Traditionally, each day of Lent has an assigned Roman Station, a church where the faithful would gather for Mass after a procession. On Lent’s 1st Sunday we are at St John Lateran, the Mother Church of the City (Rome) and the World, the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome.
The traditional Collect for this Sunday has an insight for your Lenten discipline.
Concede nobis, omnipotens Deus, ut, per annua quadragesimalis exercitia sacramenti, et ad intellegendum Christi proficiamus arcanum, et effectus eius digna conversatione sectemur.
Exercitium indicates military and other practices for preparedness; “exercises”. Soldiers repeatedly drill. We repeat good works and pious practices to develop virtues and to prepare for our judgment. It does us no harm to be reminded that we belong to the Church Militant, marching like pilgrim soldiers towards our heavenly fatherland. Be mindful of the wiles of the Enemy of our soul and that which wars on us from within because of Original Sin.
Early Latin Christians lacked specialised vocabulary for their new theology. They borrowed and baptised existing terms. Sacramentum was first used – that we know of – in a Christian context by Tertullian, for Greek mysterion, “mystery”. Its root is sacer, “dedicated or consecrated to a divinity, holy, sacred” (like sacerdos, “priest”).
A sacramentum had a legal meaning as a bond or initiation confirmed by an oath, such as that made by a soldier when inducted. Hence, sacramentum referred to the profession of faith made by catechumens as they were baptised into the Church. Sacramentum involves the mysteries of our salvation, the words and deeds of Christ explained in a liturgical context, the liturgical feasts themselves, and the rites of initiation (baptism, confirmation, Eucharist). We can say for sacramentum something like “sacramental mystery”, or simply “mystery”.
Current ICEL translation: “Grant, almighty God, through the yearly observances of holy Lent, that we may grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.”
Although this is a prayer during Mass, sacramentum here refers not just to the sacrament of the Eucharist, but also its ancient meaning: the 40-day long discipline of Lent which mysteriously bonds Christians and Christ more closely together.
As Fathers of the Church remind us, the whole season of Lent is a transforming mystery, a “sacrament”, during which our practices have consequential effects: they bring us into the mystery of the dying and rising Jesus.
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