FRIDAY AFTER ASH WEDNESDAY
The Liturgical Year – Dom Guéranger
The station for today is in the church of the holy martyrs, St. John and St. Paul.
Graciously favour us, O Lord, we beseech thee, in the fast we have undertaken: that what we observe outwardly, we may perform with sincere minds. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
EPISTLE – Isaias 58:1-9
Thus says the Lord God: Cry, cease not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their wicked doings, and the house of Jacob their sins. For they seek me from day to day, sad desire to know my ways, as a nation that hath done justice, and hath not forsaken the judgment of their God: they ask of me the judgments of justice: they are willing to approach to God. Why have we fasted, and thou hast not regarded: have we humbled our souls, and thou hast not taken notice? Behold in the day of your fast your own will is found, and you exact of all your debtors. Behold you fast for debates and strife and strike with the fist wickedly. Do not fast as you have done until this day, to make your cry to be heard on high. Is this such a fast as I have chosen: for a man to afflict his soul for a day? is this it, to wind his head about like a circle, and to spread sackcloth and ashes? wilt thou call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this rather the fast that I have chosen? loose the bands of wickedness, undo the bundles that oppress, let them that are broken go free, and break asunder every burden. Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and the harbourless into thy house: when thou shalt see one naked, cover him, and despise not thy own flesh. Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall speedily arise, and thy justice shall go before thy face, and the glory of the Lord shall gather thee up. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall hear: thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am; for I the Lord thy God am merciful.
We are told, in this lesson from the prophet Isaias, what are the dispositions which should accompany our fast. It is God Himself who here speaks to us, that God who had Himself commanded His people to fast. He tells us that the fasting from material food is a mere nothing in His eyes, unless they who practise it abstain also from sin. He demands the sacriﬁce of the body; but it is not acceptable to Him, unless that of the soul goes along with it. The living God can never consent to be treated as were the senseless gods of wood and stone, which the Gentiles adored, and which were incapable of receiving any other than a mere external homage. Let, then, the heretic cease to ﬁnd fault with the Church for her observance of practices, which he pretends to scorn as being material; it is he that grows material by his system of letting the body have every indulgence. The children of the Church fast, because fasting is recommended in almost every page of both the old and the new Testament, and because Jesus Christ Himself fasted for forty days; but they are fully aware that this practice, which is thus recommended and urged, is then alone meritorious, when it is ennobled and completed by the homage of a heart that is resolved to reform its vicious inclinations. And after all, it would be an injustice, if the body, which has been led into guilt solely through the malice of the soul, were to be made to suffer, and the soul herself be allowed to continue in her sinful course. Hence it is that they whose ill-health prevents them from observing the bodily austerities of Lent, are equally bound to impose on their soul that spiritual fast, which consists in the amendment of their life, in avoiding everything that is sinful, and in the zealous performance of every good work in their power.
GOSPEL – Matthew 5:43-48; 6:1-4
At that time: Jesus said to his disciples: You have heard that it hath been said: Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you: love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you; that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust. For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? do not even the publicans this? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you do more? do not also the heathens this? ‘Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect. Take heed that you do not your justice before men to be seen by them: otherwise you shall not have a reward of your Father who is in heaven. Therefore, when thou dost an almsdeed, sound not a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honoured by men. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when thou dost alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth; that thy alms may be in secret, and thy Father, who seeth in secret will repay thee.
Almsdeeds is the third of the great penitential works: it is the sister virtue of prayer and fasting. For this reason, the Church puts before us, today, the instructions given by our Saviour on the manner in which we ought to do works of mercy. He puts upon us the duty of loving our fellow-men, without distinction of friends or enemies. God, who has created them all, loves them Himself; this is motive enough to make us show mercy to all. If He bears with them even when they are His enemies by sin, and patiently waits for their conversion even to the end of their lives, so that they who are lost are lost through their own fault, what ought not we to do, we who are sinners as they are, and their brethren, and created like them out of nothing? When, therefore, we do an act of kindness or mercy towards those who have God for their Father, we offer Him a most acceptable homage. Charity, the queen of virtues, absolutely requires of us the love of our neighbour, as being part of our love of God; and this charity, at the same time that it is a sacred obligation incumbent upon each member of the family of mankind, is, in the acts it inspires us to do towards each other, a work of penance, because it imposes upon us certain privations, and requires us to overcome every repugnance which nature stirs up within us, when we have to show this charity to certain individuals. And ﬁnally, we must in our almsdeeds follow the counsel our blessed Saviour gives us; it is the one He recommended to us, when He bade us fast: we must do it in secret, and shun ostentation. Penance loves humility and silence; it has a dread of being noticed by men; the only one whose applause it seeks, is He who seeth in secret.
Bow down your heads to God.
Defend, O Lord, thy people, and mercifully cleanse them from all their sins: for no misfortune can hurt them, if no wickedness rule over them. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.