Scripture Readings for Ash Wednesday Through the First Week of Lent

The Gospels on the coffin of Pope John Paul II, May 1, 2011. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)
The Gospels are displayed on the coffin of Pope John Paul II, May 1, 2011. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)
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Israel's Bondage in Egypt and Our Slavery to Sin

The Gospels on the coffin of Pope John Paul II, May 1, 2011. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)
The Gospels are displayed on the coffin of Pope John Paul II, May 1, 2011. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

An excellent way to focus our thoughts and deepen our understanding of the meaning of Lent is to turn to the Bible. Sometimes, however, it’s hard to know where to start. That is why the Catholic Church has provided us with the Office of the Readings, part of the Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the Church. In the Office of the Readings, the Church has chosen passages from Scripture that are appropriate to every day of the year.

Every liturgical season has a certain theme or themes. During Lent, we see four themes in these readings:

  • The need for proper repentance
  • Israel of the Old Testament as the model of the New Testament Church
  • Israel’s exodus from Egypt to the Holy Land as the model of the Christian journey out of sin into the Kingdom of Heaven
  • Jesus Christ as the eternal high priest

Lent: Our Spiritual Exodus

In Lent, the Office of the Readings presents the story of the Exodus of the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt through their entrance into the Promised Land.

It's a fascinating story, filled with miracles and intrigue, the wrath of God and His love. And it's comforting, too: The Chosen People constantly backslide, blaming Moses for leading them out of the comfort of Egypt into the midst of the barren desert. Concerned with day-to-day life, they have trouble keeping their eyes on the prize: the Promised Land.

We find ourselves in the same position, losing sight of our goal of Heaven, especially in the busyness of the modern world, with all of its distractions. Yet God did not abandon His people, and He will not abandon us. All He asks is that we keep on walking.

The readings for each day from Ash Wednesday through the First Week of Lent, found on the following pages, come from the Office of the Readings, part of the Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the Church.

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Scripture Reading for Ash Wednesday

Prest With Lectionary
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Fasting Must Lead to Works of Charity

Fasting is about more than refraining from food or other pleasures. In this reading for Ash Wednesday from the Prophet Isaiah, the Lord explains that fasting that does not lead to works of charity does us no good. This is good advice as we begin our Lenten journey.

Isaiah 58:1-12 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition)

"Cry, cease not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their wicked doings, and the house of Jacob their sins.

"For they seek me from day to day, sad desire to know my ways, as a nation that hath done justice, and hath not forsaken the judgment of their God: they ask of me the judgments of justice: they are willing to approach to God.

"Why have we fasted, and thou hast not regarded: have we humbled our souls, and thou hast not taken notice? Behold in the day of your fast your own will is found, and you exact of all your debtors.

"Behold you fast for debates and strife. and strike with the fist wickedly. Do not fast as you have done until this day, to make your cry to be heard on high.

"Is this such a fast as I have chosen: for a man to afflict his soul for a day? is this it, to wind his head about like a circle, and to spread sackcloth and ashes? wilt thou call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?

"Is not this rather the fast that I have chosen? loose the bands of wickedness, undo the bundles that oppress, let them that are broken go free, and break asunder every burden.

"Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and the harbourless into thy house: when thou shalt see one naked, cover him, and despise not thy own flesh.

"Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall speedily arise, and thy justice shall go before thy face, end the glory of the Lord shall gather thee up.

"Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall hear: thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou wilt take away the chain out of the midst of thee, and cease to stretch out the finger, and to speak that which profiteth not.

"When thou shalt pour out thy soul to the hungry, and shalt satisfy the afflicted soul then shall thy light rise up in darkness, and thy darkness shall be as the noonday.

"And the Lord will give thee rest continually, and will fill thy soul with brightness, and deliver thy bones, and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a fountain of water whose waters shall not fail.

"And the places that have been desolate for ages shall be built in thee: thou shalt raise up the foundations of generation and generation: and thou shalt be called the repairer of the fences, turning the paths into rest.”

  • Source: Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition of the Bible (in the public domain)
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Scripture Reading for Thursday After Ash Wednesday

Old Bible in Latin
Old Bible in Latin. Myron/Getty Images

Israel's Oppression in Egypt

Starting today, and running through the third week of Lent, our readings are drawn from the Book of Exodus. Here, we read about the oppression endured by the nation of Israel, the Old Testament model of the New Testament Church, at the hands of Pharaoh. The slavery of the Israelites represents our slavery to sin.

Exodus 1:1-22 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition)

"These are the names of the children of Israel, that went into Egypt with Jacob: they went in, every man with his household: Ruben, Simeon, Levi, Juda, Issachar, Zabulon, and Benjamin, Dan, and Nephtali, Gad and Aser. And all the souls that came out of Jacob's thigh, were seventy: but Joseph was in Egypt.

"After he was dead, and all his brethren, and all that generation, the children of Israel increased, and sprung up into multitudes, and growing exceedingly strong they filled the land.

"In the mean time there arose a new king over Egypt, that knew not Joseph: And he said to his people: Behold the people of the children of Israel are numerous and stronger than we. Come, let us wisely oppress them, lest they multiply: and if any war shall rise against us, join with our enemies, and having overcome us, depart out of the land.

"Therefore he set over them masters of the works, to afflict them with burdens, and they built for Pharao cities of tabernacles, Phithom and Ramesses. But the more they oppressed them, the more they were multiplied, and increased: And the Egyptians hated the children of Israel, and afflicted them and mocked them: And they made their life bitter with hard works in clay, and brick, and with all manner of service, wherewith they were overcharged in the works of the earth.

"And the king of Egypt spoke to the midwives of the Hebrews: of whom one was called Sephora, the other Phua, commanding them: When you shall do the office of midwives to the Hebrew women, and the time of delivery is come: if it be a man child, kill it: if a woman, keep it alive. But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded, but saved the men children.

"And the king called for them and said: What is that you meant to do, that you would save the men children? They answered: The Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women: for they themselves are skillful in the office of a midwife; and they are delivered before we come to them. Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied and grew exceedingly strong. And because the midwives feared God, he built them houses.

"Pharao therefore charged all his people, saying: Whatsoever shall be born of the male sex, ye shall cast into the river: whatsoever of the female, ye shall save alive."

  • Source: Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition of the Bible (in the public domain)
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Scripture Reading for Friday After Ash Wednesday

Old Bible in English
Old Bible in English. Godong/Getty Images

The Birth and Rescue of Moses and His Flight From Pharaoh

Pharaoh has ordered that all of the male Israelite children be killed at birth, but Moses is saved and brought up by Pharaoh’s daughter as his own. After he kills an Egyptian who was beating a fellow Israelite, Moses flees to the land of Midian, where he will first encounter God in the burning bush, setting into motion the events that will lead to the exodus of Israel from Egypt.

Exodus 2:1-22 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition)

"After this there went a man of the house of Levi; and took a wife of his own kindred. And she conceived, and bore a son; and seeing him a goodly child hid him three months. And when she could hide him no longer, she took a basket made of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and pitch: and put the little babe therein, and laid him in the sedges by the river's brink, his sister standing afar off, and taking notice what would be done.

"And behold the daughter of Pharao came down to wash herself in the river: and her maids walked by the river's brink. And when she saw the basket in the sedges, she sent one of her maids for it: and when it was brought, she opened it and seeing within it an infant crying, having compassion on it she said: This is one of the babes of the Hebrews. And the child's sister said to her Shall I go and call to thee a Hebrew woman, to nurse the babe? She answered: Go. The maid went and called her mother.

"And Pharao's daughter said to her. Take this child and nurse him for me: I will give thee thy wages. The woman took, and nursed the child: and when he was grown up, she delivered him to Pharao's daughter. And she adopted him for a son, and called him Moses, saying: Because I took him out of the water.

"In those days after Moses was grown up, he went out to his brethren: and saw their affliction, and an Egyptian striking one of the Hebrews his brethren. And when he had looked about this way and that way, and saw no one there, he slew the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. And going out the next day, he saw two Hebrews quarreling: and he said to him that did the wrong: Why strikest thou thy neighbour? But he answered: Who hath appointed thee prince and judge over us: wilt thou kill me, as thou didst yesterday kill the Egyptian? Moses feared, and said: How is this come to be known?

"And Pharao heard of this word and sought to kill Moses: but he fled from his sight, and abode in the land of Madian, and he sat down by a well. And the priest of Madian had seven daughters, who came to draw water: and when the troughs were filled, desired to water their father's flocks. And the shepherds came and drove them away: and Moses arose, and defending the maids, watered their sheep.

"And when they returned to Raguel their father, he said to them: Why are ye come sooner than usual? They answered: A man of Egypt delivered us from the hands of the shepherds: and he drew water also with us, and gave the sheep to drink. But he said: Where is he? why have you let the man go? call him that he may eat bread.

"And Moses swore that he would dwell with him. And he took Sephora his daughter to wife: And she bore him a son, whom he called Gersam, saying: I have been a stranger in a foreign country. And she bore another, whom he called Eliezer, saying: For the God of my father, my helper hath delivered me out of the hand of Pharao.”

  • Source: Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition of the Bible (in the public domain)
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Scripture Reading for Saturday After Ash Wednesday

St. Chad Gospels at Lichfield Cathedral
St. Chad Gospels at Lichfield Cathedral. Philip Game/Getty Images

The Burning Bush and God's Plan for the Israelites

In this reading from the Book of Exodus, Moses first encounters God in the burning bush, and God announces His plans to have Moses lead the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land. We begin to see the parallels between slavery in Egypt and our slavery to sin, and between Heaven and the "land that floweth with milk and honey."

God also reveals His Name to Moses: "I AM WHO AM." This is very important, because in the Gospel of John (8:51-59), Jesus echoes those words, telling the Jews that "before Abraham was made, I AM." This becomes part of the basis for the charge of blasphemy against Christ, which would lead to his crucifixion. Traditionally, this passage was read on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, which was known as Passion Sunday.

Exodus 3:1-20 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition)

"Now Moses fed the sheep of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Madian: and he drove the flock to the inner parts of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, Horeb. And the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he saw that the bush was on fire and was not burnt. And Moses said: I will go and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.

"And when the Lord saw that he went forward to see, he called to him out of the midst of the bush, and said: Moses, Moses. And he answered: Here I am. And he said: Come not nigh hither, put off the shoes from thy feet: for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. And he said: I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Moses hid his face: for he durst not look at God.

"And the Lord said to him: I have seen the affliction of my people in Egypt, and I have heard their cry because of the rigour of them that are over the works: And knowing their sorrow, I am come down to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians, and to bring them out of that land into a good and spacious land, into a land that floweth with milk and honey, to the places of the Chanaanite, and Hethite, and Amorrhite, and Pherezite, and Hevite, and Jebusite. For the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have seen their affliction, wherewith they are oppressed by the Egyptians. But come, and I will send thee to Pharao, that thou mayst bring forth my people, the children of Israel out of Egypt.

"And Moses said to God: Who am I that I should go to Pharao, and should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? And he said to him: I will be with thee: and this thou shalt have for a sign, that I have sent thee: When thou shalt have brought my people out of Egypt, thou shalt offer sacrifice to God upon this mountain.

"Moses said to God: Lo, I shall go to the children of Israel, and say to them: The God of your fathers hath sent me to you. If they should say to me: What is his name? what shall I say to them?

"God said to Moses: I AM WHO AM. He said: Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: HE WHO IS, hath sent me to you. And God said again to Moses: Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me to you: This is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.

"Go, gather together the ancients of Israel, and thou shalt say to them: The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared to me, saying: Visiting I have visited you: and I have seen all that hath befallen you in Egypt. And I have said the word to bring you forth out of the affliction of Egypt, into the land of the Chanaanite, the Hethite, and the Amorrhite, and Pherezite, and Hevite, and Jebusite, to a land that floweth with milk and honey.

"And they shall hear thy voice: and thou shalt go in, thou and the ancients of Israel, to the king of Egypt, and thou shalt say to him: The Lord God of the Hebrews hath called us: we will go three days' journey into the wilderness, to sacrifice unto the Lord our God.

"But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go, but by a mighty hand. For I will stretch forth my hand and will strike Egypt with all my wonders which I will do in the midst of them: after these he will let you go."

  • Source: Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition of the Bible (in the public domain)
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Scripture Reading for the First Sunday of Lent

Albert of of Sternberk's pontifical, Strahov Monastery Library, Prague, Czech Republic
Albert of of Sternberk's pontifical, Strahov Monastery Library, Prague, Czech Republic. Fred de Noyelle/Getty Images

Pharaoh's Oppression of the Israelites

Obeying God's command, Moses asks Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to sacrifice to God in the desert. Pharaoh refuses his request and, instead, makes life even harder for the Israelites. Slavery to sin, like the Israelite's slavery in Egypt, only becomes harder with time. True freedom comes by following Christ out of our bondage to sin.

Exodus 5:1-6:1 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition)

"After these things Moses and Aaron went in, and said to Pharao: Thus saith the Lord God of Israel: Let my people go that they may sacrifice to me in the desert. But he answered: Who is the Lord, that I should hear his voice, and let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go. And they said: The God of the Hebrews hath called us, to go three days' journey into the wilderness and to sacrifice to the Lord our God: lest a pestilence or the sword fall upon us.

"The king of Egypt said to them: Why do you Moses and Aaron draw off the people from their works? Get you gone to your burdens. And Pharao said: The people of the land is numerous: you see that the multitude is increased: how much more if you give them rest from their works?

"Therefore he commanded the same day the overseers of the works, and the taskmasters of the people, saying: You shall give straw no more to the people to make brick, as before: but let them go and gather straw. And you shall lay upon them the task of bricks, which they did before, neither shall you diminish any thing thereof: for they are idle, and therefore they cry, saying: Let us go and sacrifice to our God. Let them be oppressed, with works, and let them fulfill them: that they may not regard lying words.

"And the overseers of the works and the taskmasters went out and said to the people: Thus saith Pharao, I allow you no straw: Go, and gather it where you can find it: neither shall any thing of your work be diminished. And the people was scattered through all the land of Egypt to gather straw. And the overseers of the works pressed them, saying: Fulfill your work every day as before you were wont to do when straw was given you.

"And they that were over the works of the children of Israel were scourged by Pharao's taskmasters, saying: Why have you not made up the task of bricks both yesterday and to day as before?

"And the officers of the children of Israel came, and cried out to Pharao, saying: Why dealest thou so with thy servants? Straw is not given us, and bricks are required of us as before: behold we thy servants are beaten with whips, and thy people is unjustly dealt withal. And he said: You are idle, and therefore you say: Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord. Go therefore, and work: straw shall not be given you, and you shall deliver the accustomed number of bricks.

"And the officers of the children of Israel saw that they were in evil case, because it was said to them: There shall not a whit be diminished of the bricks for every day. And they met Moses and Aaron, who stood over against them as they came out from Pharao: And they said to them: The Lord see and judge, because you have made our savour to stink before Pharao and his servants, and you have given him a sword to kill us.

"And Moses returned to the Lord, and said: Lord, why hast thou afflicted this people? wherefore hast thou sent me? For since the time that I went in to Pharao to speak in thy name, he hath afflicted thy people: and thou hast not delivered them.

"And the Lord said to Moses: Now thou shalt see what I will do to Pharao: for by a mighty hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he cast them out of his land."

  • Source: Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition of the Bible (in the public domain)
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Scripture Reading for Monday of the First Week of Lent

Man thumbing through a Bible
Man thumbing through a Bible. Peter Glass/Design Pics/Getty Images

The Second Calling of Moses

Today's reading gives us another account of God revealing His plan to Moses. Here, God discusses in greater detail the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to bring them into the Promised Land. The Israelites, however, will not listen to the good news that God has revealed to Moses, because they have been worn down by their slavery. Still, God vows to bring the Israelites to the Promised Land despite themselves.

The parallels with Christ's free gift of salvation to mankind, in slavery to sin, are clear. We have been granted entrance to the Promised Land of Heaven; all we have to do is decide that we will make the journey.

Exodus 6:2-13 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition)

"And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: I am the Lord, that appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, by the name of God Almighty; and my name ADONAI I did not shew them. And I made a covenant with them, to give them the land of Chanaan, the land of their pilgrimage wherein they were strangers. I have heard the groaning of the children of Israel, wherewith the Egyptians have oppressed them: and I have remembered my covenant.

"Therefore say to the children of Israel: I am the Lord who will bring you out from the work prison of the Egyptians, and will deliver you from bondage: and redeem you with a high arm, and great judgments. And I will take you to myself for my people, I will be your God: and you shall know that I am the Lord your God who brought you out from the work prison of the Egyptians. And brought you into the land, concerning which I lifted up my hand to give it to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and I will give it you to possess, I am the Lord.

"And Moses told all this to the children of Israel: but they did not hearken to him, for anguish of spirit, and most painful work.

"And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying Go in, and speak to Pharao king of Egypt, that he let the children of Israel go out of his land. Moses answered before the Lord Behold the children of Israel do no hearken to me; and how will Pharao hear me, especially as I am of uncircumcised lips? And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, and he gave them a charge unto the children of Israel, and unto Pharao the king of Egypt, that they should bring forth the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt."

  • Source: Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition of the Bible (in the public domain)
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Scripture Reading for Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

A gold-leaf Bible
A gold-leaf Bible. Jill Fromer/Getty Images

Rivers of Blood: The First Plague

As God predicted, Pharaoh would not listen to the request of Moses and Aaron to allow the Israelites to go out into the desert to worship God. Therefore, God begins to send plagues upon the land of Egypt, through the actions of Moses and Aaron. The first plague involves turning all the water in Egypt into blood, depriving the Egyptians both of drinking water and of fish.

The changing of the water into blood reminds us of the greater miracles performed by Christ: the changing of the water into wine at the wedding of Cana, and the changing of wine into his blood at the Last Supper. Just as in Egypt, Christ’s miracles strike at sin and help to free the people of God from their slavery.

Exodus 6:29-7:25 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition)

"And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: I am the Lord: speak thou to Pharao king of Egypt all that I say to thee. And Moses said before the Lord: Lo I am of uncircumcised lips, how will Pharao hear me?

"And the Lord said to Moses: Behold I have appointed thee the God of Pharao: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. Thou shalt speak to him all that I command thee; and he shall speak to Pharao, that he let the children of Israel go out of his land. But I shall harden his heart, and shall multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, and he will not hear you: and I will lay my hand upon Egypt, and will bring forth my army and my people the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt, by very great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, who have stretched forth my hand upon Egypt, and have brought forth the children of Israel out of the midst of them.

"And Moses and Aaron did as the Lord had commanded: so did they. And Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron eighty-three, when they spoke to Pharao.

"And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron: When Pharao shall say to you, Shew signs: thou shalt say to Aaron: Take thy rod, and cast it down before Pharao, and it shall be turned into a serpent. So Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharao, and did as the Lord had commanded. And Aaron took the rod before Pharao, and his servants, and it was turned into a serpent.

"And Pharao called the wise men and the magicians: and they also by Egyptian enchantments and certain secrets did in like manner. And they every one cast down their rods, and they were turned into serpents: but Aaron's rod devoured their rods. And Pharao's heart was hardened, and he did not hearken to them, as the Lord had commanded.

"And the Lord said to Moses: Pharao's heart is hardened, he will not let the people go. Go to him in the morning, behold he will go out to the waters: and thou shalt stand to meet him on the bank of the river: and thou shalt take in thy hand the rod that was turned into a serpent. And thou shalt say to him: The Lord God of the Hebrews sent me to thee saying: Let my people go to sacrifice to me in the desert: and hitherto thou wouldst not hear. Thus therefore saith the Lord: In this thou shalt know that I am the Lord: behold I will strike with the rods that is in my hand, the water of the river, and it shall be turned into blood. And the fishes that are in the river shall die, and the waters shall be corrupted, and the Egyptians shall be afflicted when they drink the water of the river.

"The Lord also said to Moses: Say to Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch forth thy hand upon the waters of Egypt, and upon their rivers, and streams and pools, and all the ponds of waters, that they may be turned into blood: and let blood be in all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood and of stone.

"And Moses and Aaron did as the Lord had commanded: and lifting up the rod he struck the water of the river before Pharao and his servants: and it was turned into blood. And the fishes that were in the river died: and the river corrupted, and the Egyptians could not drink the water of the river, and there was blood in all the land of Egypt.

"And the magicians of the Egyptians with their enchantments did in like manner: and Pharao's heart was hardened, neither did he hear them, as the Lord had commanded. And he turned himself away and went into his house, neither did he set his heart to it this time also. And all the Egyptians dug round about the river for water to drink: for they could not drink of the water of the river. And seven days were fully ended, after that the Lord struck the river."

  • Source: Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition of the Bible (in the public domain)
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Scripture Reading for Wednesday of the First Week of Lent

Prest With Lectionary
A priest with a lectionary. undefined

Darkness Falls on Egypt

Pharaoh continues to refuse to let the Israelites go, so, for three days, God engulfs Egypt in darkness, foreshadowing the three days that Christ would spend in the darkness of the tomb, from Good Friday until Easter Sunday. The only light in the land is found with the Israelites themselves—a sign, because from Israel would come Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

Exodus 10:21-11:10 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition)

"And the Lord said to Moses: Stretch out thy hand towards heaven: and may there be darkness upon the land of Egypt, so thick that it may be felt. And Moses stretched forth his hand towards heaven: and there came horrible darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days. No man saw his brother, nor moved himself out of the place where he was: but wheresoever the children of Israel dwelt there was light.

"And Pharao called Moses and Aaron, and said to them: Go sacrifice to the Lord: let your sheep only, and herds remain; let your children go with you. Moses said: Thou shalt give us also sacrifices and burnt offerings, to the Lord our God. All the flocks shall go with us: there shall not a hoof remain of them: for they are necessary for the service of the Lord our God: especially as we know not what must be offered, till we come to the very place.

"And the Lord hardened Pharao's heart, and he would not let them go. And Pharao said to Moses: Get thee from me, and beware thou see not my face any more: in what day soever thou shalt come in my sight, thou shalt die. Moses answered: So shall it be as thou hast spoken, I will not see thy face any more.

"And the Lord said to Moses: Yet one plague more will I bring upon Pharao and Egypt, and after that he shall let you go and thrust you out. Therefore thou shalt tell all the people that every man ask of his friend, and every woman of her neighbour, vessels of silver, and of gold. And the Lord will give favour to his people in the sight of the Egyptians. And Moses was a very great man in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharao's servants, and of all the people.

"And he said: Thus said the Lord: At midnight I will enter into Egypt. And every firstborn in the land of the Egyptians shall die, from the firstborn of Pharao who sitteth on his throne, even to the first born of the handmaid that is at the mill, and all the firstborn of beasts. And there shall be a great cry in all the land of Egypt, such as neither hath been before, nor shall be hereafter. But with all the children of Israel there shall not a dog make the least noise, from man even to beast: that you may know how wonderful a difference the Lord maketh between the Egyptians and Israel. And all these thy servants shall come down to me, and shall worship me, saying: Go forth thou, and all the people that is under thee: after that we will go out. And he went out from Pharao exceeding angry.

But the Lord said to Moses: Pharao will not hear you, that many signs may be done in the land of Egypt. And Moses and Aaron did all the wonders that are written, before Pharao. And the Lord hardened Pharao's heart, neither did he let the children of Israel go out of his land."

  • Source: Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition of the Bible (in the public domain)
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Scripture Reading for Thursday of the First Week of Lent

Old Bible in Latin
Old Bible in Latin. Myron/Getty Images

The First Passover

Pharaoh's stubbornness has come to this: God is going to kill the firstborn of every household of Egypt. The Israelites, however, will be protected from harm, because they will have slaughtered a lamb and marked their doors with his blood. Seeing it, God will pass over their houses.

This is the origin of the Passover, when God saves his people through the blood of a lamb. That lamb had to be "without blemish," because it was an image of Christ, the true Lamb of God, who takes away our sins through the shedding of his blood on Good Friday.

Exodus 12:1-20 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition)

"And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall be to you the beginning of months: it shall be the first in the months of the year. Speak ye to the whole assembly of the children of Israel, and say to them:

"On the tenth day of this month let every man take a lamb by their families and houses. But if the number be less than may suffice to eat the lamb, he shall take unto him his neighbour that joineth to his house, according to the number of souls which may be enough to eat the lamb. And it shall be a lamb without blemish, a male, of one year: according to which rite also you shall take a kid. And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month: and the whole multitude of the children of Israel shall sacrifice it in the evening. And they shall take of the blood thereof, and put it upon both the side posts, and on the upper door posts of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. And they shall eat the flesh that night roasted at the fire, and unleavened bread with wild lettuce. You shall not eat thereof any thing raw, nor boiled in water, but only roasted at the fire: you shall eat the head with the feet and entrails thereof. Neither shall there remain any thing of it until morning. If there be any thing left, you shall burn it with fire.

"And thus you shall eat it: you shall gird your reins, and you shall have shoes on your feet, holding staves in your hands, and you shall eat in haste: for it is the Phase (that is the Passage) of the Lord.

"And I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and will kill every firstborn in the land of Egypt both man and beast: and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. And the blood shall be unto you for a sign in the houses where you shall be: and I shall see the blood, and shall pass over you: and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I shall strike the land of Egypt.

"And this day shall be for a memorial to you: and you shall keep it a feast to the Lord in your generations with an everlasting observance. Seven days shall you eat unleavened bread: in the first day there shall be no leaven in your houses: whosoever shall eat any thing leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall perish out of Israel. The first day shall be holy and solemn, and the seventh day shall be kept with the like solemnity: you shall do no work in them, except those things that belong to eating.

"And you shall observe the feast of the unleavened bread: for in this same day I will bring forth your army out of the land of Egypt, and you shall keep this day in your generations by a perpetual observance. The first month, the fourteenth day of the month in the evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the same month in the evening. Seven days there shall not be found any leaven in your houses: he that shall eat leavened bread, his soul shall perish out of the assembly of Israel, whether he be a stranger or born in the land. You shall not eat any thing leavened: in all your habitations you shall eat unleavened bread."

  • Source: Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition of the Bible (in the public domain)
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Scripture Reading for Friday of the First Week of Lent

Old Bible in English
Old Bible in English. Godong/Getty Images

The Death of the Firstborn and Israel's Expulsion From Egypt

The Israelites have followed the Lord's command and celebrated the first Passover. The blood of the lamb has been applied to their door frames, and, seeing this, the Lord passes over their houses. 

Each firstborn of the Egyptians, however, is slain by the Lord. In despair, Pharaoh orders the Israelites to leave Egypt, and all of the Egyptians urge them on.

The blood of the lamb foreshadows the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, shed for us on Good Friday, which ends our bondage to sin.

Exodus 12:21-36 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition)

And Moses called all the ancients of the children of Israel, and said to them: Go take a lamb by your families, and sacrifice the Phase. And dip a bunch of hyssop in the blood that is at the door, and sprinkle the transom of the door therewith, and both the door cheeks: let none of you go out of the door of his house till morning. For the Lord will pass through striking the Egyptians: and when he shall see the blood on the transom, and on both the posts, he will pass over the door of the house, and not suffer the destroyer to come into your houses and to hurt you.

Thou shalt keep this thing as a law for thee and thy children for ever. And when you have entered into the land which the Lord will give you as he hath promised, you shall observe these ceremonies. And when your children shall say to you: What is the meaning of this service? You shall say to them: It is the victim of the passage of the Lord, when he passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, striking the Egyptians, and saving our houses.

And the people bowing themselves, adored. And the children of Israel going forth did as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron.

And it came to pass at midnight, the Lord slew every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharao, who sat on his throne, unto the firstborn of the captive woman that was in the prison, and all the firstborn of cattle. And Pharao arose in the night, and all his servants, and all Egypt: for there was not a house wherein there lay not one dead.

And Pharao calling Moses and Aaron, in the night, said: Arise and go forth from among my people, you and the children of Israel: go, sacrifice to the Lord as you say. Your sheep and herds take along with you, as you demanded, and departing, bless me.

And the Egyptians pressed the people to go forth out of the land speedily, saying: We shall all die. The people therefore took dough before it was leavened: and tying it in their cloaks, put it on their shoulders. And the children of Israel did as Moses had commanded: and they asked of the Egyptians vessels of silver and gold, and very much raiment. And the Lord gave favour to the people in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them: and they stripped the Egyptians.

  • Source: Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition of the Bible (in the public domain)
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Scripture Reading for Saturday of the First Week of Lent

St. Chad Gospels at Lichfield Cathedral
St. Chad Gospels at Lichfield Cathedral. Philip Game/Getty Images

The Law of the Passover and of the Firstborn

Expelled from Egypt after the Passover, the Israelites head toward the Red Sea. The Lord orders Moses and Aaron to tell the Israelites that they must celebrate the Passover every year. Moreover, once they have come into the Promised Land, they must offer every firstborn son and animal to the Lord. While the animals will be sacrificed, the firstborn sons are redeemed through the sacrifice of an animal.

After Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph took Him to Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice at the temple to redeem Him, as their firstborn. They kept the tradition that God ordered the Israelites to follow.

Exodus 12:37-49; 13:11-16 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition)

And the children of Israel set forward from Ramesse to Socoth, being about six hundred thousand men on foot, beside children. And a mixed multitude without number went up also with them, sheep and herds and beasts of divers kinds, exceeding many. And they baked the meal, which a little before they had brought out of Egypt, in dough: and they made earth cakes unleavened: for it could not be leavened, the Egyptians pressing them to depart, and not suffering them to make any stay: neither did they think of preparing any meat.

And the abode of the children of Israel that they made in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years. Which being expired, the same day all the army of the Lord went forth out of the land of Egypt. This is the observable night of the Lord, when he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt: this night all the children of Israel must observe in their generations.

And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron: This is the service of the Phase: No foreigner shall eat of it. But every bought servant shall be circumcised, and so shall eat. The stranger and the hireling shall not eat thereof. In one house shall it be eaten, neither shall you carry forth of the flesh thereof out of the house, neither shall you break a bone thereof. All the assembly of the children of Israel shall keep it. And if any stranger be willing to dwell among you, and to keep the Phase of the Lord, all his males shall first be circumcised, and then shall he celebrate it according to the manner: and he shall be as he that is born in the land: but if any man be uncircumcised, he shall not eat thereof. The same law shall be to him that is born in the land, and to the proselyte that sojourneth with you.

And when the Lord shall have brought thee into the land of the Chanaanite, as he swore to thee and thy fathers, and shall give it thee: Thou shalt set apart all that openeth the womb for the Lord, and all that is first brought forth of thy cattle: whatsoever thou shalt have of the male sex, thou shalt consecrate to the Lord. The firstborn of an ass thou shalt change for a sheep: and if thou do not redeem it, thou shalt kill it. And every firstborn of men thou shalt redeem with a price.

And when thy son shall ask thee to morrow, saying: What is this? thou shalt answer him: With a strong hand did the Lord bring us forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. For when Pharao was hardened, and would not let us go, the Lord slew every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of man to the firstborn of beasts: therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all that openeth the womb of the male sex, and all the firstborn of my sons I redeem. And it shall be as a sign in thy hand, and as a thing hung between thy eyes, for a remembrance: because the Lord hath brought us forth out of Egypt by a strong hand.

  • Source: Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition of the Bible (in the public domain)