O God, who have commanded us
to listen to your beloved Son,
be pleased, we pray,
to nourish us inwardly by your word,
that, with spiritual sight made pure,
we may rejoice to behold your glory.
The collect, or opening prayer for the Second Sunday of Lent comes to us by way of the Mozarabic or Spanish Liturgy. For over a century it has served as an invitation to the Lenten Season as we enter more deeply into the mysteries of our faith.
From the earliest days of the Church, Lent has served as a sort of Catechism of the faith, and the Sunday prayers and readings lie at the heart of this effort. This is why this prayer echoes three of the major Gospels of Lent: the Baptism of the Lord, the Temptation in the Desert and the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.
First, we hear the voice of the Father speaking from heaven as at the Baptism of the Lord. “This is my beloved Son!” But then we hear the same voice from heaven at the Lord’s glorious transfiguration on Mount Tabor: “Listen to him!”
In response to this command, we ask God to “nourish us inwardly by [his] word,” recalling last Sunday’s Gospel of the Temptation in the desert, where Satan tempts the Lord to satisfy his hunger by turning the stones into bread. But Jesus responds, “Man does not live by bread alone, but one every word which comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) There’s a certain irony in that expression, as the words are spoken by the word made flesh, Jesus, the Christ!
When the prayer uses the word “inwardly” there is a special message for us here. For the word of God is not destined to be heard only by our ears, but to be received in our hearts. The word takes root deep within us, it changes us, and makes us into what God wants us to be. It purifies our sight, that we might behold the glory seen by Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.
In the Second Letter of Saint Peter we find the best explanation of this prayer, and perhaps, the author of today’s collect took this scripture as his source: “For [the Lord] received honor and glory from God the Father* when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, ‘This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1: 17-20)
Pope Benedict XVI emphasized the importance of receiving the word of God into our hearts in his post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, recalling an ancient liturgical prayer that prays: “‘God our Saviour… we implore you for this people: send upon them the Holy Spirit; may the Lord Jesus come to visit them, speak to the minds of all, dispose their hearts to faith and lead our souls to you, God of mercies.’ This makes it clear that we cannot come to understand the meaning of the word unless we are open to the working of the Paraclete in the Church and in the hearts of believers.” (Verbum Domini)
During this second week of Lent, then, let us open our hearts to the word made flesh for us, that by prayer and fasting we might each day draw closer to Christ. For the whole purpose of our lives is to attain that joy which is the vision of the glory of Christ the Lord.