The Quadragesima, which we call now in English Lent, beginneth the Sunday in which is sung in the office of the mass: Invocavit me, etc. And the Church which was much troubled tofore by so many tribulations and had cried: Circumdederunt me, and after, in respiring and sighing had asked help in saying: Exsurge domini, now she showeth that she is heard, when she saith: He hath called me and I have heard. Now it is to understand that the Quadragesima containeth forty-two days for to account the Sundays. And if they be not reckoned there be but thirty-six days for to fast, which be the tenth part of the days of the year. But the four days tofore be put to, because the number sacred by the Quadragesima be accomplished, the which our saviour Jesu Christ hallowed by his holy fasting.
And because we fast in this number of forty, there may be assigned three reasons. The first reason putteth S. Austin, which saith that S. Matthew setteth forty generations to the end, then, that our Lord by his holy Quadragesima descended to us, we should ascend to him by our Quadragesima.
That other assigneth the same, saying, to that we may have the Quinquagesima we must put to forty ten; for unto that, that we may come to the blessed glory and rest in heaven, it behoveth us to labour all the time of this present life. And therefore our Lord abode forty days with his disciples after his resurrection, and after the tenth day, he sent to them the Holy Ghost.
The third reason assigneth Master Prepositivus in the sum of the office of the Church, which saith: The world is divided into four parts, and the year into four times, and the man of four elements and four complexions is composed. And we have the new law which is ordained of four evangelists, and the ten commandments that we have broken. It behoveth then that the number of ten by the number of four be multiplied, that thus we make the Quadragesima, that we fulfil the commandments of the old law and new. Our body, as is said, is composed of four elements, like as they had four seats in our body. That is to wit, the fire which is in the eyes, the air in the tongue and ears, the water in the natural members named genitals, and the earth hath domination in the hands and other members. Then in the eyes is curiosity, in the tongue and ears is scurrility, in the natural members, that is to say genitals, voluptuousness, and in the hands and other members cruelty.
And these four things confessed the publican when he prayed God. He held him afar in confessing his luxury which is stinking, like thus as he said: Sire, I dare not approach to thee, for I might stink in thy nose. And because he durst not lift up his eyes he confessed curiosity. And in that he smote himself on the breast he confessed cruelty. And when he said: Deus propitius esto mihi peccatori, he confessed the crime and gluttony which he ought to repress. S. Gregory in his homilies putteth also three reasons wherefore in abstinence is holden the number of forty. For the virtue of the ten commandments in the law, and for the accomplishing of the four books of the evangelists. And also in this world we that be in mortal body be composed of the four elements, and by the will of the mortal body we gainsay the commandments of God. Therefore then, we that have disobeyed the commandments of God by the desire of the flesh, it is according that the same flesh by four times ten we put to penance and affliction from this present day unto Easter six weeks coming, that be forty-two days. If the Sundays be taken away, there abide in the abstinence but thirty-six days. And the year is demened by three hundred sixty and five days, we give the tithe of them to God when we fast. And this saith S. Gregory: Wherefore keep we not this fasting in the time that Jesu Christ fasted, which was anon after his baptism, but we begin so that we continue until Easter.
Hereof be assigned four reasons in the sum of the office of Master John Beleth in the office of the Church. The first is that we will arise with Jesu Christ, for he suffered for us, and we ought to suffer for him. The second is to that we should follow the children of Israel which first issued out of Egypt, and in this time issued also out Babylon, the which thing appeareth, for as well that one as that other, anon as they were returned hallowed the solemnity of Easter. And thus we for to ensue them in this time, we fast to the end that, from Egypt and from Babylon, that is to understand from this mortal world into the country of our heritage of heaven, we may enter. The third reason is because that in the printemps the heat of the flesh moveth and boileth, to the end that we may refrain us therein, this time we fast. The fourth is forasmuch as anon after our fasting we ought to receive the Body of Jesu Christ, for in likewise as the children of Israel, tofore they had eaten the lamb, they put them in affliction by penance in eating wild lettuce and bitter, right so we ought to withdraw and put us in affliction by penance, to the end that the more worthily we may take and receive the Lamb of life. Amen.
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