Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent
I cried out and you heard me, O God;
bend your ear and hear my words:
keep me, Lord, as the apple of your eye;
protect me under the shadow of your wings (Ps 16:6, 8).
Today’s Introit asks God to protect us in the way a man instinctively protects the apple of His eye. More recent translations refer to the “apple of the eye” as the “pupil of the eye.” While anatomically correct, the expression is less poetic. The pupil is the contracting and expanding opening in the iris of the eye through which light passes to the retina. One can almost see the gesture of protection: the palm of the hand closes over the eye to shield it from any projectile. We are, each one of us, in the eye of God and, for that reason, cherished and assured of His protection.
Again we ask God to hide us under the shelter of His wings. We are fragile and vulnerable but God is quick to shield us, and ever ready to hide us close to His heart. Traditionally, this same verse of Psalm 16 is prayed every night at Compline, making it all the more familiar and comforting. In the darkness of the night, as well as in the darknesses that steal over the soul, we are in need of divine protection.
Let your grace, O Lord, not forsake us;
rather may it make us dedicated to your sacred service,
and gain for us your ceaseless help.
In the Collect we beg God that He not allow His grace to forsake us. Gratia tua ne nos, quaesumus Domine, derelinquat. The sense of the petition doesn’t really strike us unless we consider for a moment what it means to be “forsaken by grace.” It should cause us to shudder. Today’s prayer goes to the core of our worst fears: the fear of being left alone, abandoned, and forsaken by the grace of God.
Jesus entered into this worst fear of ours, experiencing it in all its horror, when from the Cross He prayed for each of us, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” (Mt 27:46). By taking the horror of “being forsaken by grace” upon himself, Jesus made it possible for us “never to despair of the mercy of God” (RB 4:74). The grace of God is never far from us. When we pray that grace not forsake us we are really asking that we be kept from ever forsaking grace, that we not cease to believe in mercy and in forgiveness, even after offenses multiplied seventy times seven times. In this way the Collect relates to today’s Gospel.
As though it were burnt offerings of rams and bulls,
and with thousands of fat lambs
such may our sacrifice be in your sight this day
that it may please you:
for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame, O Lord (Dan 3: 40).
The Offertory Antiphon today is lifted right out of the reading from the book of Daniel: “Such may our sacrifice be in your sight this day that it may please you: for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame, O Lord (Dan 3: 40). The offering of the Holy Sacrifice is the supreme expression of our trust in God.
When the bread and wine are placed on the altar, we too are placed on the altar and left there for God to do with us and in us as He pleases. There is a vulnerability in the bread and wine left on the altar; they are made over to God, abandoned to His doing. In the sight of God the altar and the cross are equivalent; what is placed on the one rests upon the other.
We see now what Holy Father Benedict meant when he ordered that the chart of profession should be placed on the altar (cf. RB 63:20). It is the ritual expression of unlimited trust. I lay myself upon the altar and remain there as still and receptive as the bread and wine that will become the Body and Blood of Christ. There will always be the temptation to withdraw ourselves from the altar, the crucible of our transformation into Christ. This is why the Church makes us sing at precisely this moment of the liturgy: “Those who trust in you cannot be put to shame” (Dan 3:40).
Prayer Over the Offerings
Grant, we beseech you, O Lord,
that these healing sacrificial gifts
may be for us a cleansing from our sins
and a powerful atonement.
The Prayer Over the Offerings calls the bread and wine “healing sacrificial gifts” or “the sacrificial gifts by which we are made whole.” It asks that they be for us the purgatio delictorum, the purgation of our crimes, the cleansing of our sins. And it asks that, by God’s own power, they become our atonement, our reconciliation with God.
God is appeased and we are reconciled to Him not by anything we do, but by His own power displayed in the atoning Sacrifice of the Cross. The Holy Sacrifice purifies us of sin and reconciles us to God. Abba Mark the Egyptian said: “If an earthly king does not allow his nobles to stand in his presence in soiled garments, but only arrayed in glory, how much more will the divine power purify the servants of the holy mysteries who stand before the heavenly glory?”
Lord, who shall dwell in your tabernacle?
Or who shall rest on your holy mountain?
He who walks without fault
and acts righteously (Ps 14:1-2).
The Communion Antiphon asks two rhetorical questions, and then gives the answer. “Lord, who shall dwell in your tabernacle? Or who shall rest on your holy mountain? He who walks without fault and acts righteously” (Ps 14:1-2). Our deepest desire is to cohabit with God, to dwell with Him under His tent, in His tabernacle, and to rest on the mountain where He rests.
This divine cohabitation is the reality given us in the Eucharist. Such intimacy with God obliges us to walk without fault and to act with justice, things we cannot do apart from the grace of Christ. Without me,” He said, “you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). Grace to walk without fault and to do justice is given us in the mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood. God inspires in us no desire that He himself cannot or will not bring to fruition.
We beseech you, Lord,
that our partaking of this holy mystery
may give us life
and be to us both expiation and defence.
Finally, the Postcommunion Prayer asks that our “partaking of this holy mystery” do two things for us: first, that it may give us life, and then that it may be to us both expiation — a reconciling reparation to God for our sins — and our defence. The Latin word translated as “defence” is munimen which means an enclosure round about us, a protecting enclosure guaranteeing our safety. (It is helpful to recall that “defence” contains the word “fence.”) The Body and Blood of Christ are the hearts surest defence against every attack of our invisible enemies. There is comfort in hearing this after Holy Communion, in knowing that we leave church with this divine enclosure set round about our hearts.