This article is a part of a series on the seasons of the liturgical year: Advent I; Advent II ; Advent III ; Christmas; Epiphanytide; Septuagesima; Lent I; Lent II.
(LifeSiteNews) — In the previous piece, we considered how the Church presents Our Lord over the four Sundays of Lent.
This is our preparation for Passiontide, when we enter into what Pius XII calls “the principal mystery of our redemption” – the sufferings of Christ.1
Over these weeks, we will have seen Christ as the warrior in the desert, transfigured and glorified on Mount Tabor, and as “the stronger man” overcoming his enemies visible and invisible. On the Fourth Sunday (“Laetare Sunday”), in the feeding of the multitude, we see one of the most striking exercises of Christ’s power – his power over matter itself.
We have discussed Lent’s special focus on the catechumens, preparing for baptism at Easter. In the early days of the Roman liturgy, baptism could mark a decisive break with one’s previously comfortable life: it might result in the loss of friends, family, position, status, freedom – or even life itself.
Perhaps this is the reason for the four presentations of Our Lord on these Lenten Sundays, each inspiring confidence, admiration and love for him in the catechumens – as well as the baptized. It is a preparation for what lies ahead – both in our own lives, and in realizing who it is that suffers on Good Friday.
But after establishing Christ as the truly worthy reason for dying to our old selves in baptism and in fasting, the Church finally unveils her own face on Laetare Sunday. She shows herself as the destination of the baptised and the mother of the faithful, and she allows us to express our love for her in the liturgy.
In this light, the rejoicing of Laetare Sunday is not a break in the spirit of Lent at all. Rather, it is the culmination of the Sundays of Lent, and the ultimate preparation for Passiontide.
Love for the Church
This Fourth Sunday is all about her – the Church – how Christ nourishes us through her, and has her live his own life. As Pope Pius XII taught in Mystici Corporis Christi:
Christ our Lord wills the Church to live His own supernatural life, and by His divine power permeates His whole Body and nourishes and sustains each of the members according to the place which they occupy in the body, in the same way as the vine nourishes and makes fruitful the branches which are joined to it.2
The Mass of Laetare Sunday presents the Church to us, in all her dignity – and we are to grow in love for her and her Lord. We sing in the Introit:
Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow.
The reason for the rejoicing which characterizes this Sunday is the glory of Christ’s Church, revealed to us in the Mass. “Jerusalem” – mentioned throughout the propers – does not refer to the city by that name, but to the Holy Catholic Church, and to us – the faithful of Christ.
This is confirmed in the Epistle, which refers to the children of Abraham – one born to the slave Agar, and one to the free woman, Sarah. St. Paul identifies Jerusalem with the Church, and notes the remarkable fecundity manifested in the number of her children:
[T]hat Jerusalem which is above is free: which is our mother.
In their approaching baptisms, the catechumens are to be made children of the Church – “not the children of the bondwoman, but of the free: by the freedom wherewith Christ has made us free.”
For these reasons, some of the words of the Introit especially pertain to us, her children. Of Jerusalem, we are the ones “that love her.” This remains true even though, today, the revolutionary men who assault her maternal dignity (and those who defend these men) castigate us as her enemies and renegade children.
But for those of us who love the Church, the Introit offers us a promise and a prophecy. Pinsk gives its wider context:
Lovers of Jerusalem, rejoice with her, be glad for her sake; make holiday with her, you that mourned for her till now. So shall you be her foster-children, suckled plentifully with her consolations, drinking in, to your hearts’ content, the abundant glory that is hers.
Thus says the Lord, Peace shall flow through her like a river, the wealth of the nations shall pour into her like a torrent in flood; this shall be the milk you drain, like children carried at the breast, fondled on a mother’s lap. I will console you then, like a mother caressing her son, and all your consolation shall be in Jerusalem. (Isaias 66.10-13.)3
“You that mourned for her till now.” This describes all who love the Church today – especially those who exist in a kind of Babylonian Exile, as we discussed in relation to Septuagesima.
We have seen the Church wracked and riven by wicked men over the course of these past sixty years – and their betrayal of her has perhaps never been clearer than today.
We have seen so many of her children abandon her through heresy, schism, and apostasy – even amongst our own friends and family.
We have seen brother turn against brother, in misguided defense of those trying to destroy her.
As we will sing with the Church at Tenebrae in Holy Week:
O all ye that pass by the way, attend, and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow.
But as we see in the Introit itself – as well as the wider context – God tells us to rejoice and to take comfort. He promises that our holy Mother Church will be vindicated, and shall nourish those who will return to her. As Fr. John Kearney wrote:
After the most terrible trials, even after her friends had proved false – as the Apostles failed Christ – she was there as always, living, strong, confident. Her enemies have passed away, their power and their threats have become a mere memory, but the unchanged Church is still there; like Christ himself, she could not be destroyed.
She is ever the same, ever living the life of Christ.4
But let’s leave aside the wider situation of our day, and return to the catechumens.
The destination of those preparing for baptism
St. Ambrose tells us that “the breasts of the Church” mentioned in this text refer to the baptism which they are about to undergo.5 These texts present the destiny which will shortly be fulfilled for the catechumens: in the place of their old homes, families, positions, they are to find “a new heart and home through the Mother Church and among the people of God.” As Pinsk concludes:
And this overcame all those primordial fears that had been engendered by their decision to take their stand for Christ and the Church. Face to face with such a Church, mother of life and city of peace eternal, the catechumens confess in exultant joy, together with the whole Christian community, their ultimate assuagement, the slaking of all their fears and longings. […]
Whatever the baptized Christian has renounced in his break with the world, he finds it again in the holy city of God, in the shelter and sanctuary of Mother Church.6
This is why the Church allows us to sing to her praise, as the New Jerusalem, throughout the propers of this Mass. For instance, the Gradual, Tract and Communion:
I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: we shall go into the house of the Lord. V. Let peace be in thy strength: and abundance in thy towers.
They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Sion: he shall not be moved for ever that dwelleth in Jerusalem. V. Mountains are round about it: so the Lord is round about his people, from henceforth now and forever.
Jerusalem, which is built as a city, which is compact together: for thither did the tribes go up the tribes of the Lord, to praise thy name, O Lord.
Throughout this praise, the Church is always the safe, secure and unmoving stronghold of God, wherein her children will have eternal life, even if they suffer persecution for Christ’s sake. It is through the Church that Christ forms us, teaches us how to put him on and abide in him, and who guides us into his divine life through her teaching, laws, tradition, sacraments and liturgy. This is why Pius XII teaches of our annual commemoration of the events of Christ’s life on earth:
[T]he liturgical year, devotedly fostered and accompanied by the Church, is not a cold and lifeless representation of the events of the past, or a simple and bare record of a former age. It is rather Christ Himself who is ever living in His Church.7
In all this, the Church is Christ’s spouse, and our mother.
It is right that we love and honor our mother.
Conclusion – the gateway to Passiontide
Abiding in Christ, and “putting on Christ,” so as to stand firm in the evil of our day, is possible only through docility to the action of the Church, his mystical body – “whose members we are,” says Pius XII, “living by His very life.”8
Above all, we must be led by the Church into Christ’s sufferings and be crucified with him, as these sufferings “constitute the principal mystery of our redemption.”9
But it is evident, from the liturgical formation which she provides for us in the traditional Roman rite, that the Church wants us to prepare for Passiontide by abiding in the strong and conquering Christ of these Lenten Sundays.
We can only love that which we know. We need to know who it is – and what power and dignity he has – that chooses to suffer in Gethsemane, at the pillar, amongst mocking soldiers, on the way to Golgotha and on his holy cross.
Similarly, whether catechumen or baptized, we need to know the Church which Christ has espoused to himself and set over us as our mother.
Only now – after four Sundays of having been confronted with the power of Christ and his Church, appreciating our own destitution by comparison, and having come to know and love the person of our Redeemer – only now are the catechumens and the rest of us ready to face Passiontide.10 Only now are we ready, as Pius XII puts it, “to come to Calvary and follow in the blood-stained footsteps of the divine Redeemer, to carry the cross willingly with Him, to reproduce in our own hearts His spirit of expiation and atonement, and to die together with Him.”11
It is now – rather than at the start of Lent – that the Church truly enters into the silence and suffering of the Passion.
How much of this is lost in the reformed post-conciliar liturgy, with its wide cycle of different readings, and its suppression of Passiontide? The focused lessons taught in Lent cannot help but be dissipated under such circumstances.
But similarly, how much of this is lost even in the traditional liturgy, if we do not pay attention to the rhythms and meanings of the liturgical texts, if we replace the propers with other arbitrarily-chosen music, or if we impose hymns and devotions on ourselves without regard for the Church’s spirit?
Coming to know and love Our Lord, as he appears to us through the action of the Church’s Lenten liturgy, can only increase our appreciation for him in Passiontide – and thus we will be led to pass from sin, to life in him.
By means of His inspiration and help and through the cooperation of our wills we can receive from Him living vitality as branches do from the tree and members from the head; thus slowly and laboriously we can transform ourselves ‘unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ.’12
1Pius XII, Encyclical Mediator Dei, 1947, n. 165. https://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_20111947_mediator-dei.html. n. 164
2Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christ, 1943, n. 55. Available at: https://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_29061943_mystici-corporis-christi.html
3Johannes Pinsk, The Cycle of Christ, trans. Arthur Gibson, Desclee Company, New York, 1966, 36. Fr Johannes Pinsk (1891-1957) was involved with the twentieth century liturgical movement in ways that many readers would consider regrettable. However, his works have a wealth of interesting information about the liturgical year, which I would like to share. They also contains some things which traditional Catholics might not appreciate. My purpose here is to present what is good, along with some comments, to help us appreciate the holy Roman Liturgy.
4John Kearney, CSSp, You are the Body of Christ, Burns, Oates, and Washbourne, Dublin and London 1939, pp 52-3.
5“What are the breasts of the Church? Are they not the sacrament of baptism as often as it is administered?” In Pinsk 37
7Pius XII, Encyclical Mediator Dei, 1947, n. 165. https://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_20111947_mediator-dei.html
8Ibid. n. 163
9Ibid. n. 164
10Pius XII writes: “During the days of Septuagesima and Lent, our Holy Mother the Church over and over again strives to make each of us seriously consider our misery, so that we may be urged to a practical emendation of our lives, detest our sins heartily and expiate them by prayer and penance.” Ibid., n. 157
12Ibid. n. 165