Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Because Gregory the Great Wrote Such a Poem for Lent

The Season of Lent is upon us. This is one of those mysterious times of the year that, before I was a Catholic, I always wondered about. Growing up, we never observed Lent. Of course, now I know that Lent is celebrated by not only the Catholic Church but also the Orthodox Church, and it is even celebrated by some of the mainline Protestant churches.

But the Catholic Church celebrated it first. And as a famous general once proclaimed, sometimes “getting there firstest with the mostest” makes all the difference. When questioned about the lack of fasting among His disciples, Our Lord claimed (and I paraphrase) that there would be no fasting while the Bridegroom was around, but after He was gone? Then there would be fasting.

For the longest time, virtually my whole life, I never got around to it. Those days are gone, for me anyway.  The following scripture verse from the Old Testament helps illuminate the Lenten Season for me,

Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness. (Joel 2:12)

St. Gregory the Great, a Doctor of the Church, does a knock-out job of describing Lent to me as well. Over at New Advent, I found this citation about Gregory the Great that says he,

is certainly one of the most notable figures in Ecclesiastical History. He has exercised in many respects a momentous influence on the doctrine, the organization, and the discipline of the Catholic Church. To him we must look for an explanation of the religious situation of the Middle Ages; indeed, if no account were taken of his work, the evolution of the form of medieval Christianity would be almost inexplicable. And further, in so far as the modern Catholic system is a legitimate development of medieval Catholicism, of this too Gregory may not unreasonably be termed the Father. Almost all the leading principles of the later Catholicism are found, at any rate in germ, in Gregory the Great.

I'll take their word for it (on authority) because I haven’t had the opportunity to read much that he has written. Not yet anyway. But I did find this poem that is attributed to him. To get the season of Lent started right, I think St. Gregory the Great knocks the cover off the ball. Take a look:

The Glory of These Forty Days
The glory of these forty days
We celebrate with songs of praise;
For Christ, by Whom all things were made,
Himself has fasted and has prayed.

Alone and fasting Moses saw
The loving God Who gave the law;
And to Elijah, fasting, came
The steeds and chariots of flame.

So Daniel trained his mystic sight,
Delivered from the lions’ might;
And John, the Bridegroom’s friend, became
The herald of Messiah’s Name.

Then grant us, Lord, like them to be
Full oft in fast and prayer with Thee;
Our spirits strengthen with Thy grace,
And give us joy to see Thy face.

O Father, Son, and Spirit blest,
To thee be every prayer addressed,
Who art in threefold Name adored,
From age to age, the only Lord.

Short, sweet, and to the point. Thank you, St. Gregory!