WDTPRS Septuagesima Sunday: strength in time of oppression

In the traditional Roman calendar this Sunday is called Septuagesima, Latin for the “Seventieth” day before Easter.  This number is more symbolic than arithmetical. The Sundays which follow are Sexagesima (“sixtieth”) and Quinquagesima (“fiftieth”) before Ash Wednesday brings in Lent, called in Latin Quadragesima, “Fortieth”.

These pre-Lenten Sundays prepare us for the discipline of Lent, which once was far stricter.

Septuagesima gives us a more solemn attitude for Holy Mass.

Purple is worn on Sunday rather than the green of the time after Epiphany.  These Sundays have Roman stations.  Alleluia is sung for the last time at First Vespers of Septuagesima and is then excluded until Holy Saturday.  There was once a tradition of “burying” the Alleluia, with a depositio ceremony, like a little funeral.  A hymn of farewell was sung.  There was a procession with crosses, tapers, holy water, and a coffin containing a banner with Alleluia.  The coffin was sprinkled, incensed, and buried. In some places, such as Paris, a straw figure bearing an Alleluia of gold letters was burned in the churchyard.  Somehow that seems very French to me.

The prayers and readings for the Masses of these pre-Lenten Sundays were compiled by St. Gregory the Great (+604), Pope in a time of great turmoil and suffering.  Pre-Lent is particularly a time for preaching about missions and missionary work, the evangelization of peoples.  In the Novus Ordo of Paul VI there is no more pre-Lent.

A terrible loss.

We are grateful that with Summorum Pontificum the pre-Lent Sundays have regained something of their ancient status.

The antiphons for the first part of Mass carry a theme of affliction, war, oppression.  How appropriate right now when the Obama Administration is conducting a war against the Catholic Church and against religious liberty of all Americans.  We hear from 1 Corinthians on how Christians must strive on to the end of the race.  The Tract (which substitutes the Gradual and Alleluia) is the De profundis.

Preces populi tui,
quaesumus, Domine, clementer exaudi:
ut, qui iuste pro peccatis nostris affligimur,
pro tui nominis gloria misericorditer liberemur.

This prayer, as well as the other two we will see, is in versions of ancient sacramentaries, such as the Gregorian. Our wonderful Lewis & Short Dictionary says ex-audio means “listen to” in the sense of “harken, perceive clearly.” There is a greater urgency to exaudi (an imperative, or command form) than in the simple audi. Clementer is an adverb from clemens, meaning among other things “Mild in respect to the faults and failures of others, i.e. forbearing, indulgent, compassionate, merciful.” We are asking God the omnipotent Creator to listen to us little finite sinful creatures in a manner that is not only attentive but also patient and indulgent.

We beseech You, O Lord, graciously to hark
to the prayers of Your people:
so that we who are justly afflicted for our sins,
may mercifully be freed for the glory of Your Name.

The first thing you who attend mainly the Novus Ordo will note, is the profoundly different tone of this prayer.

It is just as succinct as most ancient Roman prayers.  It has the classic structure.  But the focus on our responsibility and guilt for our sins is very alien to the style of the Novus Ordo.  For the most part, such direct references to our sinful state were systematically excised from the ancient prayers which survived in some form on the post-Conciliar Missale Romanum.

Muneribus nostris, quaesumus, Domine,
precibusque susceptis:
et caelestibus nos munda mysteriis,
et clementer exaudi.

This ancient prayer was also in the Mass “Puer natus” for 1 January for the Octave of Christmas.  The first part of the prayer is an ablative absolute. In the second part there is a standard et…et construction.  The prayer is terse, elegant.

Our gifts and prayers having been received,
we beseech You, O Lord:
both cleanse us by these heavenly mysteries,
and mercifully hark to us.

In the first prayer we acknowledge our sinfulness and beg God’s mercy.  In this prayer we show humble confidence that God is attending to our actions and we focus on the means by which we will be cleansed from the filth of our sins, namely, the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, about to be renewed upon the altar.

As the Mass develops there is a shift in tone after the Gospel parable about the man hiring day-laborers.  An attitude of praise is introduced into the cries to God for help.

Fideles tui, Deus, per tua dona firmentur:
ut éadem et percipiendo requirant,
et quaerendo sine fine percipiant.


In an ancient variation we find per[pe]tua, turning “by means of your…” into “perpetual”. That éadem (neuter plural to go with dona, “gifts”) is the object of both of the subjunctive verbs which live in another et…et construction.  Requiro means “to seek or search for; to seek to know, … with the accessory idea of need, to ask for something needed; to need, want, lack, miss, be in want of, require (synonym: desidero)”.  Think of how it is used in Ps. 26(27),4: “One thing I have asked of the Lord, this will I seek after (unum petivi a Domino hoc requiram); that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”  Quaero is another verb for “to seek”, as well as “to think over, meditate, aim at, plan a thing.”  The first meaning of the verb percipio is “to take wholly, to seize entirely” and then by extension “to perceive, feel and “to learn, know, conceive, comprehend, understand.”

Notice that these verbs all have a dimension of the search of the soul for something that must be grasped in the sense of being comprehended.

The New Roman Missal – 1945:
May Thy faithful, O God, be strengthened by Thy gifts,
that receiving them they may still desire them
and desiring them may constantly receive them.

The New Marian Missal – 1958:
May Thy faithful people, O God, be strengthened by Thy gifts;
that in receiving them, the may seek after them the more,
and in seeking them, they may receive them for ever.

Saint Andrew Bible Missal – 1962:
O Lord, may your faithful people be made strong by your gifts.
By receiving them may they desire them.
And by desiring them, may they always receive them.

Just to show you that we can steer this in another direction, let’s take those “seeking/graping/perceiving” verbs and emphasize the possible dimension of the eternal fascinating that the Beatific Vision will eventually produce.

May Your faithful, O God, be strengthened by Your gifts:
so that in grasping them they will need to seek after them
and in the seeking they will know them without end.

In this life, the closest thing we have to the eternal contemplation of God is the moment of making a good Holy Communion.  At this moment of Mass, which so much concerned struggling in time of oppression, we strive to grasp our lot here in terms of our fallen nature, God’s plan, and our eternal reward.

I don’t believe this prayer, like Septuagesima Sunday, made it into the Novus Ordo, to our great impoverishment.

WDTPRS Septuagesima Sunday: strength in time of oppression
0 votes, 0.00 avg. rating (0% score)
FacebookEmailPinterestGoogle GmailShare/Bookmark

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in LENT, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Religious Liberty, The Drill, The future and our choices, WDTPRS. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to WDTPRS Septuagesima Sunday: strength in time of oppression

  1. Geoffrey says:

    I wonder what the rationale was behind abolishing the Season of Septuagesima? I think it serves as an excellent “Hey! Lent is coming! Get ready!” On this weekend I always take down last year’s palms and begin planning for Lent.

    I wish there was some way that the Season of Septuagesima could be inserted into the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Both the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the one Roman Rite should have a much closer liturgical calendar.

  2. Kathleen10 says:

    Thank you Father Z, slowly, I am learning bits and pieces about the Holy Mass. Very slowly, I am often amazed what everyone else here seems to know about everything, and I know so little! But I am paying attention. You may not think so after this comment, it’s tangential, but I must share.
    You mentioned St. Gregory, and I had just seen “Saints Alive!” on EWTN. I had never seen the program before, but I saw “St. Gregory” represented, and it blew me away. In this segment, St. Gregory comes to a Catholic church, and is met by what looks like a full house. There is a microphone and he is asked questions. Whoever played St. Gregory did a superb job, because I hated to see him go! I think the people who met him in person felt the same, because it was a very appealing performance, and when he left the church, you could see nobody wanted him to leave. It felt like we had a very holy person with us for just a little while. Very nice. I encourage anyone else to see if you can still find it on EWTN. I wonder what you would think of it.

    [A comment. You are, in a way, fortunate to know less than other people. These days, everyone seems to be something like a movie critic of liturgy. They think they are entitled to critique everything that happens at Mass. This started with the later stages of the Liturgical Movement and continued with the hyper-didactic dimension of the Novus Ordo. Learn slowly. Also, I suggest reading Mosebach’s book.]

  3. DD says:

    In some Catholic elementary schools, we still do have a little burial service for the Alleluia.

  4. Geoffrey says:

    “The prayers and readings for the Masses of these pre-Lenten Sundays were compiled by St. Gregory the Great…”

    Does this hold true for the Divine Office as well?

  5. UncleBlobb says:

    A thousand “thank you”‘s, dearest Father Z! Your inspiration and companionship aids in perseverance.

  6. Clinton R. says:

    This is what I love most about your blog, Father. As someone who received the Sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation 3 years ago and is eagerly learning more about the Faith, it is sad to see how much of Catholic tradition has been excised out of the Tridentine Mass and reformulated as the “I’m Ok, you’re Ok” Novus Ordo Mass. If we are truly going to evangelize, we need to restore the prayers and traditions that are uniquely Catholic and have lead many people through the centuries to the Lord Jesus and His Holy Church.

  7. jcr says:

    I remember a former pastor, born about 1935, reminiscing about how they had a burial service for the alleluia when he was in seminary (St. Vincent, Latrobe, PA).

  8. bookworm says:

    A few years ago, a Catholic school in my former diocese was shut down for a day due to a bomb threat. When the bomb squad arrived, they spotted a “mysterious” package in a flower patch near the front door, so they gingerly picked it up and opened it to find… an Alleluia banner! The principal later explained that the students had “buried” the Alleluia for Lent a couple of weeks earlier. (Obviously, the principal or one of the teachers knew about this tradition and decided to revive it.)

  9. Mother says:

    Brilliant, as usual, Fr. Z.
    A perfect preperation in strength I will need whilst I assist a the NO Mass today. Much to my chagrin.

  10. MicheleQ says:

    I love that we have these pre-lenten days to prepare. Thank you for this beautiful post. I am printing it out to read to my children. We’re going to have an Alleluia burying ceremony this week.