A Note From Fr. Timothy
Prior to the changes made to the liturgical calendar following the Second Vatican Council, the Church observed a Pre-Lenten season that looked very much like Lent. The same violet-colored vestments were used and the Gloria and Alleluia were omitted, though there were no fasting requirements. This season would begin three Sundays before Ash Wednesday which is nine weeks from the date of Easter. Those nine weeks being more than sixty days, but “within seventy” gave rise to the name of the season (“Septuagesima” means “seventy” in Latin).
This Pre-Lenten season was the last added to the liturgical calendar – probably sometime in the sixth century – and since it can be seen as a duplication of Lent or taking the focus off of the forty days of Lent, it makes sense why it was removed from the calendar in 1969 (it also, unfortunately, eventually became heavily associated with carnival season – another reason to omit it from Church calendars). However, even though it is no longer officially observed in the Church, there were originally good reasons for the season and a number of good customs that arose during it that can still be beneficial to all of us today.
The intention behind the season of Septuagesima was to help us prepare for the upcoming season of Lent. The epistle reading on Septuagesima Sunday was from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians where he talks about running the race so as to win, and that those who strive for victory will discipline their bodies, refraining from certain things prior to the race to better be able to compete when the race begins (cf. 1 Cor. 9:24-27). If Lent is that long-distance race to the goal of celebrating the victory of Jesus in the Resurrection at Easter, than Septuagesima is the time before the race when runners would make sure to avoid things like alcohol, while properly hydrating, loading on carbohydrates, and resting well so that they have the energy they need to complete the race.
In these couple weeks leading up to Lent, it is good and important for us all to prepare for that race. We might refrain from excessive food and alcohol, while making sure we “hydrate” in the grace of our baptism, are nourished and strengthened in the Eucharist, and spend restful time in prayer before God, so that our bodies, minds, and hearts are better able to visualize how we can have a more impactful Lenten season, and have what we need to bring that vision to fulfillment.
The priest does not need to wear purple vestments, nor do we need a unique season to observe these things; we only need the grace of God and the knowledge and wisdom to carry out his grace during these days. Lent is coming quickly and we should desire to run in it so as to win with Christ the crown of victory. If we do not properly prepare, we are not only in danger of not experiencing victory, but of failing to complete the race at all. Let us make this Lent the best one yet.
Fr. Timothy Gapinski