FIRST READING (The creation of our first parents, and sin)
A reading from the Book of Genesis (2:7-9; 3:1-7)
The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.
Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed there the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made various trees grow that were delightful to look at and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals that the Lord God had made. The serpent asked the woman, “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” The woman answered the serpent: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.” The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. —The Word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.
RESPONSORIAL PSALM (51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17)
Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned. (Cf. Ps 51:3a)
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness, in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me. (R)
For I acknowledge my offense, and my sin is before me always: “Against you only have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight.” (R)
A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me. Cast me not out from your presence, and your Holy Spirit take not from me. (R)
Give me back the joy of your salvation, and a willing spirit sustain in me. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. (R)
SECOND READING (Where sin increased, there grace increased all the more.)
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans (5:12-19)
Brothers and sisters: Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned—for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world, though sin is not accounted when there is no law. But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam, who is the type of the one who was to come.
But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one, the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many. And the gift is not like the result of the one who sinned. For after one sin there was the judgment that brought condemnation; but the gift, after many transgressions, brought acquittal. For if, by the transgression of the one, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ. In conclusion, just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so, through one righteous act, acquittal and life came to all. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous. — The Word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.
SECOND READING (Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.)
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans (5:12, 17-19)
Brothers and sisters: Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned.
For if, by the transgression of the one, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ. In conclusion, just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so, through one righteous act, acquittal and life came to all. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous. —The Word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.
GOSPEL ACCLAMATION (Mt 4:4b)
Glory and praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. (R)
GOSPEL (Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights and was tempted.)
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew (4:1-11)
At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”
Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone. Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”
Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him. —The Gospel of the Lord.
R. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
“A Gracious and Merciful God”
On this 1st Sunday of lent, the psalm and refrain are the same as we recited on Ash Wednesday, and this Psalm 51, a great penitential psalm, sets the tone for the whole season of Lent. It is a psalm prayer for divine mercy:
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness, In the greatness of your compassion, wipe out my offense.
This very simple verse contains two important words that have a deep connection to “COVENANT.” The words in Hebrew are chesed (for goodness), and rahamin (for compassion).
In a textual analysis of the Sacred Scriptures, scholars have noted that the word chesed or compassion first appears in the Book of Exodus after the Israelites, in their desert sojourn, turn from God and worship the golden calf. We read in Exodus 34:6, “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” This is the prayer of a sinner who is in a covenant with God and who now appeals to that covenant while calling on God for mercy. God’s boundless goodness and compassion are what we must always keep in mind, especially when we find that we have sinner. Be merciful O God, for we have sinned! This is our Lenten prayer. This is our Lenten cry.
And while the psalm in our Mass today is the perfect example of prayer from the heart of a sinner, our first reading is the story of sin – of that first sin.
Like every other story in the Bible about sin, it starts with an account of God’s graciousness. And it is very important that we recognize this order – or the progression – that it always begins with God’s graciousness. It is not the story of someone breaking a commandment or a law. Rather it is the story of a rupture in a loving relationship.
In love, out of love, God created man – the image used is that of a potter shaping something out of wet clay, but in this instance, God breathes live into the nostril and so “man became a living being.” God’s great gift was LIFE. This breath of life made man a living being, but that was not enough. God then provided this creature shaped in God’s image and likeness with all the nourishment and beauty of the natural world. And why did God do that? Because God is GRACIOUS.
The original sin was the discontent of Adam and Eve to be humble creatures created “in God’s image.” Rather, they wanted to be “like gods who know what is good and what is evil.” This is the universal and original sin, to want to “be like gods.” And who among us has not fallen into the same trap? All humanity seems prone to sin. We set ourselves up as a law unto ourselves; we seek to control others; we reject God and his ways and bow down before human ingenuity. “Have mercy on me, O God!”
This period of Lent is a time for us to acknowledge our sinfulness. We need to agree, to understand and accept our sins but also keep our gaze on the extent of God’s goodness. This is a central point in the teaching of St. Paul, as we see in our 2nd reading today. While not denying our sinful human nature, St. Paul reminds us that no matter how great a sin we commit, “how much more” will those who repent “receive the abundance of grace and the gift of justification” through Jesus Christ! For St. Paul, grace always surpasses sin. As our psalm reminds us, “In the greatness of your compassion, wipe out my offense.!”
The story of the Temptation of Christ gives us an example of human nature at its finest. Jesus is tempted, yet he does not succumb. Biblical scholars point out that this account of the temptations reflects past events in the history of ancient Israel. The temptations of Jesus successfully overcame temptations to which the Israelites fell victim: grumbling against God because of hunger in the wilderness (turn stone into bread); demand for a demonstration of divine power (throw yourself down); and worshipping a false god (prostrate yourself and worship me). While the ancient Israelites failed and broke their covenant, Jesus remained faithful. The Gospel passage reminds us that finally someone was totally faithful to God!
The Gospel also shows signs of the Messiah. Jesus came to satisfy spiritual hunger; he refrained from using divine power to simply attract followers; and he was submissive always to God’s will, and not his own.
My friends, we enter this Lent sobered by world events. The horrors and inhumanity of terrorism and war have embittered our spirits; the devastation of natural catastrophes has burnt our hearts. Ravaging disease and pandemics raise our fears. We have been forced in a real way to face our own human failings and the vulnerability of human nature in general as we are cut off from gathering as a community of faith. Despite all of this, the GRACIOUSNESS OF GOD is offered to us. The spirit of unselfishness of which we are all capable is seen in the willingness of so many to step forward and help others at this time. This spirit of unselfishness is really the face of our gracious and compassionate God, encouraging all of us to put differences aside, to repent of our offensive attitudes, and to work for a caring and harmonious world.
The example of Jesus against temptations is offered to us today to help strengthen us against our own temptations. He moves us beyond superficial pleasures to hunger for true spirituality. He shows us the way to trust in God’s divine and tender providence rather than testing God’s power. He challenges us to worship God rather than power, or possessions, or celebrity. What will be our response? How can we show to others the face of God’s compassion and graciousness through our actions? Go back later today and re-read slowly and prayerfully the responsorial psalm.
“Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness, In the greatness of your compassion, wipe out my offense.”
Celebrant: In the temptations of Jesus Christ, we see the persistent power of evil. But He vanquished our foe, and so we offer our prayers, confidently asking his strength.
READER: That all God’s People may be strong in resisting temptations, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: That every person may hear the call to receive Christ’s free gift of grace, especially our parish catechumens who will be baptized soon, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER That in the difficult times we face with the COVID-19 virus that those forced from their work or those in need of work and financial help will receive God’s assistance, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: That we will know and experience the mercy of God as we confess our sins, especially in this period of Lent (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: That all families will recommit themselves to fervent prayer this Lent so as to grow in greater love and holiness, and that we and our catechumens become more responsive to the needs of all men and women, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: And for the intentions we carry in our hearts, and for all those who have asked for our prayers and who we remember now in silence. (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
CELEBRANT: Hear the prayers of your family, gracious Father, as we begin our Lenten season with prayer, fasting and giving alms, and help us to be faithful. We ask this through Christ our Lord. (all) AMEN.