Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Lent by the Numbers

Perhaps this quickie would better be called Lent by Genesis. It seems the only significance of numbers in Christian studies nowadays relate to pseudo-Apocalyptic nonsense about the last pope, the end times, the great apostasy, the rapture and the like. What of what has already come to pass?

Last Friday I attended one of the final pre-Sanctified Divine Liturgies of the year. The first reading was the last two chapters of Genesis, wherein Jacob is buried by his son Joseph (of technicolor dream coat fame). The Egyptians mourn him for seventy days during a forty day embalming process. In the Byzantine tradition Lent is now over and Great Week has begun. Similarly, the Roman tradition now kicks into "high gear" (as there is no longer a Top Gear). While the 'Gesima weeks and the Meat and Cheesefare weeks are seen by some as practical steps towards Lent, I wonder myself if they might not have originated in part in imitation or in miscibility with the Jacobite mourning period and his slow embalming. The fasting period calls to mind Christ's precepts for us, His teachings before His Passion, and His all for us to pick up our crosses in that same process. At the same time, there is a gradual build up towards death and burial, towards God-made-Man's death and burial. An intensification necessarily follows when the forty days of embalming—and later, fasting—begins and culminates in the burial of the prophet, later Christ.

Great or Holy Week lasts for seven days, beginning with the triumphant entry of a king into the holy city and ending with the king dead, buried in a borrowed grave. Much like the story of Creation, it begins brightly and ends quite poorly. Whenever God compels a prophet to do something under the old Law, He proscribes forty days of misery which end with some measure of alleviation: the Flood, Jacob's burial, the penance of Nineveh and more. Seven never ends happily and it does not during Holy Week either. For this reason, the Lord gave us the eighth day of the week, the octave day, the day of renewal and new life. On the eighth day, Christ rose from the dead. On the eighth day, death died by death. On the eighth day, the disobedience of Adam was rectified by the obedience of Christ. On the eighth day, Christ ended the mourning of the forty days with the joy of the eighth day. And Pascha is of course its own octave, ending on Low Sunday. The Sunday of the Resurrection is the octave day of the most miserable week of the year and the beginning of the most joyful.

Tomorrow night, off to Tenebrae!

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