Your planet has once again swung around to the time of year which since ancient times Catholics have called Pre-Lent. In the traditional calendar of the Roman Rite Sunday is Septuagesima (Latin “seventieth”); we are about 70 days out from Easter. We should start thinking now about our choices for the important yearly Lenten discipline now rather than the day after Ash Wednesday, some three weeks away.

Speaking of ancient, St Gregory the Great (d 604) organised the striking Mass formularies for these Pre-Lent Sundays. From the start they set the tone for planning about Lent. The Introit chant is from Psalm 17/18 (5-7; 2-3) in which David sings of his delivery from his enemies. “The terrors of death surged round me, the cords of the nether world enmeshed me. In my distress I called upon the Lord; from His holy temple He heard my voice. I love You, O Lord, my strength, O Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost …”

We too have enemies. Perhaps they are not like Saul and company, with arrows and swords, although some Christians face those perils today. Our enemies are our sins. Our constant foes are the temptations of the World, the Flesh and the Devil. St Paul warns of them in his letter to the Ephesians (2:1-3 DRA):

And you, when you were dead in your offences, and sins, Wherein in time past you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of this air, of the spirit that now worketh on the children of unbelief; in which also we all conversed in time past, in the desires of our flesh, fulfilling the will of the flesh and of our thoughts, and were by nature children of wrath …

Grim, I know. However, it serves you nothing to have happy gas blown at you interminably. The stakes are, after all, high. Priests have the duty to help you grasp how serious the stakes truly are. Even so, we must also point you to what Paul wrote immediately after that grim description (vv 4-5):

But God (who is rich in mercy,) for his exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together in Christ (by whose grace you are saved).

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