WDTPRS: Septuagesima – Prayers for Mass (1962MR)

SeptuagesimaIn the pre-Conciliar calendar this period before Ash Wednesday is called the Season of Epiphany. This year, because Easter falls so early, there aren’t many Sundays immediately after Epiphany.  Some will be bumped to the end of the liturgical 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”.

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.

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.

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 and 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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. quovadis7 says:

    Fr. Z,

    Wow. Your translations & comments on these EF prayers are AMAZING! Thank you Father!

    A couple of specific comments you made REALLY caught my attention:

    1) “NB: The antiphons for the first part of Mass carry a theme of affliction, war, oppression.”

    That is significant, IMO, because the EF prayers frequently emphasize the Church’s teaching that we, here on Earth, are the Church Militant (which, sadly, the OF prayers rarely do). So, as I read these fabulous EF prayers, they convey to me that the Church is trying to inspire the faithful in our duties and efforts to be effective soldiers of Christ – inspiring the troops, if you will. More of that is desperately needed in the Church today!

    2) “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.”

    This comment of yours is VERY significant also. In my experience of attending both the EF & OF Liturgies (the former only over the past couple of years), it is my contention that the OF prayers routinely over-emphasize God’s Love & Mercy, and de-emphasize the sinfulness of humanity (including believers!) as well as God’s Divine Justice.

    With the OF prayers’ unbalanced emphases on God’s Love & Mercy vs. our sinfulness & Divine Justice, it is no wonder that today the lines for the Sacrament of Penance are typically short – i.e. the OF prayers have a tendency to subliminally convey that “God loves me just the way I am – so, what’s the big deal about the Sacrament of Reconciliation?” In addition, with the OF prayers’ skewed emphases, it is no wonder that so MANY Catholics today don’t take their faith seriously, don’t make the effort to learn and grow in it, and why the Church Militant is so spiritually “soft” and in such utter disarray….

    Thanks again for your magnanimous efforts in your WDTPRS blog!

    Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum,

    Steve B
    Plano, TX

  2. Phil says:

    I have a question about this celebration of “pre-Lent.” I understand Fr.Z considers its loss a sad one, but I don’t really understand the purpose of Septuagesima. Lent is, after all, the period of penitential preparation for Easter–so, why do we need preparation for the preparation? In the three Sundays before Lent (Septuagesima) the Alleluia and the Gloria are omitted and Violet vestments are worn–in essence, all the ceremonial observances of Lent are carried out. What differentiates the two and gives Septuagesima its purpose?

    Please note that I am asking this out of curiosity because I do not understand, but I would like to.

  3. asperges says:

    Just got back from London Oratory where the Latin Mass Society held meeting to consider how best to promote gregorian chant.

    We finished with first Vespers of Septuagesima with the touching “Alleluia, Alleluia,” added to the final Benedicamus Domino – being all that is left in the Roman rite now to bid farewell to the Alleluia until Easter.

    In mediaeval times, particularly in Germany, France and Spain there were ceremonies bidding the Alleluia a good journey, and even at one time a burial of the Alleluia in a cask to be restored at Easter.

    “..When Christ Our Lord was born, the heavenly host gave Him exceeding praise.. singing Alleluia both in heaven and on earth.. Therefore do we beseech thee O Lord, that as we strive to imitate the angels in their ministry of praise, we may live in such a manner as to deserve to be their companions in eternal life.” (Capitulum, old Mozarabic liturgy).

  4. John UK says:

    Did St.Anselm have this Postcommunio in mind when he composed the prayer:
    “O Lord our God,
    grant us grace to desire Thee with our whole heart;
    that, so desiring, we may seek,
    and, seeking, find Thee;
    and so finding Thee, may love Thee;
    and loving Thee, may hate those sins
    from which Thou hast redeemed. Amen.”

    John U.K.

  5. Dr. Eric says:

    Phil, in the Churches that use the Byzantine Rituals, there are the Sundays before Lent called Meatfare and Cheesefare which are preparatory for the meat and dairy free 40 days of Lent. In the Byzantine East, Lent starts on Monday and ends on the Sunday before Holy Week. Holy Week is an even more intense fasting period.

    I think Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima are Western equivalents of that. Or it may have something to do with the Babylonian Captivity.

  6. Gail F says:

    Father, when I read these posts I can only guess what you are talking about half of the time. But I do love the prayers.

  7. Joshua08 says:

    Remember, up until recently the Latin Lent included fasting Monday through Saturday, abstinence. While several nations by the 20th century already had indults to this effect, it was not until the 1917 CIC that eggs, butter, etc were allowed on days of abstinence.”The observance of Lent is the very badge of Christian warfare. By it we prove ourselves not to be the enemies of the Cross of Christ- Benedict XIV”

    How sad that, in the legal relaxing of requirements, penance and in particular the virtue of fasting (which is its own virtue) have been let to rot. Dom Gueranger though that Lenten praxis in his day was too mild, but compared to them we are effeminate gluttons

    When you fast everyday, except Sunday and when for a long time abstinence was required even on Sunday (gradually relaxed up until the 20th century), it makes a lot of sense to have a preparation…believe me since I have tried to do the traditional Latin fast, as it was under the 1917 CIC (already relaxed from previous rules), you cannot just jump in Ash Wednesday…at least I failed when I did. Rather a take progressive steps on the three Sundays prior…cut out sweets, cut out snacking, cut out smoking, etc so that by Lent it is not so much a shock to my body as to break my spirit, or make me complain rather than pray

  8. Robert of Rome says:

    I’d like to see the sung Alleluias of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite Mass ritually buried with a little funeral, procession and hymns!!

  9. jesusthroughmary says:

    Fr. Z remarks that we longer have a pre-Lent thanks to Paul VI. It would seem to me that we longer have a Lent either. Phil, I can understand your difficulty in understanding why we would need to prepare for as pathetic a “penitential season” as the modern Lent. Lent today is two days long, with six weeks of purple in between. 90% of people in the pews don’t even notice that there’s no Gloria, and the “Gospel Acclamation” is as happy clappy as any other Sunday Alleluia. It takes most people one or two Fridays to remember that they can’t eat meat, if they even care. If for no other reason, we should use the pre-Lent Sundays to remind people that they have two weeks until meatless Fridays start.

    However, when people used to love Jesus, Lent actually meant a real six weeks of intense prayer and fasting, and it was beneficial to ease into it gradually. The liturgical observances are not much different (except that the Organ is permitted until Ash Wednesday), but as Joshua08 said, try jumping into the Great Lenten Fast cold turkey.

  10. Jbuntin says:

    Thanks Fr.Z. You have no idea what this post has done for me. You are a great blessing to me and many others, I’m sure.

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