From a reader…
As you know, the season of Septuagesima starts next Sunday. How can I make the most of it to help prepare for a successful Lent? My understanding it was originally used to ease in to the rigorous fast we once had, but how can we use it to prepare now?
First, for those who don’t know, in the traditional Roman calendar, going all the way back before St. Gregory the Great (+604), there have been “pre-Lent” Sundays, celebrated in violet. The Church ceases in Mass and Office to sing “Alleluia” until Easter. They are nicknamed Septuagesima, Latin for the “Seventieth” day before Easter (the number, 70, is more symbolic than arithmetical) 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. The Sundays have Roman Stations. In ancient times, catechumens were taken to the Station Masses where they heard tough readers and tougher prayers.
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.
That said, sure, pre-Lent can be a time to “ease in” to Lenten discipline. That means you have to start thinking about Lent NOW and not the day after Ash Wednesday.
We plan about all sorts of important things, like vacations, and birthday parties. Shouldn’t we give as much if not more attention to our annual spiritual boot camp?
I like to think of pre-Lent as a time to map out what Lent is going to look like. That way, when Ash Wednesday rolls around, you are ready, with a plan in hand. You can hit the ground running.