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
In Hebrews 1:1-2:4, St. Paul looks back over salvation history and interprets the Old Testament in light of the New. In the past, revelation was incomplete; now, in Christ, everything is revealed. The Old Covenant, revealed through the angels, was binding; the New Covenant, revealed through Christ, Who is higher than the angels, is even more so.
All of Creation, St. Paul tells us in Hebrews 2:5-18, is subject to Christ, through Whom it was made. But Christ is both beyond this world and of it; He became man so that He might suffer for our sake and draw all Creation to Him. By sharing in our nature, He overcame sin and opened for us the gates of heaven.
In Hebrews 3:1-19, St. Paul reminds us of Christ's own faithfulness to His Father. He contrasts that faithfulness with the unfaithfulness of the Israelites, whom God rescued from slavery in Egypt but who still turned against Him and were therefore unable to enter the Promised Land.
In Hebrews 6:9-20, St. Paul tells us that we should be strong in our faith because we have reason to hope: God has sworn His fidelity to His people. Christ, through His death and resurrection, has returned to the Father, and He now stands before Him as the eternal high priest, interceding on our behalf.
The figure of Melchizedek, king of Salem (which means "peace"), foreshadows that of Christ. The Old Testament priesthood was an hereditary one; but Melchizedek's lineage was not known, and he was regarded as a man of great age who might never die. Therefore, his priesthood, like Christ's, was seen as eternal, and Christ is compared to him, in Hebrews 7:1-10, to stress the never-ending nature of His priesthood.
St. Paul continues to expand on the comparison between Christ and Melchizedek. In Hebrews 7:11-28, he points out that a change in the priesthood signals a change in the Law. By birth, Jesus was not eligible for the Old Testament priesthood; yet He was a priest nonetheless—indeed, the last priest, since the New Testament priesthood is simply a participation in Christ's eternal priesthood.
As we prepare to enter Holy Week, our Lenten readings now draw to a close. St. Paul, in Hebrews 8:1-13, sums up our entire Lenten journey through the Exodus of the Israelites: The Old Covenant is passing away, and a New one has come. Christ is perfect, and so is the covenant that He establishes. Everything that Moses and the Israelites did was simply a foretaste and promise of the New Covenant in Christ, the eternal High Priest Who is also the eternal Sacrifice.