First Sunday of Lent-Archbishop B. O’Brien

Homily by Archbishop Brendan M. O’Brien

Sunday Mass on the First Sunday of Lent

St. Mary’s Cathedral

March 10, 2019


When we hear a passage of scripture such as today’s gospel, one of the ways of entering into it is to ask ourselves two questions:

  1. How does this passage help me to know Jesus better? and,
  2. How does this passage help me to know myself better?


If we begin with  the first question, how does the gospel passage about the temptations in the desert help us to know Jesus better?  I think we can say that it helps us to see how Jesus, in remaining true to his identity as the Son of God, had to struggle.  In St. Luke’s gospel, Jesus’s ministry is focused on going up to Jerusalem, where he will be persecuted, suffer, and die.  He makes this known to his disciples, but they, and especially Peter, don’t want to hear it.


The three temptations which Jesus experienced can be summed up by saying that he was tempted to fulfill the mission he had been given by other means than by following the Father’s plan for him.  It would have been easier for Jesus if he had followed some of these suggestions of the tempter.  ‘Turn stones into bread and feed the hungry’ – that would surely get him a following; or ‘fly off the temple parapet unharmed’ – that would certainly have convinced sceptics about who he was.  What this passage about the temptations tells us about Jesus is that He did not use his powers for his own benefit or for a quick fix, which would draw new followers and hold on to them because of marvellous deeds.  The Father had asked Jesus to trust, and he did.  He surrendered Himself to the Father, and the Father didn’t let him down.  God didn’t save him from suffering and death, but, rather, took him through suffering and death to victory.


The temptations of Jesus in the desert during 40 days remind us of the  temptations of the Israelites as they wandered in the desert for 40 years.  The desert has a very special place in the history of the Israelites.  It is there that God gave them the commandments through Moses; it is there that God fed them with Manna from heaven; but it was also there that they succumbed to temptation and turned from the worship of the true God to erect the image of the Golden Calf.  The desert is also a special place for Jesus.  It is there that he was led by the Spirit after his baptism in the Jordan.  Throughout his ministry, Jesus will be confronted by temptation, but we see that telescoped into this one dramatic event in the desert.


Let us now go to the second question:  How does this gospel passage help me to know myself better?  Temptation is something with which we all have some experience.  However, when we think of temptation, we often see it in terms of  sexual sins, telling lies, losing our temper, feeling resentment, and so forth.  But, as one author mentions, the more dangerous and more fundamental temptations are to  seek wealth for its own sake, to want status (everyone looking up to me), and power (so I can  manipulate things and people to my own ends).  When these are our goals, we forget our real identity, which is a son or daughter of God.


We see in the first reading how Moses reminds the people of who they are.  At a festival, people bring some of their harvest fruits and offer them in gratitude to God, the source of these gifts.  Moses takes the opportunity to instruct them not only to remember the gifts of God from the earth, but especially to remember the gifts that God gave them in the past.

It all started with their earliest ancestors: “My father was a wandering Aramean,”(perhaps a reference to Jacob).  Their ancestors were wandering nobodies whom God  rescued from Egypt and brought to the Promised Land.  Remembering what God has done for them in the past will help them to trust that God will not abandon them in their present need or in their future difficulties.


Sunday Mass is our time to remember the great gift that we have received in the death and resurrection of Jesus and to rededicate ourselves to an always more faithful response.  The season of Lent is our annual 40 days to help us to remember our true identity.  At the beginning of Lent each year, we have the rite of imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday.  This reminds us of two things about ourselves: our fragility and our greatness.  As Pope Benedict mentioned in one of his homilies, “The reception of the ashes is a gesture of humility whereby I recognize myself for what I am, a fragile creature made of earth and destined to return to the earth.  But I am also made in the image of God and destined to return to Him.  So I am dust, yes, but dust that is loved and moulded by his love.”


God animates us with his life-giving breath and makes us capable of recognizing his voice and responding to him.  But we are also free and capable of disobeying him, and thus yielding to the temptation of pride and self-sufficiency.  As we reflect on the gospel of the temptation of Jesus and how he responded, may we reflect both on our frailty as human beings, capable of sin and human weakness, and, at the same time, recognize how we are called to greatness and assisted by the Spirit to follow Jesus’s path of faithfulness to the Father.  May thoughts such as these guide our Lenten journey.

The Chief medical Health Officer of Kingston has ordered that Masks must be worn at all places we gather indoors. That includes us here at the cathedral. We can’t supply everyone with a mask so please come with one. We would have a limited supply available for a loonie at the entrance of the cathedral.
Please read and observe the six key principles outlined below.

1) The key principle is that we come to Mass to worship God. Out of justice and exercising the virtue of religion we must give God what is God’s due. That quite simply is worship, adoration and praise. Thus, the absolute essentials of Mass will be included so that the Sacramental praise of God will take place and we will be exposed to one another for as brief a time as possible.

2) The second key principle is that the health and safety of parishioners, staff and clergy here at St. Mary’s are essential and require our utmost concern and attention. Therefore, the dispensation from the obligation to come to Sunday Mass by Archbishop Mulhall continues to be in effect. Those who are sick, elderly or have other critical health concerns should not come at this time. However, that is left to your discretion. Should you make the choice to come, knowing the risks, you are most welcome.

3) The underlying principle of all of our restrictions in isolating, physically distancing, wearing masks etc. is the common good as we live out the Lord’s commission to “love one another.” We are to care for each other and at this time we are called to be as prudent and careful as we can to protect the health of everyone else and ourselves.
4) The principle for the next few weeks will be brevity. The received scientific wisdom is that the virus spreads within groups who spend a prolonged period of time together. Therefore, we will be reducing the Mass to the bare essentials.
5) Singing is considered more dangerous than speaking so you are asked to please not sing at all throughout the Mass. I will not be singing either.
6) If you have any sickness, are elderly or have a critical illness you should remain at home. The dispensation from the obligation to come to Mass continues through this time of 30% capacity. Of course, if you choose to come you will not be turned away. We will continue to live- stream the Masses until we are back to a more normal arrangement.

The Chief medical Health Officer has ordered that Masks must be worn at all places we gather indoors. That includes us here at the cathedral. We can’t supply everyone with a mask so please come with one. We would have a limited supply available for a loonie at the entrance of the cathedral.
We will pray a shorter Penitential Rite.
The Gloria will be said not sung. There is to be no singing by the congregation during the Mass. Only by a cantor or as we have today a physically distanced choir in the choir loft…3 metres apart.
We will only have one reading followed by the Psalm
The second reading will be omitted.
The choir will sing the Alleluia on Sundays. During the week it will be omitted. Please do not join in.
The Gospel.
A very brief (3-4 minute) homily will follow.
The Creed will not be prayed.
There will be no petitions. Please prepare your own petitions and offer them in your heart during the Mass.
There will be no procession of the gifts.
There will be no regular collections at this time in the Masses. It will happen later. Ushers will be at the doors to receive your offering as you leave.
The Eucharistic Prayer will be prayed. This is the Most Important Part of the Mass.
The Our Father
Sign of Peace. This is a time when we won’t shake hands. Please do not wave to each other or give the two finger sign of peace. Neither of these reflect what is the intention here…You are recognizing the presence of God in the other person and praying they know God’s peace. The most appropriate gesture is a slight bow or nod of the head to the other person. You have seen me do this at the sign of peace to all of you at every Sunday Liturgy.
Please be seated.
Then the ushers will direct you to the place where you will receive Holy Communion. Please do not leave your pew until an usher has indicated you should do so.
Another usher will be close to the Communion Station to receive your Sunday Offering.
When it is your turn to receive Holy Communion. You will stand 6 feet away on the red line. The person distributing Holy Communion will say “The Body of Christ”. You will say “Amen”. Then move forward within arms length and receive the Host. Once you have received go straight out the nearest exit and make your Thanksgiving on your way home.
Aisles 1 & 5 will come forward to receive Holy Communion and leave by the side doors.
Aisles 2, 3 & 4 will go to the back to receive Holy Communion.
Aisle 2 will exit by the exit closest to the rectory.
Aisle 3 will exit out the centre door which you came in
Aisle 4 will exit out the door by the washrooms.
You are strongly encouraged to receive Holy Communion in the hand. Receiving on the tongue endangers the person giving Holy Communion and yourself, the person receiving Holy Communion. If you wish to insist on receiving on the tongue please wait until the very end as the person giving Holy Communion should sanitize their hands after each communicant. The usher will pass you by and will come back to you after everyone else has received. Please don’t leave your pew until that has taken place.