Vigil begins the season of
Septuagesima, and our attention turns to the themes of exile and
banishment -- our expulsion from Eden, the captivity in Babylon, the
fate of death -- rooted in sin. The Divine Office today begins with the
first chapter of Genesis and recounts man's Fall, and the fourth and
fifth lessons -- written by St. Augustine -- explain things:
The Lord had foretold that if man should sin, he would bring upon
himself the penalty of death. Thus it was that, albeit God endowed man
with free-will, he asserted his dominion over him by urging on him the
danger of self-destruction through sin. And so God placed him in that
happy Garden (as it were, in a sheltered nook of life), whence he might
have attained unto an even better life, if he had remained righteous.
But this first man sinned, and was therefore driven out of his
paradise. And by his sin, he infected all his offspring with the
disease of sin, since he himself (their source), was poisoned
therewith; whereby he brought upon all mankind the very sentence of
death and damnation which he had earned for himself. So it is that all
who descend by fleshly generation from Adam and his wife Eve (which
latter had urged him to sin, and therefore shared in the sentence
passed upon him), inherit original sin; whereby we are drawn on,
through divers errors and sorrows, toward the final ruin that fallen
man doth share with the fallen angels, which same are our corrupters,
masters, and partakers in this doom.
By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death
passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. In this sentence, by the
word world the Apostle signifieth all mankind. Thus then did the matter
stand? All of doomed humanity lay in misery, (or rather was blundering
on, and plunging from bad to worse), together with that part of the
Angels which had sinned, until both together should suffer the condign
punishment of their vile treason.
then, is a prelude to the penitential mortifications of Lent -- a time
that ends with the Passion of Christ and leads to the glorious
Resurrection and Ascension that end our exile. It's as if during
Septuagesima, we recognize our exile and the reasons for it; during
Lent we repent of those reasons; during Passiontide, Our Lord assuages
the Father's wrath at those reasons; and then, during Easter, we
rejoice that, through the Cross, we can avoid the eternal price of sin.
For now, though, exile it is, and to indicate this, we eliminate the alleluia
-- which means "All hail to Him Who is" -- from the Mass. Just as at
Requiem Masses (and also the Mass for the Holy Innocents), the alleluia
isn't heard and will be heard no more until the Easter Vigil on Holy
Saturday. This tenth century hymn tells of the alleluia's absence:
| Alleluia, song
voice of joy that cannot die;
alleluia is the anthem
ever raised by choirs on high;
in the house of God abiding
thus they sing eternally.
|| Alleluia dulce
Vox perennis gaudii,
Alleluia laus suavis
Est choris coelestibus,
Quam canunt Dei manentes
In domo per saecula.
true Jerusalem and free;
alleluia, joyful mother,
all thy children sing with thee;
but by Babylon's sad waters
mourning exiles now are we.
| Alleluia laeta
Alleluia vox tuorum
Exsules nos flere cogunt
be our song while here below;
alleluia our transgressions
make us for awhile forgo;
for the solemn time is coming
when our tears for sin must flow.
| Alleluia non
In perenne psallere;
Alleluia vo reatus
Tempus instat quo peracta
| Therefore in
our hymns we pray Thee,
grant us, blessed Trinity,
at the last to keep Thine Easter,
in our home beyond the sky,
there to Thee for ever singing
Te beata Trinitas,
Ut tuum nobis videre
Pascha des in aethere,
Quo tibi laeti canamus
In many places,
there arose the custom of literally "burying the alleluia," just as, in
some places, "Carnival" is buried on Ash
Wednesday, and "Lent" is buried on Holy
Saturday. Francis Weiser's "Easter Book" (1954) cites a
fifteenth-century statute book of the Church of Toul, which reads:
before Septuagesima Sunday all choir boys gather in the sacristy during
the prayer of the None, to prepare for the burial of the Alleluia.
After the last Benedicamus [i.e., at the end of the service] they march
in procession, with crosses, tapers, holy water and censers; and they
carry a coffin, as in a funeral. Thus they proceed through the aisle,
moaning and mourning, until they reach the cloister. There they bury
the coffin; they sprinkle it with holy water and incense it; whereupon
they return to the sacristy by the same way.
This book also
tells us that in "Paris, a straw figure bearing in golden letters the
inscription 'Alleluia' was carried out of the choir at the end of the
service and burned in the church yard." Such a custom could be easily
adapted by families for the evening before Septuagesima Sunday: the
word alleluia can be written on paper and burned, or it can be
carved or decoupaged onto a wooden
plaque, embroidered with golden thread onto fabric, etc., and then be
laid to rest in a wooden box and covered with a semblance of a pall
-- or literally buried -- until the Vigil on Holy Saturday, when
it can be "resurrected" and used to adorn the Easter table with the
Paschal candle (a graphic in
pdf format you can use for this custom). One or both of
the following two antiphons, which date to the 9th century, can be used
to "say farewell" to the alleluia:
May the good
angel of the Lord accompany thee, Alleluia, and give thee a good
journey, that thou mayst come back to us in joy, Alleluia, Alleluia.
Alleluia, abide with us today, and tomorrow thou shalt set
forth, Alleluia; and when the day shall have risen, thou shalt proceed
on thy way, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
Even during this somber season there is great hope, as
always with God.
The Gospel reading on Septuagesima Sunday recounts the parable of the laborers in the vineyard:
The kingdom of heaven is like to an householder, who went out early in
the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And having agreed with
the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And
going about the third hour, he saw others standing in the market place
idle. And he said to them: Go you also into my vineyard, and I will
give you what shall be just. And they went their way.
And again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did in
But about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing, and
he saith to them: Why stand you here all the day idle?
They say to him: Because no man hath hired us.
He saith to them: Go you also into my vineyard. And when evening was
come, the lord of the vineyard saith to his steward: Call the labourers
and pay them their hire, beginning from the last even to the first.
When therefore they were come, that came about the eleventh hour, they
received every man a penny. But when the first also came, they thought
that they should receive more: and they also received every man a
penny. And receiving it they murmured against the master of the house,
Saying: These last have worked but one hour, and thou hast made them
equal to us, that have borne the burden of the day and the heats.
But he answering said to one of them: Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst
thou not agree with me for a penny? Take what is thine, and go thy way:
I will also give to this last even as to thee. Or, is it not lawful for
me to do what I will? is thy eye evil, because I am good? So shall the
last be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.
Chrysostom (born c. A.D. 347), Doctor of the Church, explains this
parable to us...
By St. John Chrysostom
What is to us
the intent of this parable? For the beginning doth not harmonize with
what is said at the end, but intimates altogether the contrary. For in
the first part He shows all enjoying the same, and not some cast out,
and some brought in; yet He Himself both before the parable and after
the parable said the opposite thing. "That the first shall be last, and
the last first," that is, before the very first, those not continuing
first, but having become last. For in proof that this is His meaning,
He added, "Many are called, but few chosen," so as doubly both to sting
the one, and to soothe and urge on the other.
But the parable saith not this, but that they shall be equal to them
that are approved, and have labored much. "For thou hast made them
equal unto us," it is said, "that have borne the burden and heat of the
What then is the meaning of the parable? For it is necessary to make
this first clear, and then we shall clear up that other point. By a
vineyard He meaneth the injunctions of God and His commandments: by the
time of laboring, the present life: by laborers, them that in different
ways are called to the fulfillment of the injunctions: by early in the
morning, and about the third and ninth and eleventh hours, them who at
different ages have drawn near to God, and approved themselves.
But the question is this, whether the first having gloriously approved
themselves, and having pleased God, and having throughout the whole day
shone by their labors, are possessed by the basest feeling of vice,
jealousy and envy. For when they had seen them enjoying the same
rewards, they say, "These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast
made them equal unto us, that have borne the burden and heat of the
day." And in these words, when they are to receive no hurt, neither to
suffer diminution as to their own hire, they were indignant, and much
displeased at the good of others, which was proof of envy and jealousy.
And what is yet more, the good man of the house in justifying himself
with respect to them, and in making his defense to him that had said
these things, convicts him of wickedness and the basest jealousy,
saying, "Didst thou not agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is,
and go thy way; I will give unto the last even as unto thee. Is thine
eye evil, because I am good?"
What then is it which is to be established by these things? For in
other parables also this self-same thing may be seen. For the son who
was approved is brought in, as having felt this self-same thing, when
he saw his prodigal brother enjoying much honor, even more than
himself. For like as these enjoyed more by receiving first, so he in a
greater degree was honored by the abundance of the things given him;
and to these things he that was approved bears witness.
What then may we say? There is no one who is thus justifying himself,
or blaming others in the kingdom of Heaven; away with the thought! for
that place is pure from envy and jealousy. For if when they are here
the saints give their very lives for sinners, much more when they see
them there in the enjoyment of these things, do they rejoice and
account these to be blessings of their own. Wherefore then did He so
frame His discourse? The saying is a parable, wherefore neither is it
right to inquire curiously into all things in parables word by word,but
when we have learnt the object for which it was composed, to reap this,
and not to busy one's self about anything further.
Wherefore then was this parable thus composed? what is its object to
effect? To render more earnest them that are converted and become
better men in extreme old age, and not to allow them to suppose they
have a less portion. So it is for this cause He introduces also others
displeased at their blessings, not to represent those men as pining or
vexed, away with the thought! but to teach us that these have enjoyed
such honor, as could even have begotten envy in others. Which we also
often do, saying, "Such a one blamed me, because I counted thee worthy
of much honor," neither having been blamed, nor wishing to slander that
other, but hereby to show the greatness of the gift which this one
But wherefore can it have been that He did not hire all at once? As far
as concerned Him, He did hire all; but if all did not hearken at once,
the difference was made by the disposition of them that were called.
For this cause, some are called early in the morning, some at the third
hour, some at the sixth, some at the ninth, some at the eleventh, when
they would obey.
This Paul also declared when he said, "When it pleased Him, who
separated me from my mother's womb." When did it please Him? When he
was ready to obey. For He willed it even from the beginning, but
because he would not have yielded, then it pleased Him, when Paul also
was ready to obey. Thus also did He call the thief, although He was
able to have called him even before, but he would not have obeyed. For
if Paul at the beginning would not have obeyed, much more the thief.
And if they say, "No man hath hired us," in the first place as I said
we must not be curious about all the points in the parables; but here
neither is the good man of the house represented to say this, but they;
but he could not convict them, that he might drive them to perplexity,
but might win them over. For that He called all, as far as lay in Him,
from the first even the parable shows, saying, that "He went out early
in the morning to hire."
From everything then it is manifest to us, that the parable is spoken
with reference to them who from earliest youth, and those who in old
age and more tardily, lay hold on virtue; to the former, that they may
not be proud, neither reproach those called at the eleventh hour; to
the latter, that they may learn that it is possible even in a short
time to recover all.
For since He had been speaking about earnestness, and the casting away
of riches, and contempt of all one's possessions, but this needed much
vigor of mind and youthful ardor; in order to kindle in them a fire of
love, and to give vigor to their will, He shows that it is possible
even for men coming later to receive the hire of the whole day.
But He doth not say it thus, lest again He should make them proud, but
he shows that the whole is of His love to man, and because of this they
shall not fail, but shall themselves enjoy the unspeakable blessings.
And this chiefly is what it is His will to establish by this parable.
And if He adds, that, "So the last shall be first and the first last;
for many are called, but few chosen," marvel not. For not as inferring
it from the parable doth He say this, but His meaning is this, that
like as this came to pass, so shall that come to pass. For here indeed
the first did not become last, but all received the same contrary to
hope and expectation. But as this result took place contrary to hope
and contrary to expectation, and they that came before were equalled by
them that followed, so shall that also come to pass which is more than
this, and more strange, I mean, that the last should come to be even
before the first, and that the first should be after these. So that
that is one thing, and this another.
But He seems to me to say these, things, darkly hinting at the Jews,
and amongst the believers at those who at first shone forth, but
afterwards neglected virtue, and fell back; and those others again that
have risen from vice, and have shot beyond many. For we see such
changes taking place both with respect to faith and practice.
Wherefore I entreat you let us use much diligence both to stand in the
right faith, and to show forth an excellent life. For unless we add
also a life suitable to our faith, we shall suffer the extremest
And this the blessed Paul showed even from times of old, when he said,
that "They did all eat the same spiritual meat, and did all drink the
same spiritual drink: "and added, that they were not saved; "for they
were overthrown in the Wilderness." And Christ declared it even in the
evangelists, when He brought in some that had cast out devils and
prophesied, and are led away to punishment. And all His parables also,
as that of the virgins, that of the net, that of the thorns, that of
the tree not bringing forth fruit, demand virtue in our works. For
concerning doctrines He discourses seldom, for neither doth the subject
need labor, but of life often or rather everywhere, for the war about
this is continual, wherefore also so is the labor.
And why do I speak of the whole code. For even a part of it overlooked
brings upon one great evils; as, for instance, almsgiving overlooked
casts into hell them that have come short in it; and yet this is not
the whole of virtue, but a part thereof. But nevertheless both the
virgins were punished for not having this, and the rich man was for
this cause tormented, and they that have not fed the hungry, are for
this condemned with the devil. Again, not to revile is a very small
part of it, nevertheless this too casts out them that have not attained
to it. "For he that saith to his brother, Thou fool, shall be in danger
of hell fire."Again, even continence itself is a part, but
nevertheless, without this no one shall see the Lord. For, "Follow
peace," it is said. "and holinesswithout which no man shall see the
Lord."And humility too in like manner is a part of virtue; but
nevertheless though any one should fulfill other good works, but have
not attained to this, he is unclean with God. And this is manifest from
the Pharisee, who though abounding with numberless good works, by this
But I have also something more than these things to say again. I mean,
that not only one of them overlooked shuts Heaven against us, but
though it be done, yet not in due perfection and abundance, it produces
the selfsame effect again. "For except your righteousness shall exceed
the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall not enter into
the kingdom of Heaven."So that though thou give alms, but not more than
they, thou shalt not enter in.
And how much did they bestow in alms? one may ask. For this very thing,
I am minded to say now, that they who do not give may be roused to
give, and they that give may not pride themselves, but may make
increase of their gifts. What then did they give? A tenth of all their
possessions, and again another tenth, and after this a third, so that
they almost gave away the third part, for three-tenths put together
make up this. And together with these, first fruits, and first born,
and other things besides, as, for instance, the offerings for sins,
those for purification, those at feasts, those in the jubilee,those by
the cancelling of debts, and the dismissals of servants. and the
lendings that were clear of usury. But if he who gave the third part of
his goods, or rather the half (for those being put together with these
are the half), if then he who is giving the half, achieves no great
thing, he who doth not bestow so much as the tenth, of what shall he be
worthy? With reason He said, "There are few that be saved."
Let us not, then, despise the care of our life. For if one portion of
it despised brings so great a destruction, when on every hand we are
subject to the sentence of condemnation, how shall we escape the
punishment? and what manner of penalty shall we not suffer? and what
manner of hope of salvation have we, one may ask, if each of the things
we have numbered threatens us with hell? I too say this; nevertheless,
if we give heed we may be saved, preparing the medicines of almsgiving,
and attending to our wounds.
For oil does not so strengthen a body, as benevolence at once
strengthens a soul, and makes it invincible to all and impregnable to
the devil. For wheresoever he may seize us, his hold then slips, this
oil not suffering his grasp to fix on our back.
With this oil therefore let us anoint ourselves continually. For it is
the cause of health, and a supply of light, and a source of
cheerfulness. "But such a one," thou wilt say, "hath talents of gold so
many and so many, and gives away nothing." And whal is that to thee?
For thus shalt thou appear more worthy of admiration, when in poverty
thou an more munificent than he. It was on this ground Paul marvelled
at the Macedonians, not because they gave, but because even though they
were in poverty they gave.
Look not then at these, but at the common Teacher of all, who "had not
where to lay His head."And why, you say, doth not this and that person
do so? Do not judge another, but deliver thyself from the charge
against thee. Since the punishment is greater when thou at the same
time blamest others, and thyself doest not, when judging other men,
thou art again thyself also subject to the same judgment. For if even
them who do right He permits not to judge others, much more will He not
permit offenders. Let us not therefore judge others, neither let us
look to others who are taking their ease, but unto Jesus, and from
thence let us draw our examples.
Why! have I been thy benefactor? Why! did I redeem thee, that thou
lookest to me? It is another who hath bestowed these things on thee.
Why dost thou let go thy Master, and look unto thy fellow-servant?
Heardest thou not Him saying, "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in
heart?" And again, "He that would be first amongst you, let him be
servant of all:" and again, "Even as the Son of Man came not to be
ministered unto, but to minister."And after these things again, lest
taking offense at them who are remiss amongst thy fellow-servants, thou
continue in contemptuousness; to draw thee off from that, He saith, "I
have made myself an example to you, that as I have done, ye should do
also." But hast thou no teacher of virtue amongst those persons that
are with thee, neither such a one as to lead thee on to these things?
More abundant then will be the praise, the commendation greater, when
not even being supplied with teachers thou hast become one to be
For this is possible, nay very easy, if we be willing: and this they
show, who first duly performed these things, as for instance, Noah,
Abraham, Melchizedeck, Job, and all the men like them. To them it is
needful to look every day, and not unto these, whom ye never cease
emulating, and passing about their names in your assemblies. For
nothing else do I hear you saying everywhere, but such words as these;
"Such a one has bought so many acres of land; such a one is rich, he is
building." Why dost thou stare, O man, at what is without? Why dost
thou look to others? If thou art minded to look to others, look to them
that do their duty, to them that approve themselves, to them that
carefully fulfill the law, not to those that have become offenders, and
are in dishonor. For if thou look to these, thou wilt gather hence many
evil things, falling into remissness, into pride, into condemnation of
others; but if thou reckon over them that do right, thou wilt lead
thyself on unto humility, unto diligence, unto compunction, unto the
blessings that are beyond number.
Hear what the Pharisee suffered, because he let pass them that do
right, and looked to him that had offended; hear and fear.
See how David became one to be marvelled at, because he looked to his
ancestors that were noted for virtue. "For I am a stranger," saith he,
"and a sojourner, as all my fathers were." For this man, and all that
are like him, let pass them that had sinned, and thought of those who
had approved themselves.
This do thou also. For thou art not set to judge of the negligences of
which others have been guilty, nor to inquire into the sins which
others are committing; thou art required to do judgment on thyself, not
on others. "For if we judged ourselves," it is said, "we should not be
judged, but when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord."But thou
hast reversed the order, of thyself requiring no account of offenses
great or small, but being strict and curious about the offenses of
Let us no more do this, but leaving off this disorderly way, let us set
up a tribunal in ourselves for the sins committed by ourselves,
becoming ourselves accusers, and judges, and executioners for our
But if it be thy will to be busy about the things of other men also,
busy thyself about their good works, not their sins, that both by the
memory of our negligences and by our emulation for the good works they
have done, and by setting before ourselves the judgment-seat from which
no prayers can deliver, wounded each day by our conscience as by a kind
of goad,we may lead ourselves on to humility, and a greater diligence,
and attain unto the good things to come, by the grace and love towards
man of our Lord Jesus Christ; with whom be to the Father, together with
the Holy Ghost, glory, might, honor, now and always, and world without