An excellent way to focus our thoughts and deepen our understanding of the meaning of Lent is to turn to the Bible. Sometimes, however, it’s hard to know where to start. That is why the Catholic Church has provided us with the Office of the Readings, part of the Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the Church. In the Office of the Readings, the Church has chosen scriptural passages that are appropriate to every day of the year.
Every season of the Church year has a certain theme or themes. During Lent, we see four themes in these readings:
- The need for proper repentance
- Israel of the Old Testament as the model of the New Testament Church
- Israel’s exodus from Egypt to the Holy Land as the model of the Christian journey out of sin into the Kingdom of Heaven
- Jesus Christ as the eternal high priest
(This article will be updated each day during Lent with a link to the scriptural reading for the day and a brief commentary on that reading.)
In the readings for the Fifth Week of Lent, the Church stressed the eternal priesthood of Christ, the High Priest Who never dies. Today, in Hebrews 10:1-18, we see that Christ is also the eternal sacrifice. The new covenant in Christ replaces the old. While the sacrifices of the old covenant had to be offered over and over and could not bring those who offered them to sanctity, Christ's sacrifice is offered once for all, and in it, we can all reach perfection.
We have an eternal high priest and an eternal sacrifice in Jesus Christ. The Law is no longer imposed externally, as it was in the old covenant, but written on the hearts of those who believe. Now, writes St. Paul in Hebrews 10:19-39, we must simply persevere in the Faith. When we doubt or draw back, we fall into sin.
As Easter approaches, St. Paul's words in Hebrews 12:1-13 are timely. We must continue the fight; we must not give up hope. Even when we undergo trials, we should take comfort in the example of Christ, Who died for our sins. Our trials are our preparation for rising to new life with Christ on Easter.
As Moses approached Mount Sinai, Hebrews 12:14-29 tells us, we should approach Mount Zion, our heavenly home. God is a consuming fire, through Whom we are all cleansed, as long as we listen to His Word and progress in holiness. If we turn from Him now, however, having received the revelation of Christ, our punishment will be greater than that of those Israelites who grumbled against the Lord and were forbidden, therefore, from entering the Promised Land.
In Hebrews 4:14-5:10, St. Paul reminds us that Christ is the great high priest, like us in all things but sin. He was tempted, so he can understand our temptation; but being perfect, He was able to offer Himself as the perfect Sacrifice to God the Father. That sacrifice is the source of the eternal salvation of all who believe in Christ.
In Hebrews 9:11-28, St. Paul explains that the New Covenant, like the Old, had to be sealed in blood. This time, however, the blood is not the blood of calves and goats that Moses offered at the foot of Mount Sinai, but the Blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Christ is both the Sacrifice and the High Priest; by His death, He has entered Heaven, where He "may appear now in the presence of God for us."
The Old Covenant, St. Paul tells us in Hebrews 4:1-13, has passed away, replaced by the New Covenant in Christ. Just as the Israelites whom the Lord led out of Egypt were denied entrance into the Promised Land because of their lack of faith, we, too, can fall and deprive ourselves of the Kingdom of Heaven.