Mandeville, LA – This Sunday, the first of the six which come during Lent, is one of the most solemn throughout the year. In the ancient Calendars, it is called Invocabit, from the first word of the Introit of the Mass. In the Middle-Ages, it was called Brand Sunday, because the young people, who had behaved sinfully during Carnival, were obliged to show themselves to-day, at the Church, with a torch in their hands, as a show of public humiliation for their excesses. Dom Prosper Gueranger tells us this day is the most solmenn of the year, second only to Passion Sunday and Good Friday.
Lent solemnly opens to-day. We have already noticed, that the four preceding days were added since the time of St. Gregory the Great, in order to make up Forty days of fasting. Neither can we look upon Ash Wednesday as the solemn opening of the Season, for the Faithful are not bound to hear Mass on that day. The Holy Church, seeing her children now assembled together, speaks to them, in her Office of Matins, these eloquent and noble words of St. Leo the Great: “Having to announce to you, dearly beloved, the most sacred and chief Fast, how can I more appropriately begin, than with the words of the Apostle, (in whom Christ himself spoke,) and by saying to you what has just been read: Behold! now is the acceptable time; behold! now is the day of salvation. For although there be no time, which is not replete with divine gifts, and we may always, by God’s grace, have access to his mercy, – yet ought we all to redouble our efforts to make spiritual progress and be animated with unusual confidence, now that the anniversary of the day of our Redemption is approaching, inviting us to devote ourselves to every good work, that so we may celebrate, with purity of body and mind, the incomparable Mystery of our Lord’s Passion.
The 40 Holy Martyrs of Sebaste were an elite ruling guard under a Roman noble named Agricola. Agricola was told he couldn’t trust the soldiers because they had become Christians. Agricola determined to force the men to renounce their faith, when they refused he threw them in prison.
After a week of tortures the men would still not renounce The Faith. Agricola then devised an evil plan, he ordered the men stripped and then had them marched into a nearly frozen lake so the water would freeze around their bodies. Fires were lit on the shore to heat huge tubs of water and any man who would renounce could warm himself and go free. Only one man apostasized but when he did, crowns of gold were seen descending on the remaining soldiers and one of the guards was so inspired that he disrobed and took his place, making their number 40 again.
To their last breath the martyrs sang out, “Our help is in the name of the Lord,” and they all gave up their souls to God. The martyrs were tortured more and beaten to death and then burned in a pyre. Their bones were cast into a river to prevent other Christians from venerating them as holy relics but they were easily found that night because they glowed. This story comes to us from a homily delivered by Saint Basil The Great.