The First Sunday of Lent
O Lord, the God of my salvation
We your people and the sheep of your flock
Of your grace and your uprightness
Like a glorious Bridegroom; like an adorned bride (Is 61:10)
O Lord, your Church saved by your cross and your flock bought with your precious Blood offers a crown of thanksgiving in faith to you, O High Priest of justice who has exalted her by your abasement. And, like a glorious Bride, she rejoices and exults in you, O glorious Bridegroom. In the strength of the Truth, raise the walls of her salvation, and establish priests within her to be ambassadors of peace on behalf of her children.
It is remarkable that the spiritual imagery for many of the hymns sung on this first Sunday of Lent has little or nothing to do with the act of fasting or even the idea of repentance. To a great extent, the discussion is one of Ecclesiology – the identity of the Church. It is as if the Lord, led by the Spirit into the wilderness, is accompanied by the whole Church: she is to follow him into the desert; she is to imitate his fasting and austerity; she, and all of us, her children, are to be with Christ in every step of his life.
Christ’s unity with his Church takes on many aspects and is expressed, in Scripture and Tradition, using many symbols. The first section of our Basilica Hymn brings several together, before preparing for yet another:
O Lord, your Church saved by your cross and your flock bought with your precious Blood offers a crown of thanksgiving in faith to you, O High Priest of justice who has exalted her by your abasement.
The Church is the body saved by his cross and the flock of the good Shepherd, but she is also the new Temple of the true High Priest, the one who offers not the blood of goats and bulls, but who came down from heaven to earth and offers his own precious Blood.
Where it had been the case that the Church (in a primordial state) was lowly and sinful, and the Son of God in the glory of heaven, one takes on the burden of the other: the Son becomes man, taking the form of a servant, and consequently, the Church becomes a queen.
The Narrow Door
This leads to the final image manifested by the Church: that of the Bride of the wondrous Bridegroom of heaven:
And, like a glorious Bride, she rejoices and exults in you, O glorious Bridegroom.
Though the Church is a Bride and a Queen, the doors to the bedchamber of this royal palace are not covered in gold or jewels, they are not the enormous slabs of fine mahogany we would expect adorning the inner sanctuary of the King of Kings. No, the door to this bedchamber is small and meek, and “those who enter it are few.” In a very real sense, it is Christ who is himself the Door.
The Church, therefore, cannot enter this door if she is carrying with her the goods of this world, she cannot fit if she is bloated with the gluttony of greed. Material things and sensual pleasures, must be left behind entirely if she is to enter, and this is the meaning of her fasting.
The Church having entered, following after her Lord, the love between the Bridegroom and Bride is perfected, and the result is the fulfillment of the order given to Adam to “be fertile and multiply,” as well as the promise given to Abraham regarding his many descendants: a multitude of children. Here the Church becomes a mother, and Christ completes his mission, becoming the perfect Image of the Father:
In the strength of the Truth, raise the walls of her salvation, and establish priests within her to be ambassadors of peace on behalf of her children.