Septuagesima 1 and Lent are both times
of penance, Septuagesima being a time of voluntary fasting in preparation
for the obligatory Great Fast of Lent. The theme is the Babylonian exile,
the "mortal coil" we must endure as we await the Heavenly Jerusalem. Sobriety
and somberness reign liturgically; the Alleluia and Gloria are banished
The Sundays of Septugesima are named for their distance away from
The first Sunday
of Septuagesima gives its name to the entire season as it is known as
"Septuagesima." "Septuagesima" means "seventy," and Septuagesima Sunday comes
roughly seventy days before Easter. This seventy represents the seventy years
of the Babylonian Captivity. It is on this Sunday that the alleluia is "put
away," not to be said again until the Vigil of Easter.
The second Sunday
of Septuagesima is known as "Sexagesima, which means "sixty". Sexagesima
Sunday comes roughly sixty days before Easter.
The third Sunday
of Septuagesima is known as "Quinquagesima," which means "fifty" and which
comes roughly fifty days before Easter.
"forty," and this is the name of the first Sunday of Lent and the Latin name
for the entire season of Lent.
Throughout this short Season and that of Lent (next Season) you will notice
a deepening sense of penance and somberness, culminating in Passiontide (the
last two weeks of Lent), that will suddenly and joyously end at the Vigil
of Easter on Holy Saturday when the alleluia returns and Christ's Body is
restored and glorified.
from Dom Gueranger's "The Liturgical Year"
The season upon
which we are now entering is expressive of several profound mysteries. But
these mysteries belong not only to the three weeks which are prearatory to
Lent: they continue throughout the whole period of time which separates us
from the great feast of Easter.
The number seven is the basis of all these mysteries. We have already
seen how the holy Church came to introduce the season of Septuagesima into
her calendar. Let us now meditate on the doctrine hidden under the symbols
of her liturgy. And first, let us listen to St. Augustine, who thus gives
is the clue to the whole of our season's mysteries. 'There are two times,'
says the holy Doctor: 'one which is now, and is spent in the temptations
and tribulations of this life; the other which shall by then, and
shall be spent in eternal security and joy. In figure of these, we celebrate
two periods: the time before Easter, and the time after Easter. That which
is before Easter signifies the sorrow of this present life; that which is
after Easter, the blessedness of our future state... Hence it is that we
spend the first in fasting and prayer; and in the second we give up our fasting,
and give ourselves to praise.'
The Church, the intepreter of the sacred Scriptures, often speaks to us of
two places, which correspond with these two times of St. Augustine. These
two places are Babylon and Jerusalem. Babylon is the image of this world
of sin, in the midst whereof the Christian has to spend his years of probation;
Jerusalem is the heavenly country, where he is to repose after all his trials.
The people of Israel, whose whole history is but one great type of the human
race, was banished from Jerusalem and kept in bondage in Babylon.
Now, this captivity, which kept the Israelites exiles from Sion, lasted seventy
years; and it is to express this mystery, as Alcuin, Amalarius, Ivo of Chartres,
and all the great liturgists tell us, that the Church fixed the number of
seventy for the days of expiation. It is true, there are but sixty-three
days between Septuagesima and Easter; but the Church, according to the style
so continually used in the sacred Scriptures, uses the round number instead
of the literal and precise one.
The duration of the world itself, according to the ancient Christian tradition,
is divided into seven ages. The human race must pass through the seven ages
before the dawning of the day of eternal life. The first age included the
time from the creation of Adam to Noah; the second begins with Noah and the
renovation of the earth by the deluge, and ends with this the vocation of
Abraham; the third opens with this first formation of God's chosen people,
and continues as far as Moses, through whom God gave the Law; the fourth
consists of the period between Moses and David, in whom the house of Juda
received the kingly power; the fifth is formed of the years which passed
between David's reign and the captivity of Babylon, inclusively; the sixth
dates from the return of the Jews to Jerusalem, and takes us on as far as
the birth of our Saviour. Then, finally, comes the seventh age; it starts
with the rising of this merciful Redeemer, the Sun of justice, and is to
continue till the dread coming of the Judge of the livng and the dead. These
are the seven great divisions of time; after which, eternity.
In order to console us in the midst of the combats, which so thickly beset
our path, the Church, like a beacon shining amidst the darkness of this our
earthly abode, shows us another seven, which is to succeed the one we are
now preparing to pass through. After the Septuagesima of mourning, we shall
have the bright Easter with its seven weeks of gladness, foreshadowing the
happiness and bliss of heaven. After having fasted with our Jesus, and suffered
with Him, the day will come when we shall rise together with Him, and our
hearts shall follow Him to the hightest heavesn; and then after a brief interval,
we shall feel the Holy Ghost descending upon us, with His seven Gifts. The
celebration of all these wondrous joys will take us seven weeks, as the great
liturgists observe in their interpretation of the rites of the Church. The
seven joyous weeks from Easter to Pentecost will not be too long for the
future glad mysteries, which, after all, will be but figures of a still gladder
future, the future of eternity.
Having heard these sweet whisperings of hope, let us now bravely face the
realities brought before us by our dear mother the Church. We are sojourners
upon this earth; we are exiles and captives in Babylon, that city which plots
our ruin. If we love our country, if we long to return to it, we must be
proof against the lying allurements of this strange land, and refuse the
cup she proffers us, and with which she maddens so many of our fellow captives.
She invites us to join in her feasts and her songs; but we must unstring
our harps, and hang them on the willows that grow on her river's bank, till
the signal be given for our return to Jerusalem. She will ask us to sing
to her the melodies of our dear Sion: but how shall we, who are so far from
home, have heart to 'sing the song of the Lord in a strange land'? No, there
must be no sign that we are content to be in bondage, or we shall deserve
to be slaves forever.
These are the sentiments wherewith the Church would inspire us during the
penitential season which we are now beginning. She wishes us to reflect on
the dangers that beset us; dangers which arise from ourselves and from creatures.
During the rest of the year she loves to hear us chant the song of heavne,
the sweet Alleluia; but now, she bids us close our lips to this word of joy,
because we are in Babylon. We are pilgrims absent from our Lord, let us keep
our glad hymn for the day of His return. We are sinners, and have but too
often held fellowship with the world of God's enemies; let us become purified
by repentance, for it is written that 'praise is unseemly in the mouth of
The leading feature, then, of Septuagesima, is the total suspension of the
Alleluia, which is not to again be heard upon the earth until the
arrival of that happy day, when having suffered death with our Jesus, and
having been buried together with Him, we shall rise again with Him to a new
The sweet hymn of the angels, Gloria in excelsis Deo, which we have
sung every Sunday since the birth of our Saviour in Bethlehem, is also taken
from us; it is only on the feasts of the saints which may by kept during
the week that we shall be allowed to repeat it. The night Office of the Sunday
is to lose also, from now till Easter, its magnificent Ambrosian hymn, the
Te Deum; and at the end of the holy Sacrifice, the deacon will no
longer dismiss the faithful with his solemn Ite, Missa est, but will
simply invite them to continue their prayers in silence, and bless the
Lord, the God of mercy, who bears with us, notwithstanding all our
After the Gradual of the Mass, instead of the thrice repeated
Alleluia, which prepared our hearts to listen to the voice of God
in the holy Gospel, we hsall hear but a mournful and protracted chant, called,
on that account, the Tract.
That the eye, too, may teach us that the season we are entering on is one
of mourning, the Church will vest her ministers (both on Sundays and on the
days during the week which are not feasts of Saints) in the sombre purple.
Until Ash Wednesday, however, she permits the deacon to wear his dalmatic,
and the subdeacon his tunic; but from that day forward, they must lay aside
these vestments of joy, for Lent will then have begun and our holy mother
will inspire us with the deep spirit of penance, but suppressing everything
of that glad pomp, which she loves at other seasons, to bring into the sanctuary
of her God.
1 Like Time after Epiphany and Time after Pentecost,
this Season is known as "Ordinary Time" in the new calendar.