WDTPRS: Septuagesima (1962MR)

A few thoughts about Septuagesima and its prayers for Holy Mass, excerpted from articles I wrote for The Wanderer, to which you can subscribe for an online edition.

The Roman Station is St. Lawrence outside-the-walls.

In the pre-Conciliar calendar the time after Epiphany or Season of Epiphany, could be longer or shorter depending on the date of Easter.  When Easter falls early, some of the texts for Sundays Masses after Epiphany are bumped to the end of the year.  The time after Epiphany and the time after Pentecost are both called the tempus per annum, “the time through the year”.  That terminology remained in the Novus Ordo to describe the two parts of “Ordinary Time”. 

This Sunday, however, we begin the Tempus Septuagesimae, "the time of Septuagesima".

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”). 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 through the year. The pre-Lent Sundays have Roman Stations.  The 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. 

With the Novus Ordo 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.

NB: The antiphons for the first part of Mass carry a theme of affliction, war, oppression.  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 long time readers of this column will note, as well as you who attend mainly the Novus Ordo, 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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Sid says:

    Thanks for the news that St. Lawrence Outside the Walls is the station church. What are the station churches for Sexagesima and Quinquagesima?

  2. Deo volente says:

    Father will hopefully correct me if I am wrong, but Sexagesima Station is St. Paul Outside the Walls, and Quinquagesima Station is St. Peter’s, the Vatican.


  3. Ted Krasnicki says:

    As a farewell to Alleluia, a beautiful sequence was sung in Germany during the week preceding Septuagesima, “Cantemus cuncti melodum nunc Alleluia” (Let us now sing the melodious Alleluia) during the Middle Ages, suppressed, unfortunately, by Trent as were most Sequences.

    Many have lamented the disappearance of the pre-Lenten Sundays in the new calendar including Cardinal Ratzinger himself. It was not on a whim that St Gregory made these Sundays universal in order to prepare for the fasting that accompanies the increased prayer and almsgiving that is asked of us during Lent. The idea of going cold turkey, as it were, straight into Lent ignores human nature as it is weakened by sin. We need to truly see ourselves as sinners in need of redemption if we are to appreciate the deep conversion of mind, body, and soul to the Lord that the period of Lent affords us.

    These 3 Sundays take up mankind’s struggle with sin by recalling the 3 fathers of mankind: Adam, Noah, and Abraham in that order. The way I see it, God did not give up on mankind as sinners, but has promised deliverance if we take up the faith of Abraham as model. What a shame that these Sundays have been suppressed in the NO.

  4. paul says:

    I hope with the eventual regularization? of the sspx, the church will look at the calendar again. It is interesting to note that the eastern churches Orthodox and Catholic both keep the pre-lenten sundays. They call it the triodion and it starts with 1. the sunday of the pharisee and publican- no fasting 2. sunday of the prodigal son- regular fasting and then 3. Judgement sunday which includes a week of fasting from meat. When these 3 sundays have past then they start Great Lent. It is significant that the Orthodox and traditional calendar are so very similar. God bless everyone.

  5. Catherine says:

    I greatly look forward to hearing the “profoundly different tone” of the prayer. However, what remains to be seen is how it will be delivered by our pastor (and many others like him), who normally recites Mass prayers routinely in
    a sing-song, child-like tone and demeanor. I wonder about such priests, who have obviously been poorly formed and are lacking in any sense of the truly sacred.

  6. Piers-the-Ploughman says:

    Catherine, it sounds like you go to the NO. You won’t hear that prayer there. This is 1962 MR.

  7. Jeremy Boot says:

    Dom Gueranger in his Annee Liturgique (19th Cent) quotes at some length the beautiful prayers used in Catholic Europe for the farewell to the Alleluia and reminds us that the word itself is, as it were, only on loan to us from the angels in Heaven, who constantly use it in praise of the Almighty. Holy Church takes away this privilege now until Easter Eve and also the Gloria except for feasts. A beautiful preparation and reminder that Lent is near.

    I came across an interesting (Lutheran) site yesterday which refers to the burial of the Alleluia. It wrongly suggested that this took place on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. I pointed out the error and got an interesting reply from the webmaster who informed me: “Lutherans (and others) rejected the “pre-Lent” notion and kept the color green, but it is noteworthy that the propers for this portion of the Epiphany season did not have Alleluias.”

    Has anyone ever explained ever why post Vat II reforms did away with this holy pre-season? Was it another alignment with protestant thinking or was there a nore rational explanation, I wonder. Those of us of what we now call the Extraordinary Form carry on with the old ways. May it ever be so.

  8. Ted Krasnicki says:

    There was thought to be discord in the old calendar for these Sundays after Epiphany as well as for the last Sundays after Pentecost. The chanted propers remain the same as the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany for the remaining Sundays after Epiphany, and similarly the sung propers are the same for the final Sundays after Pentecost. The other readings of course are different so there was felt a need to put things into perfect order. Yet as Ratzinger has pointed out, these readings have something important in the way they speak to Catholics as their Gospels deal with seeds. In the Spring one plants seeds, and likewise are some seeds sown in the Fall, and both these series of Sundays occur either in the Spring or the Fall depending on the date of Easter. The old calendar relects the rhythm of our divinely created world, the world in which we live.

    The loss of the pre-lenten Sundays was done in the name of simplification and maintaining exclusive focus on the themes for the Sundays such as those of Lent. Paul VI was initially opposed, but was eventually won over to the idea that Lent ought not to be extended.

    This whole idea of maintaining order and thematic strictness for every Sunday sounds like the product of exessive rationality from those insulated in an ivory tower from the real world of Joe Catholic. Our experience of the world is far from being always logical or rational and liturgy has often reflected this. This excessive rationalism had started by the 19th century and even St. Pius X was influenced by it when reforming the calendar (and Breviary) in 1911. It saddens me to read Bugnini’s account of the Consilium as it shows to what extent the “experts” had a carte blanche to fabricate the liturgy according to their expertise. The problem with experts is that their expertise is often time dependent, where sooner or later it ends up being shown to be false or incomplete, or just plain irrelevant but causing much damage along the way.

  9. Margo says:

    “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. ”


    Because without ” so that we who are justly afflicted for our sins,” the true impact of the next part has a good deal less force: “may mercifully *be freed for the glory of Your Name*.” (emphasis mine)

    It compromises the announcement/echo of the Gospel to leave out reference to the fact that we don’t free ourselves; we are *freed,* by the Lord. And it’s no help to rebutting the Pelagian-leaning to leave out “for the glory of *Your* Name,” either.

    I really do regret the poor translations we have in use, currently…but by the same token, I’m grateful, Fr. Z., for your making the linguistic riches of these prayers available and understood!

  10. Matt says:

    This was my first time being aware of Septuagesima. Luckily, here in the Seattle area I have a TLM that celebrated it today. It’s such a beautiful way of preparing for Lent. I’m not sure why it was axed from the NO.

  11. Miriam says:

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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