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February 16, 2024

First Sunday of Lent – Baptism and Covenant

By Msgr Michael de Verteuil

Chair of the Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission


Lent is preparation for the celebration of Easter. What do we do at Easter for which we need to prepare? We renew our Baptismal promises, while those in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) programme will be baptised.

In this Baptism or renewal, we commit ourselves to the Covenant God has offered us and to a renewed commitment to live as who we are – God’s people. Notice how on the First Sunday of Lent, the readings lay this out for us, letting us know from the outset what journey we are on.

The First Reading (Gen 9:8–15) is the end of the story of Noah when God establishes a covenant with Noah and his sons. The word ‘covenant’ is used five times in the reading (so you know what the point of the reading is).

A covenant at that time was an agreement or offer that a stronger party made to a weaker in mercy. The words of the covenant God makes with Moses are: “I will be your God; you will be my people”.

The covenant is finally sealed in the Blood of Jesus, ‘the Blood of the New Covenant,’ as we remember in every Mass. As mentioned above, we say ‘yes’ again to the Covenant as we say ‘yes’ again to our faith. It is a holy and important moment for us and Lent helps us to prepare for it.

In the Second Reading, St Peter (1 Pt 3:18-22) uses the story of Noah to tell us something of Baptism: Noah and his family were saved ‘by water’ and we can see here a foreshadowing of the water of Baptism that saves. As St Peter says, “That water is a type of the Baptism that saves you now.”

So you see the themes Baptism and Covenant.

The Gospel (Mk 1:12–15) is of the temptations in the desert but in Mark’s Gospel, it is told to us in two brief sentences – we do not have the exchanges between Jesus and the devil. But it is a reminder to us of the spiritual warfare on which we embark armed with weapons of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and for which we need to repent, as Jesus calls the people (and us) to in the Gospel.

Lent then is an intense period of conversion so that we may celebrate in joy the victory God has won for us and who we are as People of God.