Preparation for Lent: Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima

From ’Venite Prandete’

The three Sundays preceding Ash Wednesday are called Septuagesima (last Sunday), Sexagesima and Quinquagesima, meaning the seventieth, sixtieth and fiftieth day before Easter. Lent is called Quadragesima – meaning fortieth. The season of Lent, as you know, begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with Passiontide (from Passion Sunday to Easter). That is, the struggle of Our Lord with Satan ends with the victory of the Saviour at Eastertide.

The priests wear the pentitential purple vestments in preparation for Lent and the Gloria and Alleluia are omitted except when the Mass of a Feast is said (for example, the Annuniciation will be celebrated during Lent).

The Roman Missal provides that “the Judica me.. and the Gloria Patri are omitted because the very ancient Masses of Passiontide date from an age before these prayers were added to the Roman Mass. The liturgy commemorates the sorrowful events of the last week of Jesus’ mortal life. On Thursday evening, He had the Last Supper with His Apostles, and on the following day He was crucified on Calvary.

‘Who didst establish the salvation of mankind on the tree of the Cross, that whence death came thence also life might arise again, and that we, who were overcome by a tree, by a tree might also overcome.’

The struggle between Our Lord and satan ends with the apparent success of satan on Good Friday. The priests are robed in vestments of mourning and the whole church wears an aspect of sadness. But by the sacrifice of Himself, the Son of God triumphs and gloriously comes forth from the sepulchre on Easter morning.“

The period beginning with Septuagesima Sunday denotes the period of fasting that some communities embraced in the early Church, being the seventy days. The Sexagesima was a fasting period of sixty days observed by other communities. Eventually the fasting period was codified by Pope Gregory the Great into the forty day Lenten fast we observe today. However, it is a period of great spiritual utility to provide for a transition into the penitential observances of the Lenten obligations of mortification and fasting.

The Roman Missal says:

“During this period from Septuagesima to Ash Wednesday, the liturgy speaks no more of our greatness but contemplates the misery of fallen humanity-the fatal consequences of original sin and actual sin- and the sacrifice that God asked from the faithful Melchisedech, symbol of the sacrifice that Jesus brings for the whole of humanity.

In this period we prepare for the fasting and penance of the season of Lent. The season can be recapitulated with the words of the Preface of Lent:

‘Who by this bodily fast dost curb our vices, lift our minds and bestow strength and rewards.” Our souls are slaves of the devil, flesh and the world. Jesus came into the world, not to be crowned king of the Jews, but to deliver us from this threefold bondage and to restore to us the divine life which we had lost

(From the Daily Missal and Liturgical Manual from the Editio Typica of the Roman Missal and Breviary 1962, Baronius Press, MMXV.)

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