: Spare, O Lord, spare thy people, and shut not the mouths of those who praise thee, O Lord.

Emendemus in melius quæ ignoranter peccavimus: ne subito præoccupati die mortis, quæramus spatium pœnitentiæ, et invenire non possimus. * Attende, Domine, et miserere, quia peccavimus tibi.

Let us amend of the sins we have committed through ignorance: lest suddenly overtaken by the day of our death, we seek for time to do penance, and be not able to find it. * Look down on us, O Lord, and take pity; for we have sinned against thee.

Ps. Adjuva nos Deus salutaris noster: et propter honorem nominis tui Domine, libera nos. * Attende. ℣. Gloria Patri. * Attende.
Ps. Help us, O God our Savior: and deliver us for the glory of thy name, O Lord. * Look down, &c. ℣. Glory, &c. Look down, &c.

As soon as all the faithful have received the ashes, the priest sings the following prayer:

℣. Dominus vobiscum. ℣. The Lord be with you.
℟. Et cum spiritu tuo. ℟. And with thy spirit.

Concede nobis, Domine, præsidia militiæ christianæ sanctis inchoare jejuniis: ut contra spirituales nequitias pugnaturi, continentiæ muniamur auxiliis. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. ℟. Amen.

Let us Pray.
Grant us, O Lord, to begin with holy fasting our Christian warfare; that being to fight against spiritual wickedness, we may be aided therein by temperance. Through Christ our Lord. ℟. Amen.


The soul has regained her confidence by the act of humility she has performed. She approaches the God of mercy and reminds Him of the tender love He bears to His creature man, and of the patience wherewith He waits for his repentance. These are the sentiments expressed in the Introit, which is taken from the Book of Wisdom.

Misereris omnium, Domine, et nihil odisti eorum quæ fecisti, dissimulans peccata hominum propter pœnitentiam, et parcens illis: quia tu es Dominus Deus noster.
Ps. Miserere mei Deus, miserere mei; quoniam in te confidit anima mea. ℣. Gloria Patria. Misereris.

Thou, O Lord, hast mercy on all, and hatest none of those things which thou hast created; thou overlookest the sins of men, to draw them to repentance, and thou pardonest them; because thou art the Lord our God.
Ps. Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me; for my soul trusteth in thee. ℣. Glory, &c. Thou, O Lord, &c.

In the Collect, the Church prays that her children may have the twofold grace of a fervent commencement and steady perseverance in the salutary fast of Lent.

Præsta, Domine, fidelibus tuis, ut jejuniorum veneranda solemnia, et congrua pietate suscipiant, et secura devotione percurrant. Per Dominum.
Grant, O Lord, that thy faithful may enter on this solemn and venerable fast with suitable piety, and go through it with unmolested devotion. Through, &c.

Second Collect
A cunctis nos, quæsumus, Domine, mentis et corporis defende periculis: et intercedente beata et gloriosa semperque Virgine Dei Genitrice Matria, cum beato Joseph, beatis apostolis tuis Petro et Paulo, atque beato N. et omnibus sanctis, salutem nobis tribue benignus et pacem: ut, destructis adversitatibus et erroribus universis, Ecclesia tua secura tibi serviat libertate.
Preserve us, O Lord, we beseech thee, from all dangers of soul and body: and by the intercession of the glorious and blessed Mary, the ever Virgin Mother of God, of blessed Joseph, of thy blessed apostles Peter and Paul, of blessed N. (here is mentioned the titular saint of the church), and of all the saints, grant us, in thy mercy, health and peace; that all adversities and errors being removed, thy Church may serve thee with undisturbed liberty.

Third Collect
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui vivorum dominaris simul et mortuorum, omniumque misereris, quos tuos fide et opere futuros esse prænoscis: te supplices exoramus; ut pro quibus effundere preces decrevimus quosque vel præsens seculum adhuc in carne retinet, vel futurum jam exutos corpore suscepit, intercedentibus omnibus sanctis tuis, pietatis tuæ clementia, omnium delictorum suorum veniam consequantur. Per Dominum.
O almighty and eternal God, who hast dominion over the living and the dead, and art merciful to all whom thou knowest will be thine by faith and good works: we humbly beseech thee, that they, for whom we have proposed to offer our prayers, whether this world still retains them in the flesh, or the next world hath already received them divested of their bodies, may, by the clemency of thine own goodness, and the intercession of thy saints, obtain pardon and full remission of their sins. Through, &c.

Lesson from the Prophet Joel.Ch. ii.

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, and ready to repent of the evil. Who knoweth but he will return, and forgive, and leave a blessing behind him; sacrifice and libation to the Lord your God? Blow the trumpet in Sion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather together the people, sanctify the Church, assemble the ancients, gather together the little ones, and them that suck at the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth from his bed, and the bride out of the bride-chamber. Between the porch and the altar the priests, the Lord’s ministers, shall weep, and shall say: Spare, O Lord, spare thy people; and give not thine inheritance to reproach, that the heathens should rule over them. Why should they say among the nations: Where is their God? The Lord hath been zealous for his land, and hath spared his people. And the Lord answered, and said to his people: Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil; you shall be filled with them, and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations, saith the Lord almighty.

Quote:We learn from this magnificent passage of the Prophet Joel how acceptable to God is the expiation of Fasting. When the penitent sinner inflicts corporal penance upon himself, God’s justice is appeased. We have a proof of it in the Ninivites. If the Almighty pardoned an infidel city, as Ninive was, solely because its inhabitants sought for mercy under the garb of penance; what will he not do in favour of his own people, who offer him the twofold sacrifice, exterior works of mortification, and true contrition of heart? Let us, then, courageously enter on the path of penance. We are living in an age, when, through want of faith and of fear of God, those practices which are as ancient as Christianity itself, and on which we might almost say it was founded, are falling into disuse: it behooves us to be on our guard, lest we, too, should imbibe the false principles, which have so fearfully weakened the Christian spirit. Let us never forget our own personal debt to the divine Justice, which will remit neither our sins nor the punishment due to them, except inasmuch as we are ready to make satisfaction. We have just been told, that these bodies, which we are so inclined to pamper, are but dust; and as to our souls, which we are so often tempted to sacrifice by indulging the flesh, they have claims upon the body, claims of both restitution and obedience.

We learn from this magnificent passage of the prophet Joel how acceptable to God is the expiation of fasting. When the penitent sinner inflicts corporal penance upon himself, God’s justice is appeased. We have a proof of it in the Ninivites. If the Almighty pardoned an infidel city, as Ninive was, solely because its inhabitants sought for mercy under the garb of penance; what will He not do in favor of His own people, who offer Him the two-fold sacrifice, exterior works of mortification, and true contrition of heart? Let us, then, courageously enter on the path of penance. We are living in an age when, through want of faith and of fear of God, those practices which are as ancient as Christianity itself, and on which we might almost say it was founded, are falling into disuse; it behooves us to be on our guard, lest we too should imbibe the false principles which have so fearfully weakened the Christian spirit. Let us never forget our own personal debt to the divine justice, which will remit either our sins nor the punishment due to them, except inasmuch as we are ready to make satisfaction. We have just been told that these bodies, which we are so inclined to pamper, are but dust; and as to our souls, which we are so often tempted to sacrifice by indulging the flesh, they have claims upon the body, claims of both restitution and obedience.

In the Gradual, the Church again pours forth the expressions of her confidence in the God of all goodness, for she counts upon her children being faithful to the means she gives them of propitiating His justice.

The Tract is that beautiful prayer of the psalmist, which she repeats thrice during each week of Lent, and which she always uses in times of public calamity, in order to appease the anger of God.

Miserere mei Deus, miserere mei: quoniam in te confidit anima mea.
℣. Misit de cœlo, et liberavit me: dedit in opprobrium conculcantes me.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me; for my soul hath trusted in thee.
℣. He hath sent from heaven, and delivered me; he hath made them a reproach that trod upon me.

℣. Domine non secundum peccata nostra, quæ fecimus nos, neque secundum iniquitas nostras retribuas nobis.
℣. Domine, ne memineris iniquitatum nostrarum antiquarum: cito anticipent nos misericordiæ tuæ, quia pauperes facti summus nimis.

℣. Deal not with us, O Lord, according to our sins, which we have committed, nor punish us according to our iniquities.
℣. Remember not, O Lord, our former iniquities; let thy mercies speedily prevent us, for we are become exceedingly poor.

At this next verse the priest kneels down.

℣. Adjuva nos, Deus Salutaris noster: et propter gloriam nominis tui, Domine, libera nos: et propitius esto peccatis nostris, propter nomen tuum.
℣. Help us, O God, our Savior, and for the glory of thy name, O Lord, deliver us and forgive us our sins for thy name’s sake.

Sequel of the Holy Gospel according to Matthew. Ch. vi.

At that time, Jesus said to his disciples: When you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face, that thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father, who is in secret: and thy Father, who seeth in secret, will repay thee. Let not up to yourselves treasures on earth, where the rust and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.

Quote:Our Redeemer would not have us receive the announcement of the great feast as one of sadness and melancholy. The Christian who understands what a dangerous thing it is to be behindhand with divine justice welcomes the season of Lent with joy; it consoles him. He knows that if he be faithful in observing what the Church prescribes, his debt will be less heavy upon him. These penances, these satisfactions (which the indulgence of the Church has rendered so easy), being offered to God unitedly with those of our Savior Himself, and being rendered fruitful by that holy fellowship which blends into one common propitiatory sacrifice the good works of all the members of the Church militant, will purify our souls, and make them worthy to partake in the grand Easter joy. Let us not, then, be sad because we are to fast; let us be sad only because we have sinned and made fasting a necessity. In this same Gospel, our Redeemer gives us a second counsel, which the Church will often bring before us during the whole course of Lent: it is that of joining almsdeeds with our fasting. He bids us to lay up treasures in heaven. For this, we need intercessors; let us seek them amidst the poor.

In the Offertory, the Church rejoices in her children being set free; she foresees that the wounds of our souls will be healed, for she has confidence in us that we shall persevere, and this fills her with gladness.

Exaltabo te, Domine, quoniam suscepisti me, nec delectasti inimicos meos super me: Domine, clamavi ad te, et sanasti me.
I will extol thee, O Lord, for thou hast upholden me, and hast not made my enemies to rejoice over me. O Lord, I have cried to thee, and thou hast healed me.

Fac nos, quæsumus, Domine, his muneribus offerendis convenienter aptari; quibus ipsius venerabilis sacramenti celebramus exordium. Per Dominum.
Grant, O Lord, that we may be duly prepared to present these our offerings, by which we celebrate the institution of this venerable mystery. Through, &c.

Second Secret
Exaudi nos, Deus Salutaris noster: ut per hujus Sacramenti virtutem, a cunctis nos mentis et corporis hostibus tuearis, gratiam tribuens in præsenti, et gloriam in futuro.
Graciously grant us, O God our Savior, that by virtue of this Sacrament, thou mayst defend us from all enemies, both of soul and body; giving us grace in this life, and glory in the next.

Third Secret
Deus, cui soli cognitus est numerus electorum in superna felicitate locandus; tribue quæsumus, ut intercedentibus omnibus sanctis tuis, universorum, quos in oratione commendatos suscepimus, et omnium fidelium nomina, beatæ prædestinationis liber adscripta retineat. Per Dominum.
O God, to whom alone is known the number of thine elect to be placed in eternal bliss: grant, we beseech thee,by the intercession of all thy saints, that the book of predestination may contain the names of all those whom we have undertaken to pray for, as well as those of all the faithful. Through, &c.

The Preface
Vere dignum et justum est, æquum et salutare, nos tibi semper, et ubique gratias agere, Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, æterne Deus. Qui corporali jejunio vitia comprimis, mentem elevas, virtutem largiris et præmia, per Christum Dominum nostrum. Per quem majestatem tuam laudant Angeli, adorant Dominationes, tremunt Potestates: Cœli, cœlorumque Virtutes, ac beata Seraphim, socia exsultatione concelebrant. Cum quibus et nostras voces, ut admitti jubeas deprecamur, supplici confessione, dicentes: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus.

It is truly meet and just, right and available to salvation, that we should always and in all places give thanks to thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, eternal God. Who by this bodily fast extinguishest our vices, elevatest our understanding, bestowest on us virtue and its rewards, through Christ our Lord. By whom the Angels praise thy majesty, the Dominations adore it, the Powers tremble before it; the Heavens and the heavenly Virtues, and the blessed Seraphim, with common jubilee, glorify it. Together with whom, we beseech thee that we may be admitted to join our humble voices, saying: Holy! Holy! Holy!

The words of the Church in the Communion antiphon contain an instruction of great importance to us. During this long career of penance, we shall stand in need of something to keep up our courage: let us meditate on the law and the mysteries of our Lord. If we relish the word of God as it is offered us by the Church on each day of this holy season, our hearts will receive an increase of light and love, and when our Lord shall rise from His tomb, the brightness of His Resurrection will shine upon us.

Qui meditabitur in lege Domini die ac nocte, dabit fructum suum in tempore suo.
He that meditateth day and night on the law of the Lord, shall yield his fruit in due season.

Percepta nobis, Domine præbeant Sacramenta subsidium: ut tibi grata sint nostra jejunia, et nobis proficiant ad medelam. Per Dominum.
May the mysteries we have received, O Lord, afford us help, that our fasting may be acceptable to thee, and become a remedy to us. Through, &c.

Second Postcommunion
Mundet et muniat nos, quæsumus, Domine, divini Sacramenti munus oblatum: et intercedente beata Virgine Dei Genitrice Maria, cum beato Joseph, beatis apostolis tuis Petro et Paulo, atque beato N. et omnibus sanctis, a cunctis nos reddat et perversitatibus expiatos, et adversitatibus expeditos.
May the oblation of this divine Sacrament, we beseech thee, O Lord, both cleanse and defend us: and by the intercession of blessed Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, of blessed Joseph, of thy blessed apostles, Peter and Paul, of blessed N., and of all the saints, free us from all sin, and deliver us from all adversity.

Third Postcommunion
Purificent nos, quæsumus, omnipotens et misericors Deus, Sacramenta quæ sumpsimus: et intercedentibus omnibus sanctis tuis, præsta ut hoc tuum Sacramentum non sit nobis reatus ad pœnam, sed intercessio salutaris ad veniam: sit ablutio scelerum, sit fortitudo fragilium, sit conta omnia mundi pericula firmamentum: sit vivorum atque mortuorum fidelium remissio omnium delictorum. Per Dominum.
May the mysteries we have received, purify us, we beseech thee, O almighty and merciful God; and grant by the intercession of all thy saints, that this thy Sacrament may not increase our guilt to punishment, but be a means of obtaining pardon in order to salvation. May it wash away sin, strengthen our frailty, secure us against the dangers of the world; and procure forgiveness for all the faithful, both living and dead. Through, &c.

Every day during Lent, Sundays excepted, the priest, before dismissing the faithful, here adds a special prayer,
which is preceded by these words of admonition:

Humilitate capita vestra Deo.

Let us Pray.
Bow down your heads to God.

Inclinantes se, Domine, majestati tuæ, propitiatus intende: ut qui divino munere sunt refecti, cœlestibus semper nutriantur auxiliis. Per Dominum.
Mercifully look down upon us, O Lord, bowing down before thy divine Majesty, that they who have been refreshed with thy divine mysteries, may always be supported by thy heavenly aid. Through, &c.
Ash Wednesday

The fast of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts till Easter Sunday. During this time there are forty-six days, but as we do not fast on the six Sundays falling in this time, the fast lasts for forty days. For that reason it is called the forty days of Lent. In the Latin language of the Church it is called the Quadragesima, that is, forty. St. Peter, the first Pope, instituted the forty days of Lent. During the forty-six days from Ash Wednesday to Easter, we are to spend the time in fasting and in penance for our sins, building up the temple of the Lord within our hearts, after having come forth from the Babylon of this world by the rites and the services of the Septuagesima season. And as of old we read that the Jews, after having been delivered from their captivity in Babylon, spent forty-six years in building their temple in place of the grand edifice raised by Solomon and destroyed by the Babylonians, thus must we rebuild the temple of the Holy Ghost, built by God at the moment of our baptism, but destroyed by the sins of the past year. Again in the Old Testament the tenth part of all the substance of the Jews was given to the Lord (Exod. xxli. 29). Thus we must give him the tenth part of our time while on this earth. For forty days we fast, but taking out the Sundays of Lent, when there is no fast, it leaves thirty-six days, nearly the tenth part of the three hundred and sixty-five days of the year. According to Pope Gregory from the first Sunday of Lent to Easter, there are six weeks, making forty-two days, and when we take from Lent the six Sundays during which we do not fast, we have left thirty-six days, about the tenth part of the three hundred and sixty-five days of the year.

The forty days of fasting comes down to us from the Old Testament, for we read that Moses fasted forty days on the mount (Exod. xxiv. et xxxiv. 28). We are told that Elias fasted for forty days (III. Kings xix. 8), and again we see that our Lord fasted forty days in the desert (Math. iv.; Luke ix). We are to follow the example of these great men of the old law. But in order to make up the full fast of forty days of Moses, of Elias and of our Lord, Pope Gregory commanded the fast of Lent to begin on Ash Wednesday before the first Sunday of the Lenten season.

Christ began his fast of forty days after his baptism in the Jordan, on Epiphany, the twelfth of January, when he went forth into the desert. But we do not begin the Lent after Epiphany, because there are other feasts and seasons in which to celebrate the mysteries of the childhood of our Lord before we come to his fasting, and because during these forty days of Lent we celebrate the forty years of the Jews in the desert, who, when their wanderings were ended, they celebrated their Easter, while we hold ours after the days of Lent are finished. Again, during Lent, we celebrate the passion of our Lord, and as after His passion came His resurrection, thus we celebrate the glories of His resurrection at Easter.

During the services of Lent we read so often the words: "Humble your heads before the Lord," and "let us bend our knees," because it is the time when we should humble ourselves before God and bend our knees in prayers. After the words, "Let us bend our knees," comes the word, "Arise." These words are never said on Sunday, but only on week days, for Sunday is dedicated to the resurrection of our Lord. Pope Gregory says: "Who bends the knee on Sunday denies God to have risen." We bend our knees and prostrate ourselves to the earth in prayer, to show the weakness of our bodies, which are made of earth; to show the weakness of our minds and imagination, which we cannot control; to show our shame for sin, for we cannot lift our eyes to heaven; to follow the example of our Lord, who came down from heaven and prostrated himself on the ground in the garden when in prayer (Matt. xxvi. 39); to show that we were driven from Paradise and that we are prone towards earthly things; to show that we follow the example of our father in the faith, Abraham, who, falling upon the earth, adored the Lord (Gen. xviii. 2). This was the custom from the beginning of the Christian Church, as Origen says: "The holy prophets when they were surrounded with trials fell upon their faces, that their sins might be purged by the affliction of their bodies." Thus following the words of St. Paul: "I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephes. iii. 14)," we prostrate ourselves and bend our knees in prayer. From Ash Wednesday to Passion Sunday the Preface of Lent is said every day, unless there comes a feast with a Preface of its own. That custom was in vogue as far back as the twelfth century.

At other times of the year, the clergy say the Office of Vespers after noon, but an ancient Council allowed Vespers to be commenced after Mass. This is when the Office is said altogether by the clergy in the choir. The same may be done by each clergyman when reciting privately his Office. This cannot be done on the Sundays of Lent, as they are not fasting days. The "Go, the dismissal is at hand," is not said, but in its place, "Let us bless the Lord," for, from the earliest times the clergy and the people remained in the church to sing the Vesper Office and to pray during this time of fasting and of penance.

We begin the fast of Lent on Wednesday, for the most ancient traditions of the Church tell us that while our Lord was born on Sunday, he was baptized on Tuesday, and began his fast in the desert on Wednesday. Again, Solomon began the building of his great temple on Wednesday, and we are to prepare our bodies by fasting, to become the temples of the Holy Ghost, as the Apostle says, "Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you (I. Cor. iii. 16)?" To begin well the Lent, one of the old Councils directed all the people with the clergy to come to the church on Ash Wednesday to assist at the Mass and the Vesper Offices and to give help to the poor, then they were allowed to go and break their fast.

The name Ash Wednesday comes from the ceremony of putting ashes on the heads of the clergy and the people on this day. Let us understand the meaning of this rite. When man sinned by eating in the garden the forbidden fruit, God drove him from Paradise with the words: "For dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return (Gen. iii. 19)." Before his sin, Adam was not to die, but to be carried into heaven after a certain time of trial here upon this earth. But he sinned, and by that sin he brought upon himself and us, his children, death. Our bodies, then, are to return to the dust from which God made them, to which they are condemned by the sin of Adam. What wisdom the Church shows us when she invites us by these ceremonies to bring before our minds the dust and the corruption of the grave by putting ashes on our heads. We see the great men of old doing penance in sackcloth and ashes. Job did penance in dust and ashes (Job ii. 12). By the mouth of His prophet the Lord commanded the Jews "in the house of the dust sprinkle yourselves with dust (Mich. i. 10)." Abraham said, "I will speak to the Lord, for I am dust and ashes (Gen xviii. 27)." Joshua and all the ancients of Israel fell on their faces before the Lord and put dust upon their heads (Joshua vii. 6). When the ark of the covenant was taken by the Philistines, the soldier came to tell the sad story with his head covered with dust (I Kings iv. 12).

When Job's three friends came and found him in such affliction, "they sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven (Job ii. 12)." "The sorrows of the daughters of Israel are seen in the dust upon their heads (Lam. ii. 10)." Daniel said his prayers to the Lord his God in fasting, sackcloth and ashes (Dan. ix. 3). Our Lord tells us that if in Tyre and Sidon had been done the miracles seen in Judea, that they had long ago done penance in sackcloth and ashes (Matt. xi. 21; Luke x. 13). When the great city will be destroyed, its people will cry out with grief, putting dust upon their heads (Apoc. xviii. 19). From these parts of the Bible, the reader will see that dust and ashes were used by the people of old as a sign of deep sorrow for sin, and that when they fasted they covered their heads with ashes. From them the Church copied these ceremonies which have come down to us. And on this day, when we begin our fast, we put ashes on our heads with the words, "Remember, man, that thou art dust, and into dust thou shalt return (Gen. iii. 19)."

In the beginning of the Church the ceremony of putting the ashes on the heads of the people was only for those who were guilty of sin, and who were to spend the season of Lent in public penance. Before Mass they came to the church, confessed their sins, and received from the hands of the clergy the ashes on their heads. Then the clergy and all the people prostrated themselves upon the earth and there recited the seven penitential psalms. Rising, they formed into a procession with the penitents walking barefooted. When they came back the penitents were sent out of the church by the bishop, saying : "We drive you from the bosom of the Church on account of your sins and for your crimes, as Adam, the first man was driven from Paradise because of his sin." While the clergy were singing those parts of Genesis, where we read that God condemned our first parents to be driven from the garden and condemned to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow, the porters fastened the doors of the church on the penitents, who were not allowed to enter the temple of the Lord again till they finished their penance and came to be absolved on Holy Thursday (Gueranger, Le Temps de la Septuagesima, p. 242). After the eleventh century public penance began to be laid aside, but the custom of putting ashes on the heads of the clergy became more and more common, till at length it became part of the Latin Rite. Formerly they used to come up to the altar railing in their bare feet to receive the ashes, and that solemn notice of their death and of the nothingness of man. In the twelfth century the Pope and all his court came to the Church of St. Sabina, in Rome, walking all the way in his bare feet, from whence the title of the Mass said on Ash Wednesday is the Station at St. Sabina.
Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part IV

In the Mass of Ash Wednesday, my dear brethren, the following words of the prophet Joel are read: "Be converted to Me with all your heart, in fasting, in weeping, and in mourning. . . . Blow the trumpet in Sion, sanctify a fast, gather together the people, sanctify the Church" (Joel ii.).

The great fast of Lent has been proclaimed, and the trumpet sounds throughout the Church of God, calling the people to forsake the false joys of earth and to be converted to their God with all their heart. The voice of the trumpet proclaims: "Let fasting take the place of feasting, weeping of mirth, and mourning of joy." What, my brethren, is the object of this season which comes so harshly into the ordinary course of our lives? Whence did it come? Is it necessary for us now, or is it cherished merely as an interesting historical survival? We have a right, my brethren, to be satisfied on these points, for Lent makes large demands upon your generosity; and when we must put ourselves to grave inconvenience, we all like to know that it is for good reasons.

I propose, therefore, my brethren, to explain this season of Lent, to show its object, and to prove its necessity.

We get the word "Lent" from the old Anglo-Saxon language; Lenten-tide meant Spring-time, and "Lent" the Spring fast. In Latin this season is called "Quadragesima," which means "fortieth," and expresses the number of the days of the fast. This number recalls to our minds that Jesus Christ was led by the spirit into the desert and fasted forty days and forty nights (Matt. iv.).


The Church wishes each of her children, in imitation of Christ, to spend a like period each year in penance and recollection. Her discipline of penance is mainly under the form of fasting. Fasting has been defined as an "abstinence, which man voluntarily imposes upon himself, as an expiation for sin, and which, during Lent, is practiced in obedience to the general law of the Church." She insists upon penance, because it is clear from the Scriptures that God demands it, and in choosing this form of it, the Church was not guided merely by natural wisdom, but by the evidence in the Old and New Testaments that this was acceptable to God.

Let us take some examples. In the prophecy of Jonas we read that "the word of the Lord came to Jonas, saying: 'Arise and go to Ninive, the great city, and preach in it the preaching that I bid thee.'" And Jonas arose and, entering into the city, cried: "Yet forty days and Ninive shall be destroyed." And the men of Ninive believed in God: and they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least. . . . And God saw their works that they were turned from their evil way: and God had mercy with regard to the evil which He had said He would do to them, and He did it not" (Jonas iii.). In the Book of Deuteronomy we have another striking example of God's wrath being turned aside by penance and prayer. Moses recalls to the memory of the people how, in Horeb, they had provoked God to wrath and would have been destroyed for their idolatry. After having received the commandments upon tables of stone, he came down the mountain and found the people adoring the golden calf. "And I fell down," he says, "before the Lord, forty days and nights, neither eating bread nor drinking water, for all your sins which you had committed against the Lord, and had provoked Him to wrath. . . . And I lay prostrate before the Lord forty days and nights, in which I humbly besought Him that He would not destroy you as He had threatened" (Deut. ix.).

Thus throughout the Old Testament we find that: when men had sinned they strove to appease the wrath of God by bodily penance and by humble prayer. The same gospel of penance is preached by the second Elias, St. John the Baptist, who preceded the first coming of the Son of God upon earth, as Elias himself is to come "to restore all things" before Jesus Christ comes to Judge the world. We read in St. Mark's gospel that: "John was in the desert, baptising and preaching the baptism of penance unto remission of sins" (Mark i. 4). He spoke to the multitudes in strong words; he did not suit his words to the degenerate views of his day. "Ye offspring of vipers," he cried, "who hath showed you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth fruits worthy of penance" (Luke iii).

Is it surprising then, my brethren, that the first public lesson given to men by our Saviour Himself is the lesson of penance? Nay, should not we be surprised if He, who had sent as His herald one "clothed with a garment of camel's hair, and whose food was locusts and wild honey," had lived a life in which penance found no place? Therefore, after His baptism by St. John in the Jordan, He withdrew into the desert wastes and for "forty days and forty nights" He tasted neither food nor drink. The years of His public life also were filled with penitential labors. All the day He worked for His people and the nights He spent in prayer. His lot in life could have been so different; but He chose suffering as his portion, as St. Paul testifies : "Having joy set before him, He endured the cross, despising the shame" (Heb. xii. 2). His test of a true follower is: "Can you drink of the chalice that I shall drink?" (Matt. xx. 22).

Once when our Lord had foretold His approaching passion, St. Peter said: "Lord, be it far from Thee, this shall not be unto Thee." Who, turning to Peter, said: "Go behind me, Satan, thou art a scandal unto me: because thou savorest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men." Then Jesus said to His disciples: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" [Matt. xvi. 22). On another occasion Christ said: "Unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish" (Luke xiii. 3). Not only did our divine Lord insist upon penance in general, but He wished that particular form of penance, known as "fasting," to be practiced under the New Law: "The days will come," He said, "when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then they shall fast" (Matt. ix. 14). Such was the teaching and example of Christ. What, my dear brethren, was the result? When the Apostles went forth to win the pagan world, to convert it to Christ, they preached salvation through penance. St. Paul told the Corinthians that the message he brought from God to men was an unpopular one: "We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumbling block, and unto the gentiles foolishness" (l Cor. i. 23). St. Peter, in his first epistle, wrote: "Christ, having suffered in the flesh, be ye armed with the same thought: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sins" (I Pet. iv. i).


Many of the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church say that the Apostles decreed that the great solemnity of Easter should be preceded by a universal fast; and that, in remembrance of Christ's forty days' fast in the desert, they instituted Lent. To begin with, there was no uniform way of observing it. But the faithful for forty days gave themselves to fasting and prayer in imitation of their Master. In the beginning, the Christians adopted the same customs of fasting as were prescribed in the Old Law, by which one meal only was allowed on fasting days, and that after sunset. This rule seems to have been strictly observed, and for the first eight centuries the one meal allowed was taken after Vespers. Moreover, abstinence from flesh meat was everywhere looked on as essential to fasting, and for many centuries even eggs and milk-meats were not allowed. In the ninth century we notice relaxations appearing in the ancient discipline. The one meal began to be taken at three o'clock in the afternoon, the hour of None, instead of after Vespers. In the tenth century this has become universal and has been allowed, but the hour of vespers is now also earlier and is still before the meal. At the close of the thirteenth century vespers and the fasting meal were at midday. When the repast was taken so early, it is not surprising to find that a "collation" was found necessary in the evening. The use of this word comes from the Rule of St. Benedict. There we find a distinction made between the fasts of the Church and the fasts of the Rule: On days of monastic fast the dinner was at three o'clock, the hour of None, instead of after Vespers. In the summer and autumn months, when the work in the fields was heavy and the heat fatiguing, the abbot was allowed to give to the monks a small measure of wine before Compline, during the reading of the "Conferences of Cassian." Now the Latin word for "Conference" is "Collatio"; and from this name the evening refreshment on fasting days came to be called "Collation." After the ninth century the use of meat during Lent began; at first only milk-meats, in the northern countries. Councils and Popes ever strove to keep the old austerity, but dispensations became necessary; dispensations became general customs, and customs were tacitly sanctioned, until in the seventeenth century the use of these meats seems to have become universal. Since the so-called Reformation, the history of the Church has been one long fight against laxity and self-indulgence. Even amongst those of the household of the faith, how little reverence remains for this holy season, and how little of the spirit of penance! We Catholics, my brethren, must not be influenced by the spirit of the world; it is our high vocation to be as a leaven of righteousness amongst men. We must set the example to a self-indulgent world of that penitential spirit which is the mark of the followers of Christ.

Although the history of Lent seems to be one of gradual relaxation, yet we must never forget that there is an unwritten history of strict observance and of generous self-denial. The relaxations were no revolt against the Cross, as was the case with Luther and his agents, who rejected all ancient discipline and gave men freedom for their inclinations. But as the rising tide, inch by inch, possesses itself of the whole beach, so the waves of luxury have ever risen higher and ever extended their conquests, till it seems as if they will engulf what little remains of the spirit of Christian self-denial. Can we then, my brethren, do without the barriers which the Church opposes to the advancing tide ? No, my brethren, we cannot! If we wish to keep alive in this corrupt world the true spirit of Jesus Christ, we must return to the simplicity and strictness of earlier days. The example of our forefathers, whose noble inheritance we now possess, must make us loyal to the Church's laws of penance.

True penance, my brethren, does not consist merely in mortification of the body, but in that of the soul also. Sin is committed by the will, and therefore it is just that the will as well as the body should make atonement. Before bodily penance can be of any avail for sanctification, it must be accepted by the will. The effects of the lash upon a criminal is very different from those of a saint's discipline. The former subdues the body, but makes the will rise in revolt, whilst the latter brings both body and soul to the feet of God. The Church, therefore, aims not only at subduing men's bodies by her penitential laws, but she strives to fill their souls with the spirit of penance. This she does by means of her liturgy. She opens this holy season by sprinkling ashes upon the heads of the faithful. As Job sprinkled his flesh with ashes, and as King David, after sinning grievously, mingled ashes with his bread in order to appease God's anger and indignation, so the Christian recalls his sins and humbles himself before God; he recalls that even though God has forgiven the sin, yet the punishment of sin, death, has yet to be endured. So he bows his head that the ashes may be put upon it, and with humble heart he hears the sentence of death pronounced upon him: "Remember, O man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return!" Formerly it was the custom to approach barefooted to receive the ashes, and we read of a Pope of the twelfth century, surrounded by his cardinals, walking barefooted from the church of St. Anastasia to that of St. Sabina, where the Ash Wednesday ceremony was to be performed. The prayers which are used at the blessing of the ashes and during the Mass of the day, if said with fervor, will fill us with consciousness of sin, with the sense of our weakness and need of God's help, with feelings of humility and with a vivid realization of the imminence of death. Everyone, my dear brethren, should have a Missal and carefully follow the beautiful words of the liturgy in order to acquire the sentiments of heart suited to this season.

In order that she may still more impress us, the Church banishes from her services all the pomp by which she loves to honor God, and all signs of joy. The eye sees on every side signs of penance; the ministers in the sanctuary are clad in somber purple; there are no flowers upon the altar. The ear hears no longer the joyous Alleluia, or the hymn of the Angels' choir, the Gloria in Excelsis, or the glad tones of the organ. At the conclusion of the great liturgy of the Mass, the deacon no longer dismisses the people with the words "Ite, Missa est," but he says, "Benedicamus Domino," "Let us bless the Lord," as if to encourage the people to persevere in prayer even when not present at the sacred mysteries.

On the fourth Sunday of Lent, the Church allows a ray of joy to pierce the gloom, in order to encourage her children to persevere. This is called "Laetare" Sunday, from the first word of the Introit of the Mass. Flowers appear upon the altar, the organ is once more heard, and rose-colored vestments may be used. The note of joy and hope sounds through all the words of this day's liturgy. The Sunday ends, and the clouds close over once more, and we are again sitting clothed with sackcloth and ashes, bemoaning our sins and appeasing the anger of our injured God.


Up to this point, my brethren, in order to rouse in us sentiments of contrition and humility, the Church has turned our eyes upon our own sinfulness, and upon death the punishment for sin. She has tried to wring from our stony hearts tears of compunction and humiliation by the contemplation of our own misery. She now turns our eyes upon Jesus Christ, the Victim of Sin; she recalls to us in all their details the sufferings He underwent to atone for our sins. During the closing two weeks of Lent, which are known as Passion-tide, the great drama of redemption is set before us as if it were actually happening. By this annual commemoration of the Sacred Passion, she gives to us a higher and purer motive for doing penance for our sins. She would have us "think diligently upon Him who endureth such opposition from sinners against Himself, that we be not wearied, fainting in our minds. For we have not yet resisted unto blood striving against sin" (Heb. xii. 2-4). What could make us more ready to run to the fight proposed to us than the example of that Innocent Victim, who came "to reconcile all things unto God, making peace through the blood of the Cross?" (Col. 1. 20). By the liturgy of Passion-tide the Church tries to create in us the "same mind as was in the Lord Jesus," so that, as He willed to suffer and die to save us, we on our part may generously undergo that penitential crucifixion of our lower natures which God demands of us before He will receive us. There could be no more vivid meditation on the Sacred Passion than the liturgy of Holy Week. The original tragedy is reenacted for us, and to those who devoutly follow the steps of our suffering Lord the week is one continuous soul-moving contemplation.

On Palm Sunday we accompany Jesus from Bethania to Jerusalem. We join the shouting throngs which greet Him as the Messias. "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. O, King of Israel! Hosanna in the highest." We take palms in our hands, and with psalm and antiphon accompany Jesus in His triumph and hail Him as the "King of Israel."

The ceremony is divided into three parts. The first is the blessing of the palms, and the prayers used are beautiful and instructive. The palms are distributed and should be kept by the faithful during the year for a protection to their persons and their dwellings. The second part is the procession. The priest represents Christ, and the palm branches are carried in memory of those which the people bore in their hands and threw down before our Saviour when He made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. On the return of the procession you will notice, my brethren, that the church door is locked and the procession cannot enter; voices are heard singing within the church, and those outside take up the refrain. The locked door is a symbol of the gates of heaven shut against sinful men; the voices are those of the angels who greet the Redeemer: "Glory, praise, and honor be to Thee, O Christ, our King, our Saviour!" The door is struck with the cross and opens, representing the opening of heaven to men by the victory of the Cross.

Though this is a day of triumph, yet during the Mass, the third part of the ceremony, the account of the Passion from St. Matthew's gospel is read. This reminds us of the fickleness of the Jews, who will in a few days clamor for their King's life-blood. On Tuesday and Wednesday the Passion is read from the Gospels of St. Mark and St. Luke.

On Maundy Thursday all the touching circumstances of the Last Supper and the institution of the Blessed Sacrament are reproduced in a most striking and moving form. To honor the Blessed Sacrament, Mass is celebrated with all possible splendor. The color of the vestments is white, the altar is decorated, and with joyous ringing of bells and with the glad tones of the organ the Angelic Hymn, Gloria in excelsis, is sung. When this is finished the bells and the organ are once more silent. The Mass goes on as usual, but we may notice one significant omission: the Kiss of Peace is not given, out of detestation for the crime of Judas who, on this day, profaned this sign of friendship. Throughout the world loving souls will gather round the altar to receive their paschal Communion on this day, making some reparation to Jesus for the treachery of which He was the victim.

The service of Good Friday is most realistic. During the first part of the service lessons from the prophets are read which refer to the Passion, and then the account of the Passion itself is read from St. John's gospel. Prayers follow, in which the Church, joining herself to Jesus upon the Cross, intercedes for the necessities of the whole world. The Celebrant now takes off his chasuble and holds aloft the cross for the veneration of the people. Unveiling the upper part of the cross, he sings: "Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world." Then both priest and people, kneeling, sing "Come let us adore."

Unveiling the right arm of the cross and raising his voice, the priest once more sings the salutation of the cross and holds it up for the veneration of the faithful; and still a third time is this repeated, when the cross is completely uncovered. The people then advance and kiss the feet of the crucifix, whilst the choir sings the touching "reproaches." On this day so vivid is the remembrance of the sacrifice of Calvary that the Church will not permit the renewal of it by consecration. On Maundy Thursday two Hosts were consecrated, one being consumed by the priest and the second kept at the "altar of repose." Today the Sacred Host is brought in solemn procession to the High Altar, and during the Mass of the "Pre-sanctified," which has no consecration and differs in many ways from the ordinary Mass, the Host is received by the Celebrant. Vespers follow immediately, and on their completion the altars are stripped and the church is left desolate. In former days the faithful spent Holy Saturday in mourning for their Lord, who lay in the tomb awaiting His resurrection. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was not offered up, not even a Mass of the Presanctified. But since the eleventh century the character of the day has changed: it is the precursor of Easter, and the Mass has come to be considered an anticipation of Sunday and of our Lord's Resurrection rather than the sacrifice of Holy Saturday, when His mangled body lay in the tomb. It it therefore a part of the feast of Easter, and its liturgy does not come within the scope of our subject.

It is impossible to speak adequately here of the liturgy of this great week. I have sketched for you, my brethren, in outline only, some of the ceremonies. By devoutly following the liturgy we are united to our suffering Lord, our hard hearts are broken by the dread words of the prophets and of David. We hear Jesus Himself disclosing His anguish of soul, the Church of God denouncing the deicides, the ruin of Jerusalem foretold. We have wounded the Sacred Heart by our sins, we have crucified our Saviour and we must weep in humility and penance if we would escape the sentence of condemnation.


And this, my dear brethren, was the spirit of more fervent days. In earlier times the whole Christian world gave itself up to this spirit of penance. It was to those ages so full of faith, the "great week," or the "painful week." We read of fervent souls pushing their fasting to the utmost limits of human endurance. We are told that some would fast the whole week, others for two, three, or four consecutive days, and it was the common practice to abstain from food from the evening of Maundy Thursday till Easter Sunday morning. All work was suspended, the people mocked to the churches and followed with loving hearts and tearful eyes each step of their suffering Lord as set forth in the liturgy. The prisons were flung open, slaves were freed, abundant alms were given to the poor, and war and quarrels were forgotten.

What an immense influence upon society the liturgical life of the Church and her penitential discipline must have had. Alas, my brethren, the world has in its foolish pride and self-sufficiency swept aside as "out-of-date" all national customs springing from this active remembrance of the Incarnation. The "Reign of Christ," which was universal at these solemn times, has been abolished. Christ is dethroned and the idol of false "Liberty" is raised up in His place. Men used to do penance for their sins, to weep over the wounds of their Saviour and strengthen themselves against their proud and sensual temptations. Now men withdraw all barriers and allow the flood of human wickedness to devastate the world. What can save modern society, my brethren, except the salutary discipline of penance imposed by the Church, and the humility of heart and remembrance of the Redeemer taught by her liturgy?


Let us, therefore, my dear brethren, be encouraged generously to undergo the salutary penance of this holy season. We shall gain the proper dispositions of soul by keeping close to Jesus Christ, and by living the life of the Church, thinking her thoughts, using her words, and filling our hearts with her sentiments; and these we shall find in her liturgy. If this labor of the purification of the soul is painful, we must remember that "God chastiseth every son that He receiveth," and that we cannot share the glories of His Resurrection unless we follow Him in the days of His penance and His passion.
Fr. Hewko Sermons for Ash Wednesday

A few short words before the administration of the Blessed Ashes [February 26, 2020]

Ash Wednesday [February 26, 2020]

Ash Wednesday [February 17, 2021]