Lent: The Time of Grace
(From: The Layman’s Daily Missal)
Sometimes we use the word “mystery” as meaning a truth which is beyond our understanding, but which we believe because God has revealed it to us. It is in this sense that we speak of “the mystery of the “Blessed Trinity” or “the mystery of the Incarnation “.
But the word has another meaning also — the meaning used in the liturgy. A mystery is an action done by God in pursuance of his purposes. Thus we speak of “the mysteries of the rosary”, referring to those actions of Christ that form the subject of our thoughts during the time it takes us to say the Hail Mary ten times. He did all these things as part of his plan to redeem us. But in the liturgy he is still in pursuance of his plan, in order to apply the fruits of redemption to us individually. The whole liturgy — the Mass, the sacraments and the Church’s year — consists of Christ’s actions in and through his mystical Body, the Church. Thus they are called “the Christian mysteries”; those of them which are done at Easter — all the sacraments and observances and celebrations of that feast — are called the “paschal mysteries “. It is through these especially that Christ imparts his grace to us. Lent is both a preparation for Easter and also the beginning of the paschal mysteries themselves.
In order to prepare his people for baptism and the other Sacraments, Christ begins his struggle against Satan. Christians, in union with him, try to break loose from their attachment to earthly pleasures. They receive instruction, they pray, and they join Christ in his warfare so that they will be early also to share in his death and resurrection.
The duration of this struggle is going to be forty days. At different stages in the history of Our salvation, other men in search of God have entered the lists before us. We shall see Moses spending forty days on Mount Sinai in close converse with God; we shall see Elijah (Elias) making a pilgrimage, forty days long, to Mount Horeb. Forty seems to be a kind of sacred number; it stands for a whole lifetime — that span of time which is needed for stripping ourselves of the old self, formed by sin (as we have been), in order to become the new man, formed by grace and dedicated to God (as we hope to be).
When the Israelites came out of Egypt, they wandered about the desert for forty years until they had become a new people — for by then all the former people who had been in captivity, and who had refused to abandon Egyptian paganism and let themselves be led by God, had died. Jesus also, in due course, when he begins his ministry, goes to live in the desert. The forty days which he spent there in fasting and prayer teach us that his whole life is a perfect renunciation, a never-ceasing prayer, a continual battle for the honour of God. And so now the Christian people are going to join their Saviour in order to belong to him completely.