The Septuagesima season always begins with the ninth week before Easter and includes three Sundays called respectively Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima. These names which were borrowed from the numeral system of the time, denote a series of decades working back from the commencement of Lent, which is known in Latin as Quadragesima. [As the intervals between these Sundays only consist of seven days it is evident that this name must not be taken in a strictly arithmetical sense; but whereas Quadragesima comes exactly at the closing day of the 4th decade before Easter, Quinquagesima (47 days) falls within the 5th decade, Sexagesima (54 days) within the 6th, Septuagesima ’61 days) within the 7th.]
In this way Holy Mother Church, in her great wisdom, wishes us to think about how we should profit from the coming Lenten season, which commences with Ash Wednesday on 17th February this year of the Lord, 2021.
Therefore the period of Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima is a preparatory period for the fasting and penance of Lent. The liturgy Sexagesima emphasizes humility – not a self-conscious piety, not a superiority in one’s idea of holiness, but a realization that one is ultimately judged in the revealing light of absolute Truth, free of all justifications and rationalisations. It is this humility that becomes a strength in one’s battle to attain salvation.
Easter is a movable feast and can be kept, according to the year in which it occurs, between March 22 and April 25. When it falls early the Septuagesima season encroaches on the Time after Epiphany, some Sundays of which are then kept between the twenty-third and the last Sunday after Pentecost. This table shows the two extreme cases:
So this liturgical period, prelude to Lent and a remote preparation for Easter, serves as a time of transition for the soul, which must pass from Christmas joys to the stern penance of the sacred forty days. Even if the fast is not yet of obligation, the colour of the vestments worn is already violet. As during Advent, the recital of the Gloria in excelsis is suspended, since this hymn which celebrated Christ’s birth in our mortal flesh, is reserved to extol Him when born in His undying Body, i.e. when He rises from the tomb. “Born once of the Virgin, thou art now reborn from the sepulchre,” will then be the cry of the Church. Again the Martyrology introduces Septuagesima Sunday as that on which “we lay aside the song of the Lord which is Alleluia.” “How,” said the people of Israel, “shall we sing the song of the Lord in a strange land?”
This “strange land” is for the people of Christ, the world, which is a place of exile, while Alleluia, the chant St. John heard in heaven, will begin again in the liturgy at Paschaltide, which represents the future life. In the Easter festivities we shall hail our Lord, the conqueror of Satan, who while freeing us from the bondage of sin, will re-open to us the heavenly kingdom. The season of Lent which lasts for forty days (Quadragesima) and that of Septuagesima which is made up of the following periods of ten days (Quinquagesima, Sexagesima and Septuagesima) may well be taken as representing the seventy years passed by Israel in exile under the harsh captivity of the Babylonians. The chant of Alleluia, silent during this period in which the spirit and very name remind us so strongly, reminds us that we are “poor banished children … mourning and weeping in this vale of tears” (Salve Regina).
We are currently in Sexagesima, moving towards Quinquagesima next Sunday, in this pre-Lenten preparatory period. The Gospel for Sexagesima was from Luke 8. 4-15, where Christ speaks of the sower sowing his seed.
May we strive to be the good seed that falls on fertile ground and bring “forth fruit, thirty, sixty and a hundred-fold”. Here is a plan for us to follow:
In our spiritual life let us at least produce sixty-fold, that is, receiving the word of God in a good and perfect heart, let us cause it to bear fruit by our patience so that He, who spent His life scattering His holy teaching among souls “Sparso Verbi semine”* and who carries on the same work by His apostles and His Church, may bestow upon us the reward promised to those who persevere in the generous practice of their faith.
* Pange lingua
This short documentary from Joseph Shaw of the Latin Mass Society (LMS Chairman) outlines the purpose for “Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima” and its long historical lineage. It also examines the reasons given for its abolition in the Ordinary Form and the liturgical loss that this represents to the faithful. The holy season of Septuagesima is an ancient one in the Church’s calendar, rich in grace, and should never have been abolished in the Novus Ordo Calendar of 1970.
(Sources include excerpts from : Saint Andrew Daily Missal, “Venite Prandete”, Liturgy Guy.)