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
As the Israelites approach the Red Sea in Exodus 13:17-14:9, Pharaoh begins to regret letting them go. He sends his chariots and charioteers in pursuit—a decision that will end badly. Meanwhile, the Lord is traveling with the Israelites, appearing as a column of cloud by day and of fire by night.
As Pharaoh's chariots and charioteers pursue the Israelites, Moses turns to the Lord for help in Exodus 14:10-31. The Lord orders him to stretch his hand out over the Red Sea, and the waters part. The Israelites pass through safely, but, when the Egyptians pursue them, Moses stretches his hand out again, and the waters return, drowning the Egyptians.
In Exodus 16:1-18, 35, the Israelites, free at last from the Egyptians, quickly begin to slip into despair. Lacking food, they complain to Moses. In response, God sends them the manna (bread) from heaven, which will sustain them throughout the 40 years that they will spend wandering in the desert before entering the Promised Land.
The Lord has given the Israelites manna in the desert, but, in Exodus 17:1-16, they still grumble. Now, they complain of lack of water and wish that they were still in Egypt. The Lord tells Moses to strike a rock with his staff, and, when he does so, water flows from it.
As it becomes clear that the Israelites' journey through the desert will take some time, the need for leaders in addition to Moses becomes obvious in Exodus 18:13-27. Moses' father-in-law suggests the appointment of the judges, who can handle disputes in small matters, while important ones will be reserved to Moses.
God has chosen the Israelites as His own, and now He reveals His covenant to them on Mount Sinai. In Exodus 19:1-19 and 20:18-21, He appears in a cloud over the mountain to confirm to the people that Moses speaks on His behalf.
In Exodus 20:1-17, Moses has ascended Mount Sinai at the Lord's command, and now God reveals to him the Ten Commandments, which Moses will take back to the people.