Second Sunday of Lent - The Act of Contrition

Source: District of Asia

This is a peculiar Sunday in the history of the Church's worship. In ancient days, the people of Rome used to go in procession to one or other of the churches of the city all through the season of Lent. If you look in your missals, you will see that some church is designated for each day. For example, to-morrow the station is at St. Clement's; the next day at St. Balbina's; the next at St. Cecilia's, and so on. Even for this Sunday a church is designated, but long ago there was no procession for the Second Sunday of Lent because the people had spent the whole night at St. Peter's.

Sometimes when we find it difficult to get to Mass, we might remember that our fathers in the faith did not hesitate to spend whole nights in worshipping God. If you had been here for Mass yesterday, you would have noticed that the priest was required to say five lessons before the Gospel. That is only a memory of the ancient vigil at which the people listened to twelve lessons both in Latin and in Greek; and then followed the singing of psalms and the recitation of many prayers around the tomb of St. Peter. So, for this Sunday there was no procession because the people were tired after their long fast and vigil of Ember Saturday.

Outside of Rome, however, Mass was celebrated as usual, but the texts used in the Mass were pieced together from other Masses, particularly from the Mass which was said last Wednesday. Later, Rome itself adopted this Mass. and so it has been used for centuries. We might remark in passing that these all-night vigils in church are still carried out by some of the Eastern Rites. No doubt our Western world is too busy to fit a whole night of worship into its schedule! And I imagine there are few people who could stand the strain in these days.

Now, one of the reasons for this special liturgy on the Second Sunday of Lent is that ordinations were held at St. Peter's on Ember Saturday. You can see, dearly beloved, how important it was for the people in ancient times to gather and offer many sacrifices and prayers that God would give them a worthy and a holy clergy. And so today we can join in spirit with those early Catholics-even though few places. have ordinations on this date-and beg God to give us plentiful vocations and fervent priests.


The Introit, which is repeated from Inst Wednesday's Mass, is taken from Psalm xxiv. The whole psalm has twenty-two verses, but of course the priest says only one or two with the Glory be to the Father. Each of the twenty-two verses is numbered by a letter from the Hebrew alphabet, and the whole psalm falls into three parts; the first part is a prayer for protection, guidance and pardon; the second is a meditation on the majesty of God and His dealings with those who fear Him; the last part is a renewed prayer for deliverance in sorrow and distress. It would be a great help to piety at Mass if we could read the entire psalm while the priest says the Introit: "All my heart goes out to Thee; I trust in Thee, O God; do not belie my trust." God loves us specially when we show a childlike spirit of confidence and dependence, because that spirit keeps us close to Him and arouses quick sorrow for sins: and there is always some love in sorrow for sin.

After the priest finishes St. Paul's Epistle to the Thessalonians, he goes on with Psalm xxiv and asks God to save us from distress and to look upon our miseries with a merciful eye and grant pardon for our sins. There are so many of life's troubles which can be offered, especially in Lent, as a means of obtaining pardon; and this psalm reminds us that God does take into account our weakness and the struggles we have to go through when He considers our offenses. Of course, we may not use our weakness as an excuse to commit sin, but we certainly may call upon God to pity our human frailty when we ask His pardon for past sins. There you have part of the idea of repentance; whoever is really sorry for sin is sorry he has been a sinner: he regrets that he has done evil; he wishes he had never done it. Of course, a special grace is needed to feel that way, but prayers like this psalm bring such graces to us and we should say them. from our heart.


A few verses from Psalm cv are said just after the Gradual. These verses form what is called the Tract. Centuries ago, a chanter went up into a kind of pulpit and sang the verses of the Tract by himself, without any responses from the people. Sometimes it was a whole psalm. In fact, on the First Sunday of Lent, you may have noticed that the Tract consisted in a full-length psalm. As the centuries went on, one verse after another was dropped until now, we have only three or four verses whenever the Tract is sung, except on the First Sunday of Lent and also on Palm Sunday before the Passion is read. Outside of Lent and days of penance, an alleluia would be sung instead of the Tract; but now the Church wants to impress us with her mood of sorrow for sins, even when she lifts her voice to praise God, as she does in this Tract to-day. After all, one of the ways of indicating our spirit of repentance is to give glory to God for the glory we took away when we committed sin, so that an act of praise is often a set of contrition too.

The short verse which is said to-day after the Creed at the beginning of the Offertory of the Mass comes from Psalm cxviii: "I will meditate on Thy commandments which I love with all my heart; and I will lift up my hands to greet Thy law which I love." You remember that in our act of contrition we tell God that we firmly resolve with the help of His grace to do penance and to amend our lives; it seems to me this little verse makes the amendment of our lives somewhat easier because it turns us completely around so that instead of being attracted by sin we are attracted by God's law and His will. Frankly, it is hard to see how people can keep out of sin except from love for God and His law; and it is hard to see how we can really give any glory to God on this earth except by obedience to God. Now, when you have obedience to love, you have the greatest security from evil and the closest union with God that can be attained on this earth. When the priest turns back to the altar after saying Dominus vobiscum at the end of the Creed, tell God that you love His commandments because you love Him, then you will have entered into the spirit of to-day's Mass.


At the end of Communion, we recite averse from Psalm v. This time we are putting our resolutions into God's holy hands: "Hear my cry, my King and my God, because my prayer goes up to Thee, O Lord!" We are all capable of noble sentiments when the wood comes upon us; but if a new mood comes, we quickly forget what pious thoughts led us to God while we knelt in church; so we have to ask Him to strengthen us and to send His Holy Spirit back to us to remind us that we made a pact of friendship and love while we were here-a compact by which we should ever abide.

You may have noticed to-day how much use the Church makes of the Book of Psalms at Mass; she finds in the psalms an expression of every religious inclination. What we have done this morning all through the Mass was to make a fervent act of sorrow for sin. If this spirit of repentance of ours will only last!