February, the month dedicated to the Passion of Christ
Rev. Fr. Leonard Goffine's
The Church's Year
SEPTUAGESIMA SUNDAY [Feb. 12 this year]
Why is this Sunday called "Septuagesima"?
Because in accordance with the words of the First Council of Orleans, some
pious Christian congregations in the earliest ages of the Church,
especially the clergy, began to fast seventy days before Easter, on this
Sunday, which was therefore called Septuagesima" - the seventieth day. The
same is the case with the Sundays following, which are called Sexagesima,
Quinquagesima , Quadragesima, because some Christians commenced to fast
sixty days, others fifty, others forty days before Easter, until finally,
to make it properly uniform, Popes Gregory and Gelasius arranged that all
Christians should fast forty days before Easter, commencing with
Why, from this day until Easter, does the Church omit in her service all
joyful canticles, alleluia's, and the Gloria in excelsis etc?
Gradually to prepare the minds of the faithful for the serious time of
penance and sorrow; to remind the sinner of the grievousness of his errors,
and to exhort him to penance. So the priest appears at the altar in violet,
the color of penance, and the front of the altar is covered with a violet
curtain. To arouse our sorrow for our sins, and show the need of
repentance, the Church in the name of all mankind at the Introit cries with
David: The groans of death surrounded me, the sorrows of hell encompassed
me: and in my affliction I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice from
his holy temple. (Ps. XVII, 5-7.) I will love thee, O Lord, my strength;
the Lord is my firmament, and my refuge, and my deliverer. (Fs. XVII. 2-3.)
Glory be to the Father, etc.
COLLECT O Lord, we beseech Thee graciously hear the prayers of Thy people;
that we who are justly afflicted for our sins may, for the glory of Thy
name, mercifully be delivered. Through our Lord, Jesus Christ etc.
EPISTLE (I. Cor. IX. 24-27., to X. 1-5.) Brethren, know you not that they
that run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run,
that you may obtain. And every one that striveth for the mastery,
refraineth himself from all things: and they indeed that they may receive a
corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible one. I therefore so run, not as
at an uncertainty; I so fight, not as one beating the air; but I chastise
my body, and bring it into subjection; lest perhaps, when I have preached
to others, I myself should become a castaway. For I would not have you
ignorant, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all
passed through the sea: and all in Moses were baptized, in the cloud and in
the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual food, and all drank the same
spiritual drink (and they drank of the spiritual rock that followed them:
and the rock was Christ); but with the most of them God was not well
EXPLANATION Having exhorted us to penance in the Introit of the Mass, the
Church desires to indicate to us, by reading this epistle, the effort we
should make to reach the kingdom of heaven by the narrow path (Matt. VII.
13.) of penance and mortification. This St. Paul illustrates by three
different examples. By the example of those who in a race run to one point,
or in a prize-fight practice and prepare themselves for the victor's reward
by the strongest exercise, and by the strictest abstinence from everything
that might weaken the physical powers. If to win a laurel-crown that passes
away, these will subject themselves to the severest trials and
deprivations, how much more should we, for the sake of the heavenly crown
of eternal happiness, abstain from those improper desires, by which the
soul is weakened, and practice those holy virtues, such as prayer, love of
God and our neighbor, patience, to which the crown is promised! Next, by
his own example, bringing himself before them as one running a race, and
fighting for an eternal crown, but not as one running blindly not knowing
whither, or fighting as one who strikes not his antagonist, but the air; on
the contrary, with his eyes firmly fixed on the eternal crown, certain to
be his who lives by the precepts of the gospel, who chastises his spirit
and his body as a valiant champion, with a strong hand, that is, by
severest mortification, by fasting and prayer. If St. Paul, notwithstanding
the extraordinary graces which he received, thought it necessary to
chastise his body that he might not be cast away, how does the sinner
expect to be saved, living an effeminate and luxurious life without penance
and mortification? St. Paul's third example is that of the Jews who all
perished on their journey to the Promised Land, even though God had granted
them so many graces; He shielded them from their enemies by a cloud which
served as a light to them at night, and a cooling shade by day; He divided
the waters of the sea, thus preparing for them a dry passage; He caused
manna to fall from heaven to be their food, and water to gush from the rock
for their drink. These temporal benefits which God bestowed upon the Jews
in the wilderness had a spiritual meaning; the cloud and the sea was a
figure of baptism which enlightens the soul, tames the concupiscence of the
flesh, and purifies from sin; the manna was a type of the most holy
Sacrament of the Altar, the soul's true bread from heaven; the water from
the rock, the blood flowing from Christ's wound in the side; and yet with
all these temporal benefits which God bestowed upon them, and with all the
spiritual graces they were to receive by faith from the coming Redeemer, of
the six hundred thousand men who left Egypt only two, Joshua and Caleb,
entered the Promised Land. Why? Because they were fickle, murmured so,
often against God, and desired the pleasures of the flesh. How much, then,
have we need to fear lest we be excluded from the true, happy land, Heaven,
if we do not continuously struggle for it, by penance and mortification!
ASPIRATION Assist me, O Jesus, with Thy grace that, following St. Paul's
example, I may be anxious, by the constant pious practice of virtue and
prayer, to arrive at perfection and to enter heaven.
G0SPEL (Matt. XX. 1-6.) At that time, Jesus spoke to his disciples this
parable: The kingdom of heaven is like to a householder, who went out early
in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard. And having agreed with
the laborers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going
out about the third hour, he saw others Standing in the market place idle,
and he said to them: Go you also into my vineyard, and I will give you what
shall be just. And they went their way. And again he went out about the
sixth and the ninth hour, and did in like manner. But about the eleventh
hour, he went out, and found others standing; and he saith to them: Why
stand you here all the day idle? They say to him: Because no man hath hired
us. He saith to them: Go you also into my vineyard. And when evening was
come, the Lord of the vineyard saith to his steward: Call the laborers, and
pay them their hire, beginning from the last even to the first. When
therefore they were come that came about the eleventh hour, they received
every man a penny, But when the first also came, they thought that they
should receive more; and they also received every man a penny. And
receiving it, they murmured against the master of the house, saying: These
last have worked but one hour, and thou hart made them equal to us that
have borne the burden of the day and the heats. But he answering said to
one of them: Friend, I do thee no wrong; didst thou not agree with me for a
penny? Take what is thine, and go thy way; I will also give to this last
even as to thee. Or, is it not lawful for me to do what I will? Is thy eye
evil, because I am good? So shall the last be first, and the first last.
For many are called, but few are chosen.
In this parable, what is to be understood by the householder, the vineyard,
laborers, and the penny?
The householder represents God, who in different ages of the world, in the
days of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and finally, in the days of Christ and
the apostles, has sought to call men as workmen into His vineyard, the true
Church, that they might labor there industriously, and receive the penny of
How and when does God call people?
By inward inspiration, by preachers, confessors, spiritual books, and
conversations, etc., in flourishing youth and in advanced age, which
periods of life may be understood by the different hours of the day.
What is meant by working in the vineyard?
It means laboring, fighting, suffering for God and His honor, for our own
and the salvation of others. As in a vineyard we spade, dig, root out
weeds, cut off all that is useless and noxious, manure, plant, and bind up,
so in the spiritual vineyard of our soul we must, by frequent meditation on
death and hell, by examination of conscience dig up the evil inclinations
by their roots, and by true repentance eradicate the weeds of vice, and by
mortification, especially by prayer and fasting cut away concupiscence; by
the recollection of our sins we must humble ourselves, and amend our life;
in place of the bad habits we must plant the opposite virtues and bind our
unsteady will to the trellis of the fear of God and of His judgment, that
we may continue firm.
How is a vice or bad habit to be rooted up?
A great hatred of sin must be aroused; a fervent desire of destroying sin
must be produced in our hearts; the grace of God must be implored without
which nothing can be accomplished. It is useful also to read some spiritual
book which speaks against the vice. The Sacraments of Penance and of holy
Communion should often be received, and some saint who in life had
committed the same sin, and afterwards by the grace of God conquered it,
should be honored, as Mary Magdalen and St. Augustine who each had the
habit of impurity, but with the help of God resisted and destroyed it in
themselves; there should be fasting, alms-deeds, or other good works,
performed for the same object, and it is of great importance, even
necessary, that the conscience should be carefully examined in this regard.
Who are standing idle in the market place?
In the market-place, that is the world, they are standing idle who, however
much business they attend to, do not work for God and for their own
salvation; for the only necessary employment is the service of God and the
working out of our salvation. There are three ways of being idle: doing
nothing whatever; doing evil; doing other things than the duties of our
position in life and its office require, or if this work is done without a
good intention, or not from the love of God. This threefold idleness
deprives us of our salvation, as the servant loses his wages if he works
not at all, or not according to the will of his master. We are all servants
of God, and none of us can say with the laborers in the Vineyard that no
man has employed us; for God, when He created us, hired us at great wages,
and we must serve Him always as He cares for us at all times; and if, in
the gospel, the householder reproaches the workmen, whom no man had hired,
for their idleness, what will God one day say to those Christians whom He
has placed to work in His Vineyard, the Church, if they have remained idle?
Why do the last comers receive as much as those who worked all day ?
Because God rewards not the time or length of the work, but the industry
and diligence with which it has been performed. It may indeed happen, that
many a one who has served God but for a short time, excels in merits
another who has lived long but has not labored as diligently. (Wisd. IV.
What is signified by the murmers of the first workmen when the wages were
As the Jews were the first who were called by God, Christ intended to show
that the Gentiles, who were called last, should one day receive the
heavenly reward, and that the Jews have no reason to murmur because God
acted not unjustly in fulfilling His promises "to them, and at the same
time calling others to the eternal reward. In heaven envy, malevolence and
murmuring will find no place. On the contrary, the saints who have long
served God wonder at His goodness in converting sinners and those who have
served Him but a short time, for these also there will be the same penny,
that is, the vision, the enjoyment, and possession of God and His kingdom.
Only in the heavenly glory there will be a difference because the divine
lips have assured us that each one shall be rewarded according to his
works. The murmurs of the workmen and the answer of the householder serve
to teach us, that we should not murmur against the merciful proceedings of
God towards our neighbor, nor envy him; for envy and jealousy are
abominable, devilish vices, hated by God. By the envy of the, devil, death
came into the world. (Wisd. II. 24.) The envious therefore, imitate
Lucifer, but they hurt only themselves, because they are consumed by their
envy. "Envy," says St. Basil "is an institution of the serpent, an
invention of the devils, an obstacle to piety, a road to hell, the depriver
of the heavenly kingdom."
What is meant by: The first shall be last, and the last shall be first?
This again is properly to be understood of the Jews; for they were the
first called, but will be the last in order, as in time, because they
responded not to Christ's invitation, received not His doctrine, and will
enter the Church only at the end of the world; while, on the contrary, the
Gentiles who where not called until after the Jews, will be the first in
number as in merit, because the greater part responded and are still
responding to the call. Christ, indeed, called all the Jews, but few of
them answered, therefore few were chosen. Would that this might not. also
come true with regard to Christians whom God has also called, and whom He
wishes to save. (I. Tim. II. 4.) Alas! very few live in accordance with
their vocation of working in the vineyard of the Lord, and, consequently,
do not receive the penny of eternal bliss.
PRAYER O most benign God, who, out of pure grace, without any merit of
ours, hast called us, Thy unworthy servants, to the true faith, into the
vineyard of the holy Catholic Church, and dost require us to work in it for
the sanctification of our souls, grant, we beseech Thee, that we may never
be idle but be found always faithful workmen, and that that which in past
years we have failed to do, we may make up for in future by greater zeal
and persevering industry, and, the work being done, may receive the
promised reward in heaven, through Jesus Christ, Thy Son our, Lord. Amen.
From The Church's Year Online -
Sincerely in Christ,
Our Lady of the Rosary Library
"Pray and work for souls"