This day is called the Feria of the Great Scrutiny, because in the Church of Rome, after the necessary inquiries and examinations, the list of the Catechumens, who were to receive Baptism, was closed. The Station was held in the Basilica of St. Paul outside the walls, both because of the size of the building, and also in order to honor the Apostle of the Gentiles by offering him these new recruits, which the Church was about to make from Paganism. The reader will be interested and edified by a description of this ceremony.
The Faithful and the Aspirants to Baptism being assembled in the Basilica, about the hour of noon, the names of these latter were written down, and an Acolyte arranged them in order before the people, placing the men on the right, and the women on the left. A Priest then recited over each of them the prayer which made them Catechumens, for it is by anticipation that we have been hitherto giving them this name. He signed their foreheads with the sign of the cross and imposed his hand upon their heads. He then blessed the salt (which signifies Wisdom), and each of them tasted it.
After these preliminary ceremonies, they were made to go out of the Church, and remained under the exterior portico until such time as they were called back. As soon as they had left (the assembly of the Faithful remaining in the Church), the Introit was begun. It is taken from the words of the Prophet Ezechiel, wherein God tells us that he will gather his elect from all nations, and pour upon them a clean water that shall cleanse them from their sins. The Acolyte then read out the names of the Catechumens, and they were brought into the Church by the Porter. They were arranged as before, and the Sponsors stood near them. The Pontiff then sang the Collect; after which, at the intimation given by the Deacon, each Sponsor made the sign of the cross on the forehead of the Catechumen, for whom he or she was responsible. Acolytes followed, and pronounced the exorcisms over each of the elect, beginning with the men.
A Lector next read the Lesson from the Prophet Ezechiel, which we give in its proper place. It was followed by a Gradual, composed of these words of David:
“Come, Children, hearken to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Come ye to him, and be enlightened; and your face shall not be confounded.”
In the Collect, which followed this Lesson, the Church prayed that the Faithful might receive the fruits of their Lenten Fast; and immediately, a second Lesson was read, from the Prophet Isaias, in which is foretold the remission of sins to be granted to those who shall be cleansed in the mysterious laver of Baptism.
A second Gradual gave these words from the Royal Psalmist:
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; the people whom he hath chosen for his inheritance.”
During the reading of these two Lessons, and the chanting of the two Graduals, the mysterious ceremony of the Opening the Ears was being gone through. Priests went to each Catechumen, and touching his ears, said: Ephpheta, that is, Be thou opened. This rite (which was in imitation of what our Savior did to the deaf and dumb man mentioned in the Gospel), was intended to prepare the Catechumens to receive the revelation of the mysteries, which, up to that time, had only been shown them under the veil of allegory. The first initiation made to them was regarding the holy Gospels.
As soon as the second Gradual was finished, there were seen coming from the Secretarium, preceded by lights and incense, four Deacons, each of them carrying one of the four Gospels. They advanced towards the Sanctuary, and placed the sacred volumes on the Altar, one on each corner. The Bishop, or, if he wished it, a Priest, addressed to the Catechumens the following allocution, which we find still in the Gelasian Sacramentary:
Being about to open to you the Gospels, that is, the history of the acts of God, it firstly behooves us, dearly beloved children, to tell you what the Gospels are, whence they come, these words they contain, why they are four in number, and who wrote them; in fine, who are the four men who were announced by the Holy Spirit, and foretold by the Prophet. Unless we were to explain to you these several particulars, we should leave your minds confused; and whereas you have come today that your ears may be opened, it would be unseemly in us to begin by bewildering your minds. Gospel literally means good tidings, because it tells us of Jesus Christ, our Lord. The Gospel came from him, in order to proclaim and show that he, who spoke by the Prophets, is now come in the flesh, as it is written: I myself that spoke, lo, I am here. Having briefly to explain to you what the Gospel is, and who are the four men foretold by the Prophet, we now give you their names, following the order of the figures, under which they are designated. The Prophet Ezechiel says: And as for the likeness of their faces, there was the face of a Man and the face of a Lion on the right side of all the four: and the face of an Ox on the left side of all the four: and the face of an Eagle over all the four. These four figures are, as we know, those of the Evangelists, whose names are: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
After this discourse, a Deacon, ascending the Ambo, thus addressed the Catechumens:
Be silent: hear attentively!
Then, opening, the Gospel of St. Matthew, which he had previously taken from the Altar, he read the beginning, as far as the twenty-first verse.
These verses having been read, a Priest spoke as follows:
Dearly beloved children, we wish to hold you no longer in suspense; therefore, we expound to you the figure of each Evangelist. Matthew has the figure of a Man, because at the commencement of his book, he gives the genealogy of the Savior; for he begins with these words: The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. You see, then, that it is not without reason that to Matthew has been assigned the figure of the Man, since he begins with the human birth of the Savior.
Again the Deacon from the Ambo:
Be silent: hear attentively!
He then read the beginning of St. Mark’s Gospel, as far as the eighth verse. After which, the Priest spoke as follows:
The Evangelist Mark has the figure of the Lion, because he begins with the Desert, saying: A voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord; or again, because the Savior now reigns, and is invincible. This type of the Lion is frequently mentioned in the Scriptures, and is the application of those words: Juda is a Lion’s whelp: to the prey, my son, thou art gone up; resting, thou hast couched as a Lion, and as a Lioness: who shall rouse him?
The Deacon, having repeated his injunction, next read the beginning of the Gospel according to St. Luke, as far as the seventeenth verse; after which the Priest said:
The Evangelist Luke has the figure of the Ox, which reminds us that the Savior was offered in sacrifice. This Evangelist begins by speaking of Zachary and Elizabeth, from whom, in their old age, was born John the Baptist.
The Deacon having announced, in the same solemn manner, the Gospel of St. John, of which he read the first fourteen verses, the Priest thus continued his instruction:
John has the figure of the Eagle, because he soars aloft in the high places. It is he that says: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. David also, speaking of the person of Christ, thus expresses himself: Thy youth shall be renewed like the Eagle’s; because our Lord Jesus Christ, having risen form the dead, ascended into heaven. Thus, dearly beloved Children, the Church that has begotten you, and still bears you in her womb, exults at the thought of the new increase to be given to the Christian law, when, on the venerable day of Easter, you are to be born again in the waters of baptism, and receive, as all the Saints, from Christ our Lord, the gift of the childhood of faith.
The manifestation of the four Evangelists was followed by the ceremony called the Giving the Symbol (Traditio Symboli). It consisted in the giving to the Catechumens the Apostle’s Creed (or Symbol), and in subsequent Ages, that of Nicæa, or, as we call it, the Nicene Creed. The following allocution was first made by a Priest:
Being now admitted to receive the Sacrament of Baptism, and become new creatures in the Holy Ghost, it behooves you, dearly beloved Children, to conceive at once in your hearts, the faith whereby you are to be justified: it behooves you, having your minds henceforth changed by the habit of truth, to draw nigh to God, who is the light of your souls. Receive, therefore, the secret of the evangelical Symbol, which was inspired by the Lord, and drawn up by the Apostles. Its words are few, but great are the mysteries it contains: for the Holy Ghost, who dictated this formula to the first masters of the Church, has here expressed the faith that saves us, with great precision of words, in order that the truths you have to believe and unceasingly meditate on, might neither surpass your understanding, nor escape your memory. Be, then, attentive, that you may learn this Symbol; and what, having ourselves received, we hand down to you, that same write, not corruptible things, but on the tablets of your heart. Now the confession of faith, which you have received, begins thus.
One of the Catechumens was then told to come forward, and the Priest addressed the following question to the Acolyte who accompanied him:
In what language do these confess our Lord Jesus Christ?
The Acolyte answered:
It should be remembered that under the Emperors, the use of the Greek language was almost as general in Rome as that of the Latin. The Priest then said to the Acolyte:
Make known to them the faith they believe.
Here the Acolyte, holding his hand over the Catechumen’s head, pronounced the Creed in Greek, in a solemn tone. One of the female Catechumens, whose language was the Greek, was then brought forward, and the Acolyte repeated the Creed in the same manner. The Priest then said:
Dearly beloved children, you have heard the Symbol in Greek; hear it now in Latin.
Accordingly, two Catechumens, who spoke the Latin language, were brought forward, first a man, and then a woman. The Acolyte recited the Creed in Latin before each of them, and loud enough for all the others to hear. The Giving the Symbol thus completed, the Priest made the following allocution:
This is the compendium of our faith, dearly beloved Children, and these are the words of the Symbol, drawn up, not according to the conceits of human wisdom, but according to the thoughts of God. There is no one but can understand and remember them. There it is, that is expressed the one and co-equal power of God the Father and the Son; there, that is shown to us the Only Begotten Son of God, born, according to the flesh, of the Virgin Mary, by the operation of the Holy Ghost; there, that are related his crucifixion, his burial, and his resurrection on the third day; there, that is proclaimed his ascension above the heavens, his sitting at the right hand of the majesty of the Father, and his future coming to judge the living and the dead; there, that is announced the Holy Ghost, who has the same divinity as the Father and the Son; there, in fine, that are taught the vocation of the Church, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection of the flesh. You, therefore, put off the old man, my dearly beloved Children, that you may be reformed according to the new; once carnal, you begin now to be spiritual; once of earth, now of heaven. Believe with firm and unshaken faith, that the Resurrection which was accomplished in Christ, will likewise be accomplished in you; and that this miracle, which has been achieved in him who is our Head, will be repeated in all them that are members of his body. The Sacrament of Baptism, which you are soon to receive, is the visible expression of this hope; for in it is represented both a death and a resurrection; there the old man is left, there the new man is assumed. The sinner descends into the water, and comes out justified. He, that dragged us into death, is cast off; and He is received that restored us to life, and who, by the grace that he will give you, will make you children of God, not by the flesh, but by the virtue of the Holy Ghost. It is your duty, therefore, to keep this short formula in your hearts, so as to make use of the Confession it contains as a help to you, on all occasions. The power of this armor is invincible against all the attacks of the enemy; it should be worn by the true soldiers of Christ. Let the devil, who tempts man without ceasing, find you ever armed with this Symbol. Triumph over the adversary, whom you have just renounced. By God’s grace, preserve incorruptible and unsullied, even to the end, the grace he is about to give you; that thus, He in whom you are soon to receive the forgiveness of your sins, may bring you to the glory of the Resurrection. Thus, then, dearly beloved Children, you know the Symbol of the Catholic faith; carefully learn it, not changing one word. God’s mercy is powerful; may it bring you to the faith of the Baptism to which you aspire; and may it lead us, who this day reveal to you the mysteries, to the heavenly kingdom together with you; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth, for ever and ever. Amen!
The Giving the Symbol was followed by another gift;—the Lord’s Prayer. The Deacon first made the announcement; he urged the Catechumens to silence and attention; and then a Priest delivered the following allocution:
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, among his other saving precepts, gave to his disciples, on that day when they asked him how they ought to pray, this form of prayer, which we are about to repeat to you, and explain in all its fullness. Let Your Charity, therefore, now hear how the Savior taught his disciples to pray to God the Father Almighty. When thou shalt pray, said he, enter into thy chamber; and having shut the door, pray to thy Father. Here, by chamber, he means not a room, but the interior of the heart, which is known to God alone. By saying that we ought to adore God after having shut the door, he signifies that we ought to shut out, with a spiritual key, all bad thoughts from our heart, and speak to God, though our lips may be closed, in purity of soul. What our God hears is not the sound of our words, but our faith. Let our heart, then, be shut, with the key of faith, against the craft of the enemy; let it not be opened save to that God whose Temple we know it is; and the Lord, dwelling thus in our heart, will be propitious and grant our prayers. The Prayer taught us by the Word, the Wisdom of God, Christ our Lord, is this:
Our Father, who art in Heaven.
Observe these words, how full they are of holy liberty and confidence. Live, therefore, in such manner that you may be Children of God, and Brethren of Christ. What rashness would he not be guilty of, who dared to call God his Father, yet proved himself to be degenerate by opposing God’s will? Dearly beloved Children, show yourselves to be worthy of the divine adoption; for it is written: To them that believe in his name, he gave power to be made the Sons of God.
Hallowed be Thy Name.
It is not that God, who is ever holy, needs that he be hallowed by us; but what we here ask, is that his name be sanctified in us; so that we, who have been made holy by the Baptism he has given us, may persevere in the new being we have received from him.
Thy kingdom come.
Our God, whose kingdom is forever—does he not always reign? Yes, undoubtedly: but what we ask for, when we say Thy kingdom come, is the coming of that kingdom which he has promised us, and which Christ has merited for us by his Blood and Passion.
Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
That is to say: May thy will be in such manner fulfilled, that what thou willest in heaven, may be faithfully accomplished by us who are on earth.
Give us this day our daily bread.
We mean by this our spiritual food; for Christ is our bread, as he said: I am the living Bread that came down from heaven. We say our daily bread, because we ought unceasingly to ask to be made free from sin, in order that we may be worthy of the heavenly nourishment.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.
These words signify, that we cannot merit the forgiveness of our sins, unless we first forgive what others do against us. Thus it is that our Lord says in the Gospel: If you will not forgive men their offenses, neither will your Father forgive you your offenses.
And lead us not in to temptation.
That is: suffer us not to be led into it by the tempter, by the author of evil. For the Scripture says: God is not the tempter of evil things. It is the devil that tempts us; and that we may overcome him, the Lord says to us: Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.
But deliver us from evil.
These words refer to that which is said by the Apostle: We know not what we should pray for. We should beseech the only one and omnipotent God, that the evils which we cannot avoid because of human weakness, we may avoid in virtue of that help which will mercifully be granted us by our Lord Jesus Christ, who, being God, liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever.
After this allocution, the Deacon said:
Observe order and silence, and lend an attentive ear!
The Priest then continued, in these words:
You have just heard, dearly beloved Children, the mysteries of the Lord’s Prayer: see, therefore, that you fix them in your hearts, both coming in and going out, that you may become perfect, asking and receiving the mercy of God. The Lord our God is nigh, and will lead you, who are on the way to faith, to the laver of the water of regeneration. May he mercifully grant that we, who have delivered unto you the mysteries of the Catholic faith, may be brought, together with you, to the kingdom of heaven: who liveth and reigneth with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever.
After the Gospel, in which was related the cure of the man that was born blind, the Deacon, as usual, commanded all the Catechumens to leave the Church. They were taken out by their Sponsors; but these returned, in order to assist at Mass with the rest of the Faithful. At the Offertory, they came up to the Altar, and gave the names of their spiritual children; which names, as also those of the Sponsors themselves, were read by the Bishop in the Canon. Towards the end of Mass, the Catechumens were brought back into the Church and were told on what day they were to present themselves for examination on the Symbol and the other instruction they had that day received.
The imposing ceremony, which we have thus briefly described, was not confined to this day: it was repeated as often as needed; that is, according to the number of the Catechumens, and the time required for gaining information regarding their conduct and the preparation they were making for Baptism. In the Church of Rome, these Scrutinies were held seven times, as we have already remarked; but the end of today was the most numerous and solemn; each of the seven terminated with the ceremony we have been describing.
Deus, qui et justic præmia meritorum, et peccatoribus per jejunium veniam præbes: miserere supplicibus tuis; ut reatus nostri confessio indulgentiam valeat percipere delictorum. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
O God, who givest to the righteous the reward of their good works, and by fasting, pardon to sinners; have mercy on thy suppliants, that the acknowledgment of our guilt may procure us the remission of our sins. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
|Lectio Ezechielis Prophetæ.||Lesson from Ezechiel the Prophet.|
|Cap. XXXVI.||Ch. XXXVI.|
Hæc dicit Dominus Deus: Sanctificabo nomen meum magnum, quod pollutum est inter gentes, quod polluistis in medio earum: ut sciant gentes quia ego Dominus, cum sanctificatus fuero in vobis coram eis. Tollam quippe vos de gentibus, et congregabo vos de universis terris, et adducam vos in terram vestram. Et effundam super vos aquam mundam, et mundabimini ab omnibus inquinamentis vestris, et ab universis idolis vestris mundabo vos. Et dabo vobis cor novum, et spiritum novum ponam in medio vestri: et auferam cor lapideum de carne vestra, et dabo vobis cor carneum. Et Spiritum meum ponam in medio vestri: et faciam ut in præceptis meis ambulestis, et judicia mea custodiatis, et operemini. Et habitabitis in terra quam dedi patribus vestris: et eritis mihi in populum, et ego ero vobis in Deum: dicit Dominus omnipotens.
Thus saith the Lord God: I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the Gentiles, which you have profaned in the midst of them; that the Gentiles may know that I am the Lord, saith the Lord of Hosts, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the Gentiles, and will gather you together out of all the countries, and will bring you into your own land. And I will pour upon you clean water, and you shall be cleansed from all your filthiness, and I will cleanse you from all your idols. And I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in the midst of you, and I will cause you to walk in my commandments, and to keep my judgments, and do them. And you shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God, saith the Almighty.
These magnificent promises, which are to be fulfilled in favor of the Jewish people, as soon as God’s justice shall have been satisfied, are to be realized, firstly in our Catechumens. These are they that have been gathered together from all the countries of the Gentile world, in order that they may be brought into their own land, the Church. A few days hence, and there will be poured upon them that clean water which shall cleanse them from all the defilements of their past idolatry; they shall receive a new heart, and a new spirit; they shall be God’s people forever.
|Lectio Isaiæ Prophetæ.||Lesson from the Prophet Isaias.|
|Cap. I.||Ch. I.|
Hæc dicit Dominus Deus: Lavamini, mundi estote, auferte malum cogitationum vestrarum ab oculis meis: quiescite agere perverse, discite benefacere: quærite judicium, subvenite oppresso, judicate pupillo, defendite viduam. Et venite, et arguite me, dicit Dominus. Si fuerint peccata vestra ut coccinum, quasi nix dealbabuntur: et si fuerint rubra quasi vermiculus, velut lana alba erunt. Si volueritis, et audieritis me, bona terræ comedetis: dicit Dominus omnipotens.
Thus saith the Lord God: Wash yourselves, be clean, take away the evil of your devices from my eyes: cease to do perversely, learn to do well: seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge for the fatherless, defend the widow. And then come and accuse me, saith the Lord: if your sins be as the scarlet, they shall be made as white as snow: and if they be red as crimson, they shall be white as wool. If you be willing, and will hearken to me, you shall eat the good things of the land, saith the Lord Almighty.
It is to her Penitents that the Church addresses these grand words of Isaias. There is a baptism also prepared for them; a laborious baptism indeed, but still, one that has power to cleanse their souls form all their defilements, if only they receive it with sincere contrition, and be resolved to make atonement for the evil they have committed. What could be stronger than the language used by God in making his promise of forgiveness? He compares the change he will make, in the soul of a repentant sinner, to that of scarlet and crimson become white as snow. The unjust is to be made just; darkness is to be turned into light; the slave of Satan is to become the child of God. Let us rejoice with our glad mother, the holy Church; and redoubling the fervor of our prayer and penance, let us induce our Lord to grant that on the great Easter Feast, the number of conversions may surpass our hopes.
|Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Joannem.||Sequel of the Holy Gospel according to John.|
|Cap. IX.||Ch. IX.|
In illo tempore: Præteriens Jesus vidit hominem cæcum a nativitate: et interrogaverunt eum discipuli ejus: Rabbi quis peccavit, hic, aut parentes ejus, ut cæcus nasceretur? Respondit Jesus: Neque hic peccavit, neque parentes ejus: sed ut manifestentur opera Dei in illo. Me oportet operari opera ejus, qui misit me, donec dies est: venit nox, quando nemo potest operari. Quamdiu sum in mundo, lux sum mundi. Hæc cum dixisset, exspuit in terram, et fecit lutum ex sputo, et linivit lutum super oculos ejus, et dixit ei: Vade, lava in natatoria Siloe (quod interpretatur Missus). Abiit ergo, et lavit, et venit videns. Itaque vicini, et qui viderant eum prius, quia mendicus erat, dicebant: Nonne hic est, qui sedebat, et mendicabat? Alii dicebant: Quia hic est; alii autem: Nequaquam, sed similis est ei. Ille vero dicebat: Quia ego sum. Dicebant ergo ei: Quomodo aperti sunt tibi oculi? Respondit: Ille homo, qui dicitur Jesus, lutum fecit et unxit oculos meos, et dixit mihi: Vade at natatoria Siloe, et lava. Et abii, lavi, et video. Et dixerunt ei: Ubi est ille? Ait: Nescio. Adducunt eum ad Pharisæos, qui cæcus fuerat. Erat autem Sabbatum quando lutum fecit Jesus, et aperuit oculos ejus. Iterum ergo interrogabant eum Pharisæi quomodo vidisset. Ille autem dixit eis: Lutum mihi posuit super oculos, et lavi, et video. Dicebant ergo ex Pharisæis quidam: Non est hic homo a Deo, qui Sabbatum non custodit. Alii autem dicebant: Quomodo potest homo peccator hæc signa facere? Et schisma erat inter eos. Dicunt ergo cæco iterum: Tu quid dicis de illo, qui aperuit oculos tuos? Ille autem dixit: Quia propheta est. Non crediderunt ergo Judæi de illo, quia cæcus fuisset et vidisset, donec vocaverunt parentes ejus, qui viderat: et interrogaverunt eos, dicentes: Hic est filius vester, quem vos dicitis quia cæcus natus est? Quomodo ergo nunc videt? Responderunt eis parentes ejus, et dixerunt: Scimus quia hic est filius noster, et quia cæcus natus est: quomodo autem nunc videat, nescimus: aut quis ejus aperuit oculos, nescimus, ipsum interrogate: ætatem habet; ipse de se loquatur. Hæc dixerunt parentes ejus, quoniam timebant Judæos: jam enim conspiraverant Judæi, ut si quis eum confiteretur esse Christum, extra synagogam fieret: propterea parentes ejus dixerunt: Quia ætatem habet, ipsum interrogate. Vocaverunt ergo rursum hominem, qui fuerat cæcus, et dixerunt ei: Da glaoriam Deo. Nos scimus quia hic homo peccator est. Dixit ergo eis ille: Si peccator est, nescio: unum scio, quia cæcus cum essem, modo video. Dixerunt ergo illi: Quid fecit tibi? quomodo aperuit tibi oculos? Respondit eis: Dixi vobis jam, et audistis: quid iterum vultis audire? numquid et vos vultis discipuli ejus fieri? Maledixerunt ergo ei, et dixerunt: Tu discipulus illius sis: nos autem Moysi discipuli sumus. Nos scimus quia Moysi locutus est Deus: hunc autem nescimus unde sit. Respondit ille homo, et dixit eis: In hoc enim mirabile est, quia vos nescitis unde sit, et aperuit meos oculos: scimus autem quia peccatores Deus non audit: sed si quis Dei cultor est, et voluntatem ejus facit, hunc exaudit. A sæculo non est auditum, quia quis aperuit oculos cæci nati. Nisi esset hic a Deo, non poterat facere quidquam. Responderunt, et dixerunt ei: In peccatis natus es totus, et tu doces nos? Et ejecerunt eum foras. Audivit Jesus quia ejecerunt eum foras; et cum invenisset eum, dixit ei: Tu credis in Filium Dei? Respondit ille, et dixit: Quis est, Domine, ut credam in eum? Et dixit ei Jesus: Et vidisti eum: et qui loquitur tecum, ipse est. At ille ait: Credo, Domine. (Here, all kneel.) Et procidens, adoravit eum.
At that time: Jesus passing by, saw a man that was blind from his birth; and his disciples asked him: Rabbi, who hath sinned, this man, or his parents, that he should be born blind? Jesus answered: Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents; but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. When he had said these things, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and spread the clay upon his eyes, and said to him: Go, wash in the pool of Siloe, which is interpreted, Sent. He went his way therefore, and washed, and he came seeing. The neighbors, therefore, and they who had seen him before, that he was a beggar, said: Is not this he that sat and begged? Some said: This is he; but others said: No, but he is like him. But he said: I am he. They said therefore to him: How were thine eyes opened? He answered: That man that is called Jesus, made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said to me: Go to the pool of Siloe, and wash. And I went, I washed, and I see. And they said to him: Where is he? He saith: I know not. They bring him that had been blind to the Pharisees. Now it was the Sabbath, when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes. Again therefore the Pharisees asked him, how he had received his sight. But he said to them: He put clay upon my eyes, and I washed, and I see. Some therefore of the Pharisees said: This man is not of God who keepeth not the sabbath. But others said: How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them. They say therefore to the blind man again: What sayest thou of him that hath opened thy eyes? And he said: He is a prophet. The Jews then did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind, and had received his sight, until they called the parents of him that had received his sight, and asked them, saying: Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then doth he now see? His parents answered them, and said: We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind, but how he now seeth we know not, or who hath opened his eyes we know not; ask himself; he is of age, let him speak for himself. These things his parents said, because they feared the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed among themselves, that if any man should confess him to be Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue. Therefore did his parents say: He is of age, ask him. They therefore called the man again that had been blind, and said to him: Give glory to God, we know that this man is a sinner. He saith then to them: If he be a sinner, I know not; one thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see. Then they said to him: What did he to thee? How did he open thy eyes? He answered them: I have told you already, and you have heard, why would you hear it again; will you also become his disciples? They reviled him, therefore, and said: Be thou his disciple; but we are the disciples of Moses. We know that God spoke to Moses; but as to this man, we know not from whence he is. The man answered and said to them: Why, herein is a wonderful thing, that you know not from whence he is, and he hath opened my eyes. Now we know that God doth not hear sinners: but if a man be a server of God, and doth his will, him he heareth. From the beginning of the world it hath not been heard, that any man hath opened the eyes of one born blind. Unless this man were of God, he could not do anything. They answered and said to him: Thou wast wholly born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out. Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said to him: Dost thou believe in the Son of God? He answered, and said: Who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him? And Jesus said to him: Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. And he said: I believe, Lord. (Here, all kneel) And falling down, he adored him.
In the early ages of the Church, Baptism was frequently called Illumination, because this Sacrament confers supernatural faith, whereby man is enlightened with the divine Light. It was on this account that there was read, on this day, the history of the cure of the man born blind, for it is the figure of man’s being enlightened by Christ. This subject is frequently met with in the paintings in the Catacombs, and on the bas-reliefs of the ancient Christian monuments.
We are all born blind; Jesus, by the mystery of his Incarnation, figured by this clay which represents our flesh, has merited for us the gift of sight; but in order that we may receive it, we must go to the pool of him that is divinely Sent, and we must be washed in the water of Baptism. Then shall we be enlightened with the very light of God, and the darkness of reason will disappear. The humble obedience of the blind man, who executes with the utmost simplicity all that our Savior commands for him, is an image of our Catechumens, who listen with all docility to the teachings of the Church, for they too wish to receive their sight. The blind man of the Gospel is, by the cure of his eyes, a type of what the grace of Christ works in us by Baptism. Let us listen to the conclusion of our Gospel, and we shall find that he is also a model for those who are spiritually blind, yet would wish to be healed.
Our Savior asks him, as the Church asked us on the day of our Baptism: Dost thou believe in the Son of God? The blind man, ardently desiring to believe, answers eagerly: Who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him? Faith brings the weak reason of man into union with the sovereign wisdom of God, and puts us in possession of his eternal truth. No sooner has Jesus declared himself to be God, than this simple-hearted man falls down and adores him: he that from being blind is blessed with bodily sight, is now a Christian! What a lesson was here for our Catechumens! At the same time, this history showed them, and reminds us, of the frightful perversity of Jesus’ enemies. He is shortly to be put to death, He the Just by excellence; and it is by the shedding of his Blood that he is to merit for us, and for all mankind, the cure of that blindness in which we were all born, and which our own personal sins have tended to increase. Glory, then, love, and gratitude be to our Divine Physician, who, by uniting himself to our human nature, has prepared the ointment, whereby our eyes are cured of their infirmity, and strengthened to gaze, for all eternity, on the brightness of the Godhead!
Humiliate capita vestra Deo.
Bow down your heads to God.
Pateant aures misericordiæ tuæ, Domine, precibus supplicantium: et ut petentibus desiderata concedas, fac eos quæ tibi sunt placita postulare. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
May the ears of thy mercy, O Lord, be open to the prayers of thy servants; and in order to obtain the effect of our petitions, grant we may ask what is pleasing to thee. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Mozarabic Liturgy offers us this fine Preface, or Illation, which is suggested by today’s Gospel.
(Dominica II. Quadragesimæ. Illatio.)
Dignum et justum est nos tibi gratias agere: Domine sancte, Pater æterne, omnipotens Deus, per Jesum Christum Filium tuum Dominum nostrum. Qui illuminatione suæ fidei tenebras mundi expulit: et fecit filios esse gratiæ, qui tenabantur sub legis justa damnatione: qui ita in judicium in hoc mundo venit: ut non videntes viderent: et videntes cæci essent, qualiter et hi qui in se tenebris confiterentur errorum: perciperent lumen æternum, per quod carerent tenebris delictorum. Et hi qui de meritis suis arrogantes lumen in semetipsos habere justitiæ existimabant, in semetipsis merito tenebrascerent; qui elevati superbia sua et de justitia confisti propria, ad sanandum medicum non quærebant. Per Jesum enim, qui ostium esse dixit ad Patrem, poterant introire. Sed quia de meritis elevati sunt improbe, in sua remanserunt nihilominus cæcitate. Proinde humiles nos venientes, nec de meritis nostris præsumentes, aperimus ante altare tuum, sanctissime Pater, vulnus proprium: tenebras nostrarum fatemur errorum: conscientiæ nostræ aperimus arcanum. Inveniamus, quæsumus, in vulnere medicinam, in tenebris lucem æternam: innocentiæ puritatem in conscientia. Cernere etenim totis nisibus volumus faciem tuam: sed impedimur cæcati tenebra consueta. Cœlos aspicere cupimus, nec valemus: dum cæcati tenebris peccatorum, nec hos pro sancta vita attendimus, qui propter excellentiam vitæ cœli nomine nuncupati sunt. Occurre igitur, Jesu, nobis in templo tuo orantibus: et cura omnes in hac die, qui in virtutibus facientes noluisti Sabbatum custodire. Ecce ante gloriam nominis tui aperimus vulnera nostra: tu appone nostris infirmitatibus medicinam. Succurre nobis ut promisisti precantibus: qui ex nihilo fecisti quod sumus. Fac collyrium et tange oculos nostri cordis et corporis: ne cæcique labamur in tenebrarum erroribus consuetis. Ecce pedes tuos rigamus fletibus: non nos abjicias humiliatos. O Jesu bone! a vestigiis tuis non recedamus: qui humilis venisti in terris. Audi jam nostrorum omnium precem: et evellens nostrorum criminum cæcitatem, videamus gloriam faciei tuæ in pacis æternæ beatitudine.
It is meet and just, that we should give thanks to thee, O Holy Lord, Eternal Father, Almighty God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son: who by the light of his faith dispelled the darkness of the world. He made them, that were held captives under the just condemnation of the law, become children of grace. He came into the world that he might exercise this judgment: that they who saw not, might see; and they who saw, might become blind. Thus, they that confessed themselves to be in the darkness of error, were to receive the eternal light, whereby they would be delivered from the darkness of their sins: and they that prided themselves on their merits, and seemed to themselves to have the light of justice, were by a just judgment to be shrouded in their own darkness; they were exalted in their pride, they confided in their own justice; they sought not the physician that could heal them, for they might have entered by Jesus, who calls himself the door whereby we go to the Father. These men, therefore, by a wicked high-mindedness in their own merits, were left in their blindness. We, therefore, humbly come before thee; we presume not in our merits; but here before thy altar, O most Holy Father, we confess our wounds, and the darkness of our errors, and the hidden things of our conscience. Grant, we beseech thee, that we may find cure for our wounds, light eternal for our darkness, spotless innocence for our conscience. With all our hearts do we desire to see thy face; but we are prevented by our usual darkness which blinds us. We would look up to heaven, yet cannot, for we are blinded by the darkness of our sins; neither do we, by holiness of life, come nigh to those who, by reason of their sublime virtues, are called The Heavens. Come, then, O Jesus, to us that are praying in thy temple. Heal us all upon this day, O thou that wouldst not have us so keep the Sabbath as to rest from good works. Lo! in thy Divine presence, we confess our wounds; do thou heal our infirmities. Help us who pray to thee, for thou hadst so promised; help us, thou that, out of nothing, didst create us. Make an ointment for us, and touch with it the eyes of our soul and body; lest, left in our blindness, we fall into our old darkness of error. We throw ourselves at thy feet, and water them with our tears; cast us not away from thee, humbled thus before thee. O good Jesus! thou that didst humbly come upon our earth, suffer us to remain near thee and tread in thy footsteps. Hear this our united prayer; take from us the blindness of our sins; and grant us to see the glory of thy face in the blessedness of eternal peace.