Halfway Through Lent. Today we celebrate the 4th Sunday of Lent, the traditional midpoint of the 40 days of the penitential season. But some point out that there are actually 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday (inclusive). The thing is, the counting of the 40 days has never included the 6 Sundays of Lent, because, historically, the 40 days were always days of modified fasting, and Sunday was never a day of fast since it is the Lord’s Day. Moreover, though Good Friday and Holy Saturday are not technically “Lent” but the “Triduum”, even so, the Triduum retains the penitential character of Lent, so there are still 40 penitential days. Confused? Sorry.
That being said, this is the midpoint Sunday of Lent, and is called “Laetare Sunday,” “laetare” meaning “rejoice.” It is considered sort of a slight lifting of the austerity and somberness of Lent as we remember to lift our gaze to see that beyond the Cross is the Resurrection; in the midst of our sorrow for our lives of sin, we also rejoice in the forgiveness and new life won by the Paschal Mystery. The Rose Vestments symbolize this: the dark purple of repentance and sorrow mingled with the light of forgiveness and joy.
“For Your Penance, Say One Hail Mary.” In order to be forgiven our sins in the Sacrament of Penance three things are required of every sinner/penitent: 1) contrition, 2) confession of our sins, and 3) satisfaction. Most of us understand contrition (being sorry) and confessing our sins, but you may not be familiar with the term “satisfaction” in this context. “Satisfaction” here refers to the real effort to make up for our sins, and comes in two ways: “reparation” and “expiation” Let’s look a little closer at this. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches [1459-1460]:
“Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much.” This is called ‘making reparation.’
“But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must ‘make satisfaction for’ or ‘expiate’ his sins.” This satisfaction is also called ‘penance.’
“The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent’s personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. Such penances help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all.”
Many people wonder how something as small and simple as “saying three Hail Marys” can serve as an adequate penance. But remember, we could never do enough penance to pay for all our sins—only Jesus can do this, and does so, on the Cross. But the penance after confession is an important personal effort at trying to make amends. Moreover a simple and clear penance, such as some short prayers, makes a good practical penance because: 1) if done devoutly they can be an important first step forward toward God, 2) they are more likely to be done immediately, so that the penance won’t be forgotten and the penitent can immediately renew the life of grace, and 3) they avoid the confusion of more ambiguous or ambitious penances, so the penitent won’t be wondering, “did I do enough?” “did I do too much?” “did I do it right?”.
St. Peter Chrysologus. In the office of Readings. this last Tuesday, the second reading was from a sermon (Sermo 43: PL 52, 320, 322) by Saint Peter Chrysologus, a Bishop and Doctor of the Church, who died in 433. I thought this might help you this week.
“There are three things, my brethren, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.
“Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself.
“When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give. If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery.
“Let this be the pattern for all men when they practice mercy: show mercy to others in the same way, with the same generosity, with the same promptness, as you want others to show mercy to you.
“Therefore, let prayer, mercy and fasting be one single plea to God on our behalf, one speech in our defense, a threefold united prayer in our favor.
“Let us use fasting to make up for what we have lost by despising others. Let us offer our souls in sacrifice by means of fasting. There is nothing more pleasing that we can offer to God, as the psalmist said in prophecy: A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; God does not despise a bruised and humbled heart.
“Offer your soul to God, make Him an oblation of your fasting, so that your soul may be a pure offering, a holy sacrifice, a living victim, remaining your own and at the same time made over to God. Whoever fails to give this to God will not be excused, for if you are to give Him yourself you are never without the means of giving.
“To make these acceptable, mercy must be added. Fasting bears no fruit unless it is watered by mercy. Fasting dries up when mercy dries up. Mercy is to fasting as rain is to the earth. However much you may cultivate your heart, clear the soil of your nature, root out vices, sow virtues, if you do not release the springs of mercy, your fasting will bear no fruit.
“When you fast, if your mercy is thin your harvest will be thin; when you fast, what you pour out in mercy overflows into your barn. Therefore, do not lose by saving, but gather in by scattering. Give to the poor, and you give to yourself. You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give to others.”
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles