February 5: Septuagesima Sunday, Class II

Today marks the beginning of Septuagesimatide, the semi-penitential season that helps prepare us for Lent.

The canticle antiphons for the Sunday both refer to the Gospel, the parable of the labourers in the vineyard, Matthew 20: 1-16.

St Gregory says in his sermon set for today's patristic reading at Matins:

We hear that the kingdom of heaven is like a man that is an householder, who went out early in the morning, to hire labourers into his vineyard. Who indeed is more justly to be likened to an householder than our Maker, who is the head of the household of faith, bearing rule over them whom he has made, and being Master of his chosen ones in the world, as a Master over those that are in his house? He it is that has the Church for a vineyard, a vineyard that does not cease not to bring forth branches of the True Vine, from righteous Abel to the last of the elect that shall be born into the world.

This householder, then, for the cultivation of his vineyard, goes out early in the morning, and at the third hour, and the sixth hour, and the ninth hour, and the eleventh hour, to hire labourers into his vineyard. Thus the Lord, from the beginning to the end of the world, does not cease to gather together preachers for the instruction of his faithful people. The early morning of the world was from Adam until Noah; the third hour from Noah until Abraham; the sixth hour from Abraham until Moses; the ninth hour from Moses until the coming of the Lord; the eleventh hour from the coming of the Lord until the end of the world. At this eleventh hour are sent forth as preachers, the Holy Apostles, who have received full wages, albeit they be come in late.

For the cultivation of his vineyard (that is, the instruction of his people), the Lord has never ceased to send into it labourers. First, by the Fathers, then, by the Prophets and Teachers of the Law, and lastly, by the Apostles. He has dressed and tended the lives of his people, as the owner of a vineyard dresses and tends it by means of workmen. Whoever in whatever degree joined to a right faith the teaching of righteousness, was so far one of God's labourers in God's vineyard.

By the labourers at early morning, and at the third hour, and the sixth hour, and the ninth hour, may be understood God's ancient people, the Hebrews, who strove to worship him with a right faith in company with his chosen ones from the very beginning of the world, and thus continually laboured in his vineyard. And now, at the eleventh hour, it is said unto the Gentiles also : Why stand ye here all the day idle?"

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