Sunday, January 31, 2021
What Is Septuagesima? (And Why It’s No Longer in the Current Calendar)
A lady should never reveal her age, but for the sake of honest writing I admit I was born in the late 1960s, which means my conscious memory of Mass was in the vernacular. I don’t remember a transition from the Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite in Latin to the Mass in the Ordinary Form in English. The 1969 Liturgical Calendar reform also would have been implemented before the time I was aware of liturgical seasons and feast days. Basically, I am a child of the post-Vatican II Church.
When I would read books about the Liturgical Year that were written before Vatican II, I would notice a few minor differences compared to the current Roman calendar that I would have to sort out, like changed dates for feast days (i.e., St. Thomas the Apostle moved from December 21 to July 3), different names of seasons (i.e., Ordinary Time instead of “Time after Epiphany” and “Time after Pentecost”), and ranks and categories of feast days (i.e., Solemnity, Feast, Memorial instead of First Class, Double Class, etc.). These were not difficult or too different to understand, and I could easily refer one liturgical calendar to another without a problem.
But there were a few references to certain liturgical days in the older calendars that were a repeating puzzle for me and it took me quite some time to figure them out. The biggest hurdle for me was Septuagesima. What is it? How do you pronounce it? Is it a day or a season? What does it mean? What is its history and significance? Why did this liturgical season disappear in the 1969 Calendar Reform?
Maybe other readers have come across this word and found it head-scratching, so I thought I would touch on this Pre-Lenten season called “Septuagesima” since Septuagesima began this past Sunday, February 9, for those who follow the 1962 Extraordinary Form Calendar.
What is Septuagesima?
The number of liturgical seasons in the 1962 and current Roman Calendars differ only by one season. The Extraordinary Form follows the 1962 calendar which includes a Pre-Lent season called Septuagesima.
Images Note: To the left is the 1962 Extraordinary Form Liturgical Calendar Wheel, which includes Septuagesima season. The right image is the Current, Revised in 1969, Ordinary Form Liturgical Calendar Wheel. Visually, there is only one difference between the calendars, and that is the one extra season of Septuagesima.
The word Septuagesima is Latin for “seventieth.” It is both the name of the liturgical season and the name of the Sunday. Septuagesima Sunday marks the beginning of the shortest liturgical season. This season is seventeen (17) days long, and includes the three Sundays before Ash Wednesday. The length of the season never changes, but the start date is dependent on the movable date of Easter that can fall between March 22-April 25. Septuagesima Sunday can be as early as January 18.
The origins of Septuagesima as a liturgical season are obscure. This is one of the last liturgical seasons to be added to the Liturgical Calendar. The roots are Roman, and it is not mentioned until the sixth century during the time of Pope St. Gregory the Great. It is often thought St. Gregory himself might have written the Mass formularies, especially since the content reflects so much of the conflict and suffering during that time:
The note of sadness in most of the texts of these Masses has given rise to the theory that they were composed at a time when Italy, and Rome in particular, were once more exposed to barbarian invasions, and threatened with misfortunes similar to this which had overwhelmed them in the fifth century. The sixth century, the time of the institution of Septuagesima, was also a period of pillage and havoc, and hence we have a sorrowful echo in the petitions framed at this time (The Year’s Liturgy, Vol. 1, Fernand Cabrol, p. 101).
The Septuagesima season was to help people ease into Lent as a type of preconditioning program. Liturgically it looked and felt very much like Lent. The Gloria and Alleluia were no longer allowed, the tone was very penitential with the priest wore purple vestments. The main difference would be that there were no fasting requirements in the later centuries.
What’s In a Number?
As I mentioned, the word Septuagesima is Latin for “seventieth.” Pre-Lent, as this period may be called, consists of three Sundays with particular numbered names, Septuagesima (seventieth), Sexagesima (sixtieth), and Quinquagesima (fiftieth). Before you get out your calendar and start counting, even the Church was aware that these numbers do not properly reflect that number of days before Easter, as their names suggest. Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima Sundays actually fall on the 61st, 54th, and 47th days before Easter, respectively. The titles seem to be arbitrarily chosen. Since the first Sunday in Lent was called Quadragesima (fortieth), the three Sundays before Quadragesima were named after the nearest round figures, 70, 60 and 50.
The Church has always valued the symbolism of numbers. When the penitential season before Easter was added to the Liturgical Calendar, the time was in imitation of Jesus fasting and praying in the desert for forty days. Thus, the Lenten season was created, with the intention of marking forty days of preparation and penance before the feast of Easter, from the First Sunday of Lent including Holy Thursday.
Sundays were never considered as fast days, so the original forty days meant that Lent would only have thirty-six fast-days in the Western or Latin Rite. Thirty-six didn’t meet the special number of Our Lord’s fast days, so adding the supplementary four days beginning with Ash Wednesday brought the number to forty. However, in the Eastern churches there were additional days of the week that were not considered fast days:
We must recognise that this addition to our Roman Lent renders it far more like that of the Greek Church, which, not keeping Thursdays and Saturdays as fast-days, has to anticipate the beginning of her Lent (The Year’s Liturgy, Vol. 1, Fernand Cabrol, p. 102).
and further notes of development:
This season developed from the early sixth to the early seventh centuries as the result of monks extending the forty-day prepaschal fast for progressively longer periods. In doing so they may have been imitating Oriental churches that had to begin their time of penance at least eight weeks before Easter, since they fasted only five days a week, excluding Saturdays as well as Sundays. If Holy Week was not considered part of Lent, then the Lenten fast had to begin nine weeks before Easter, on the day that coincides with the Roman Septuagesima Sunday. Efforts to make the weeks of fasting in Rome match those of the East would have been supported by several seventh-century popes who were Orientals. Another reason for lengthening the fast at this time is that “repeated Gothic and Lombard invasions caused people to be predisposed to supplementary practices of prayers and penance.” By the time of Pope Gregory the Great (590-604), the three Sundays before the beginning of Lent had acquired special Masses, the texts of which are found in the ancient sacramentaries (Patrick Regan, Advent to Pentecost: Comparing the Seasons in the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite, pp. 77-78).
Eventually the Septuagesima season was added to reach the actual number of forty fast days. Later Septuagesima no longer became a time of fasting, but the season remained.
A Need for Reform
It’s easy to see how the Septuagesima season could be bewildering. Visually and liturgically it looked and sounded like Lent: purple vestments, no flowers, no Gloria, no Alleluia, and a very solemn penitential tone. I can imagine the confusion it caused if a person wasn’t in tune with the Church Calendar. “Is it Lent already? Did I miss Ash Wednesday? Am I supposed to be fasting?”
The only difference between Septuagesima and Lent was outside of the liturgy. No fasting was required. In fact, Septuagesima season was the time when Carnival or Mardi Gras would be in high gear for feasting before Ash Wednesday. So there was a juxtaposition of Carnival and Pre-Lent Liturgy.
Interestingly, I found so few pre-Vatican II writings on Septuagesima. Usually liturgical reflections were lumped with the Lenten season, with only a passing reference to Septuagesima. Not a single liturgical author showed a fierce attachment to the season, but usually apologetically explained this “pre-conditioning” time for Lent and then moved on to Lenten reflections.
Vatican II in the document Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) from 1963 called for the Liturgical Year to be revised, so that it would “duly nourish the piety of the faithful who celebrate the mysteries of the Christian redemption and, above all, the paschal mystery....”
The minds of the faithful should be directed primarily toward the feasts of the Lord whereby the mysteries of salvation are celebrated throughout the year (SC, 108).
A return to essentiality was the main reason for the reform. The central character of the Paschal Mystery of the Liturgical Year needed to be restored.
With the call for reform by Vatican II, the Liturgical Calendar was reformed. The Motu Proprio Mysterii paschalis of Pope St. Paul VI from 1969 approved the document General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar which details the revised calendar.
Both the Motu proprio and General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar do not mention Septuagesima.
The commentary accompanying the General Norms explains that
Septuagesima time, an anticipation of Lent, is suppressed….This revision returns Lent to its original unity and significance. The season of Septuagesima is abolished since it had no meaning of its own….It was difficult to explain the season to the people, and even the names of its Sundays were obscure. Most of all, it took away from the ‘newness’ of the penitence theme, proper to the liturgy of Lent (Regan, Advent to Pentecost: Comparing the Seasons in the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite, p. 77-78)
Therefore, since 1969, the General Roman Calendar and Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite count the original Septuagesima, Sexagesima, or Quinquagesima Sundays as Sundays in Ordinary Time.
A Positive Change
By removing Septuagesima, there is a central focus on the Paschal Mystery in the Liturgical Year. Easter now has the proper position as central and highest feast of the year.
The year is structured so even my young students can see the visual emphasis on Easter compared to the rest of the year. Removing the extra three Sundays of purple means the preparation period before Easter doesn’t equal or outweigh Easter. Easter, with its eight Sundays is the largest of the liturgical seasons. (As an aside, Ordinary Time or “Time of the Year” is technically not a liturgical season. Ordinary Time does not focus on particular aspects of the Redemption mystery. So while it takes up the largest number of weeks, it is not the longest liturgical season.)
In my experience as a catechist with elementary age children, when they understand the penitential and preparatory color is purple and the celebration color is white, they can look at a Liturgical Calendar wheel and visually assess that Easter is the greatest feast of the year.
And with Septuagesima removed, the solemnness and powerful message of Ash Wednesday for a change of heart and penitence is restored.
I love history and tradition, but in this case, I think this was a very wise reform by the Church to remove Septuagesima and restore an essential Liturgical Year.
I fight authority, authority always wins! True words from singer John Mellencamp. Authority always does seem to win.
We all should know quite a bit about authority. We are subject to authority from parents, teachers, supervisors and more. We are taught to respect authority in civil matters when it comes to obeying laws provided they are not immoral laws, how we treat our fellow man, even that dreaded task of paying our taxes.
As people of faith, there is one authority we have no need to fight; the authority of Jesus Christ and His bride, the Catholic Church!
On this 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time there is an emphasis on "authority". In today's reading from Mark's Gospel we see Jesus teaching for the first time. This is no ordinary teaching for Scripture tells us that Jesus taught with authority. So much so that even an unclean spirit obeyed Jesus. All commented that Jesus taught with authority, a new teaching! Now Mark does not give us any details on what Jesus was teaching but rather focuses on authoyrity. There is also another important aspect to this story. Apparently the synagogue officials do not know who Jesus is. Yet the unclean spirit identified Jesus as the Holy One of God! Even the demons and unclean spirits know who Jesus is yet the people miss the clues. That happens all around us today. Despite 2,000 years of Church teaching, Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, many miss Jesus, the one who teaches with authority, as the Holy One of God!
How do these teachings continue to be passed on to us today? How does each subsequent generation know of the Holy One of God? Where do we find authority today? Let's be clear, all authority is a gift from God and the teaching authority of Jesus is still that of Jesus. But in God's plan, by his holy design and perfect will, that authority lies in what we call the Magesterium - the teaching authority of the Church!
We understand the Magesterium is the teaching of the Pope along with the Bishops of the world in union with the Pope. Church teaching tells us that when teaching definitively on matters of faith and morals we can be assured that this is teaching with authority, the authority of Jesus Christ. We can also be assured that, as promised, when teaching on matters of faith and morals, that teaching is protected by the Holy Spirit. The Pope, when teaching ex-cathedra, from the Chair of Peter, is protected from all error. Now that is authority! The Magesterium, the teaching authority of the Church, along with Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, combine to make up the full deposit of faith, the three-legged stool that guides us to holiness and salvation. This is the true fullness of truth that so many of our Christian brothers and sisters miss. We need all three!
Do we not need such a teaching authority today? Indeed we do. It is the Magesterium called upon in every generation to guide the people of God through the storms that an ever increasing secular world and lifestyle throw at us. Could the Christians of the first few centuries ever have imagined that their descendants, you and I, would be dealing with things like abortion on demand, late-term abortions, hideous forms of chemical, artificial birth control that closes the door to life, making human beings dependent on the chemical companies getting rich while sickening those who take these drugs in more and varied ways as the science reveals the true horror. How about euthanasia, gender reassignment and the redefininition of marriage. It is the Magesterium of the Catholic Church that has, is and will continue to teach with authority that we are to do God's will not the will of culture, societies, media and politicians, some who claim to be very Catholic, hell-bent on replacing God with the power they think they have. Yes it is the magisterium, leading all of us, the people of God, in opposing what is wrong and doing what is right. Oh yes, sometimes, many times, we stumble and we must acknowledge that even many of our own do not follow Church teaching. Unlike many other once relevant Christian traditions that bend and sway and change every time they place their finger in the air, Holy Mother Church has held firm in all life issues. As the bride of Christ, the same Christ that teaches with authority, the Church must teach with that same authority; it is one and the same.
What does this mean for us this week; during these confusing times; what can we do? As Catholics we must know and understand this teaching authority of the Catholic Church. We need only to go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Don't have one, why not? There is not one Catholic family that should be without one in each home. Of course, in today's world, it is on the internet. Google it! Now once you have access to the Catechism, our homework this week is to carefully read paragraphs 74-100. If we read this carefully and thoughtfully, we will learn much of what we need to know about the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, the Magesterium. Please commit to read these sections of the Catechism, at least twice in the week ahead. And since in all things we are called to prayer, this week a beautiful and special prayer is available to each of us. This coming Friday is 1st Friday, we have all day Adoration and evening Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Some of us avail ourselves of this beautiful devotion and opportunity to pray but some of us have not been to Adoration and Benediction in a long, long time. What better week, when the teaching authority of our Church is attacked with more and more evil, attacked even from within, to come and participate in Adoration and even Benediction. All day, this Friday immediately after morning mass concluding with Benediction at 7 pm.
Yep, when we fight authority, we are told authority always wins. In the authority of Jesus Christ, and in his bride, the Church, we have no need to fight. We should take great joy that this authority always wins; and it is a win for each and everyone of us when we embrace and submit to this authority. Yes, following the authority of Jesus Christ and His bride, Holy Mother Church, we win! We win - no matter what!
Saturday, January 30, 2021
St. John Bosco
Feastday: January 31
Patron: of apprentices, editors and publishers, schoolchildren, magicians, and juvenile delinquents
Birth: August 16, 1815
Death: January 31, 1888
Beatified: June 2, 1929 by Pope Pius XI
Canonized: April 1, 1934 by Pope Pius XI