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The First Sunday of Lent

Collect: O Lord, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thine honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

Saints’ and Ember Days

Tuesday, March 12: Gregory the Great

Born around 540 to a preeminent Roman family, Gregory spent his first 35 years concerned with civil justice, eventually being named Prefect of Rome, the highest civil office in the city. But abruptly, at age 35, he chose to become a novice monk and sold or gave away his property in order to establish seven monasteries. These quiet years as a monk were the happiest of his life, but he couldn’t remain long in obscurity. Called to various advancing positions within the church, around 586 (and though he attempted to flee to avoid it), Gregory was chosen as the pope. Gregory’s pursuit of justice, compassion, and humility characterize his amazing papal career. He is the pope who first took the title “servant of the servants of God.” His book Pastoral Care became the primary spiritual handbook for medieval bishops, taught even to the early 20th century. He was generous toward the poor (for example,  forbidding payment for funerals and ordinations and using the income from the papal estates to feed the hungry). In contrast to many of his day, Gregory forbade oppression of Jews, even making Christians who had turned a synagogue into a church give it back. His reform of liturgical music resulted in what was thereafter called “Gregorian Chant.” Gregory was always interested in the Britain (even attempting to go on a mission there himself, though he was called back); he is the pope who sent Augustine and his monks to England in 595. The Venerable Bede said of Gregory, “We may and ought to call [Gregory] our apostle because he made our nation . . . the Church of Christ.” One of only two popes given the title “magnus” (the great), Gregory died in 604.

Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, March 13, 15-16: Ember Days

The Ember Days are set aside for prayer and fasting. You can learn more here. But, since Lent is already set aside for prayer and fasting, why do we also have the Ember Days? This post from Jennifer Gregory Miller at Catholic Culture explains that the Ember Days carry a different emphasis based upon their season. The Lenten Ember Days focus on 1.) The consecration of a new season, spring; 2.) Renewal and refreshment; 3) Praying for priests; and 4) Conversion of our hearts.

Thursday, March 14: Forty Holy Martyrs

In 320, during the reign of Emperor Licinius, forty soldiers in Armenia openly professed Christ and were condemned to death. St. Basil, from whom we hear first of the martyrs, describes them:  “They were of different countries, but enrolled in the same troop; all in the flower of their age, comely, brave, and robust, and were become considerable for their services.”After they wouldn’t be induced to deny Christ, they were sentenced to be exposed naked overnight on a frozen pond. To make it more torturous, baths were kept warm for any who would leave the ice. As they proceeded onto the pond, they encouraged each other with the same words as they would have used going into battle, praying:  “Lord, we are forty who are engaged in this combat; grant that we may be forty crowned, and that not one be wanting to this sacred number.” Eventually, one of the soldiers left the ice. As he went to get into the baths, he immediately died. At this moment, one of the sentinels named Aglaius had a vision of “blessed spirits descending from heaven on the martyrs, and distributing, as from their king, rich presents and precious garments.” He declared that he too was a Christian, took off his clothes, and joined the thirty-nine still on the ice. In this morning, some of the soldiers frozen stiff still showed signs of life. They were burned and their ashes were thrown into a river, but Christians still managed to collect some of their remains and distribute the relics through many cities.

Here is the printable pdf of the collect and saints for the first week of Lent.

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