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
- 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.
means "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
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,
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
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 life.
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 sins.
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.