Sunday, January 24, 2016

Septuagesima Sunday: The Wounds Of Sin

At 1st Vespers yesterday, the holy Season of Septuagesima begins...the pre-preparation for the Season of Lent.  At Pretiosa, the reading from the martyrology began "Septuagesima Sunday -- the Sunday on which is discontinued the Canticle of the Lord, the Alleluia."

As in the Roman Breviary, the Gospel reading is the parable of the householder who hires laborers to work in his vineyard.  At Matins, Lesson iii is an excerpt from St. Gregory the great's magnificent homily on this parable.  It is one of my favorite patristic homilies, and I return to it often during the year, reading bits and pieces of it now and again, for spiritual edification.  If you have a relative or loved one who has fallen away from the Church, and you are anxious for their eternal welfare, I highly recommend this homily.  You can find an English translation of it here.

In 2014, I did a post in which I noted the uniqueness of the Magnificat antiphon that is used in the Dominican Breviary for 1st Vespers of this Sunday.   What I didn't realize at the time, was that this antiphon is used at 1st Vespers from the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany up to Septuagesima Sunday (inclusive).  I don't know anything about it's origin, but it is a brief and beautiful summary of the absolute necessity of humility and repentance for any healthy interior life.

The antiphon, which reads:

Peccáta mea, Dómine, sicut sagíttae infíxa sunt in me:  sed ántequam vúlnera génerent in me, sana me, Dómine, medicaménto pæniténtiæ, Deus.
My sins, Lord, like arrows, are sunk deep in me.  But before they produce wounds in me, heal me, Lord God, with the antidote of repentance. 

alludes to the spiritual injury of sin, comparing it to that of a wound that one receives from an arrow that pierces the flesh.  The longer we leave this wound untreated, the more deeply the wound will injure our soul.  The remedy is, of course, repentance...that genuine sorrow for our sins which is born of actual grace.  St. Theresa gives a hint of this image in "The Interior Castle" (Mansion III, Ch. II) when she exhorts her fellow sisters to "practice humility, which is the ointment for our wounds"

During Christmastide, while reading St. Bernard's Third Sermon for Christmas Day, I came across a a beautiful passage in which he employs the "sin-as-wound" metaphor as part of a profound meditation on our Lord's sacrificial redemption of mankind:
Brethren, the tears of Christ overwhelm me with shame and fear and sorrow.  I was playing out of doors in the street, whilst sentence of death was being passed upon me in the privacy of the royal council-chamber.  But the King’s only-begotten Son heard of it.  And what did He do?  He went forth from the palace, put off His diadem, covered Himself with sackcloth, strewed ashes on His head, bared His feet, and wept and lamented because His poor slave was condemned to death.  I meet Him unexpectedly in this sad condition.  I am astonished at the woeful change in Him and inquire the cause.  He tells me the whole story.  What am I to do now?  Shall I continue to play and make a mockery of His tears?  Surely I have neither sense nor reason if I do nothing rather follow Him and unite my tears with His.  This is the cause of my shame.  Shall I tell you also the source of my sorrow and my fear?  It is the fact that I estimate the magnitude of my danger from a consideration of the remedy.    I had no idea how desperate was my condition.  I believed myself to be in good health.  And behold, the Son of the Virgin, the Son of the Most High, is sent for, and ordered to be slain, so that my wounds may be healed by the balsam of His most precious Blood!  Acknowledge, O Man, how serious were thy wounds, since to heal them it was necessary that Christ should be wounded.  Had thy wounds not been unto death, yea, unto everlasting death, the Son of God would never have died for their remedy.  It were shame for us, then, dearest brethren, to neglect of dissemble those wounds of ours for which we behold so august a Majesty manifesting so much compassion.   The Son of God compassionates our misery and weeps over us, and shall we who suffer the misery, only laugh at it?  Thus the consideration of the preciousness of the remedy fills my sold with fear and sorrow. 
A blessed Septuagesima Season to all who read this blog.


Graciously hear the prayers of your people, we beseech you, Lord, that we who are justly afflicted for our sins, may for the glory of your name, mercifully be freed.  Through our Lord...