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
God's revelation to Moses did not end with the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 22:20-23:9, the Lord gives other instructions on how the Israelites are to live, and these are known as the Book of the Covenant.
In Exodus 24:1-18, Israel's covenant with the Lord is confirmed with sacrifice and the sprinkling of blood on the people of Israel. Moses then is called by the Lord to go up on Mount Sinai to receive stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. He spends 40 days and nights with the Lord.
Before Moses went up Mount Sinai, the Israelites confirmed their covenant with God. In Exodus 32:1-20, we see that, 40 days later, they had already apostatized and had Aaron create a golden calf, to which they offered their worship. Only Moses' intervention saves the Israelites from God's wrath.
When the Lord revealed Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai, He did not show Moses His face. Still, as we learn in Exodus 33:7-11, 18-23 and 34:5-9, 29-35, the glory of the Lord was so great that Moses himself reflected it. Coming down from Mount Sinai, his face shone so brightly that he had to cover himself with a veil.
The Book of Exodus offers two accounts of the Book of the Covenant, and Exodus 34:10-28 is the second. We see a restatement of the Ten Commandments and the requirement to celebrate Passover yearly. Most interesting, perhaps, is the fact that Moses fasted for 40 days and nights while the Lord revealed the details of His covenant with the Israelites.
Exodus 35:30-36:1 and 37:1-9 is one of those detailed passages of the Old Testament that we often skip over. But the Church includes it here in the Office of the Readings for Lent for a reason.
In Exodus 40:16-38, we see more details about the construction of the sanctuary and the Ark of the Covenant. Once the construction was completed, the Lord descended on the tabernacle in a cloud. The presence of the cloud became the signal for the Israelites to remain in one place. When the cloud lifted, they would move on.