Septuagesima is upon us

SeptuagesimaThis coming Sunday is Septuagesima in the traditional Roman calendar  It comes late this year because of the vagaries of the moon.

In the pre-Conciliar calendar this period before Ash Wednesday is called the Season of Epiphany.   Part of it is also called Time of Septuagesima in some reckonings.  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”.

The Sunday is called Septuagesima from the  Latin for “seventieth”, as in 70 days before Easter.  This is more symbolic than perfectly 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 in its requirements for fasting.  Eastern Church retain a deeper discipline in this regard.

VOTE FOR WDTPRSSeptuagesima gives us a more solemn attitude for Holy Mass.  Purple is worn on Sunday and weekdays without feasts 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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Very nice post, Father.
    So in a Novus Ordo service, is green worn for all 3 weeks – Septuagesima and Sexagesima and Quinquagesima – with the purple coming out at Lent?
    Was it purple for all 3 Sundays pre-NO? [Purple on just those three Sundays. Not during the week. That starts with Ash Wednesday.]

  2. Torkay says:

    In the pre-Conciliar calendar this period before Ash Wednesday is called the Season of Epiphany.

    1. In my Missal, 1962 Angelus Press, the Season After Epiphany ended last Sunday with the Sixth Sunday After Epiphany, and this Sunday, Septuagesima, begins the Season of Lent. Page 263.
    2. My St. Andrew Daily Missal (1962: St. Bonaventure Press), the Season of Epiphany also ended last week, but this Missal calls what we are now in the Season of Septuagesima. Page 235.

  3. Bryan Boyle says:

    @JFM: Yes, purple for the three pre-Lenten Sundays. At least that is what my copy of the 1962 Missale Romanum says…:)

    @Fr. Z: Very French? Chuckle. Perhaps a practice we should revive in some cases?

  4. Marcin says:

    …a straw figure bearing an Alleluia of gold letters was burned in the churchyard. Somehow that seems very French to me.

    The custom is not lost! I gather that French youth continues it in a more secular realm, and it’s gaining popularity even among Muslims.

  5. southern orders says:

    It seems to me that it would be easy to remedy the naming of the Sundays and keep the reformed calendar, for example, last Sunday would be the 6th Sunday after Epiphany/ 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, then the 7th, 8th and 9th Sundays of Ordinary Time, given the date of Ash Wednesday would be the season of Septuagesima, but still using the same orations and readings for these “After Epiphany/Ordinary Time Sundays.” The same could hold true for Ordinary Time Sundays after Pentecost, simply call these the correlating Sunday after Pentecost.

  6. br.david says:

    Is there a possibility/likelihood of a return to the “-gesima” Sundays, as means of “reconciling” the calendars?

  7. Centristian says:

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

    I’m confused by that comment, Father. “Summorum Pontificum” doesn’t mention anything about pre-Lent Sundays, and I don’t see how anything within it would have the effect of restoring their previous status.

  8. Centristian: Think it through. o{]:¬)

  9. wolfeken says:

    ” Was it purple for all 3 Sundays pre-NO? [Purple on just those three Sundays. Not during the week. That starts with Ash Wednesday.]”

    I really do not like correcting Father Z, but purple/violet is actually worn during the week as well on the ferial days beginning next week. There are up to eight of them this year between this Sunday (Septuagesima) and Ash Wednesday. The other days have appointed feasts in white. [Good catch! Thanks, I’ll correct the top entry. I think 24 Feb may have red, however.]

    Green is not worn again after this week until the end of June.

  10. Centristian says:

    Father Z, I’m poring over the document now (as I have in the past) and I just don’t see it.

    Thinking it through, I’m thinking that “Summorum Pontificum” is given far too much credit by traditionally-oriented Catholics for restoring things that it hasn’t restored at all, and for making ordinary a form of the liturgy that it has actually decreed is “extraordinary”.

    I make this observation with all due respect to your instincts and without any desire to be contrarian. In all truth, however, I just don’t see what you seem to see. That having been said, I hope what you see is more accurate than what I see!

  11. Henry Edwards says:

    Centristian, maybe you suffer from some sort of rigid literalism. What’s in the words “ordinary” and “extraordinary” to get strung out about?

    There’s nothing so really hard to understand. For those thus graced by Summorum Pontificum, the so-called extraordinary form of the Mass becomes “ordinary” in that it’s the one in which they ordinarily worship every Sunday, and perhaps every day of the week, as one can do at an otherwise quite ordinary suburban Catholic parish church within 3 miles of my home. (Whereas, not so long before Summorum Pontificum, it required 3 digits to count the number of miles to the nearest TLM, so then it was truly “extraordinary”–very seldom seen from where I was located.)

    And so now the older pre-Vatican Church calendar is the one by which those of privileged by membership in such extraordinary form communities “ordinarily” measure the passage of the weeks of the year, consulting it when necessary hanging on the kitchen walls of our otherwise ordinary homes. So for us, we enter this coming Sunday the extraordinary form season of Septuagesima, encompassing the three pre-Lenten Sundays this post mentions. And what an extraordinary grace this will be for us, after the drabness of the ordinary time that instead has occupied this calendar space for the past forty years, ever since so many of our ordinary Catholic traditions disappeared, rendering our daily lives thereafter so drab in comparison with the extraordinary spiritual and liturgical richness that some of us had previously experienced as an ordinary feature of Catholic life.

  12. JMGDD says:


    You are correct that SP does not specifically mention “gesima” Sundays. I think what Father Z is driving at is simply this: One who appreciates SP and the TLM is more likely to appreciate and pay attention to older practices and customs (in more than a nostalgic rose-colored-glasses way, it is hoped) even though they are now largely abandoned.

  13. disco says:

    Septuagesima is a fine tradition. It is the traditional start of carnival season as well.

  14. doodler says:

    Many in the Anglican Church still keep the ..gesima Sundays which are the names in the Book of Common Prayer (1662). Some joining the Ordinariate will bring this tradition with them.

  15. Phil says:

    @ Disco:
    I must disagree with you. As a traditional Catholic born and bred in New Orleans, let me assure you that Carnival “season” begins on January 6–hence the “King” Cake–and continues until the actual day which bears the name “carnivale” (“bye bye meat) is what is also known as “Fat Tuesday” (Mardi Gras). These are some of the wonderful inculturations of the French Catholic tradition.

  16. jfm says:

    @ JMGDD -“… (in more than a nostalgic rose-colored-glasses way, it is hoped)”

    And on Laetare Sunday we get a glimpse of nostalgic rose-colored vestments! :)

  17. Seumas says:

    I very much enjoyed Henry’s extraordinary explanation. Nevertheless, a more simple and to the point (ordinary) explanation might also be helpful. It really is “as easy as ABC,” and with that in mind:

    A) SP allows the use of Mass and Sacraments according to the 1962 books.

    B) Those who use the 1962 books also use the calendar of 1962.

    C) The calendar of 1962 included the pre-Lenten Sundays.

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

    The “ancient status” of the pre-Lenten Sundays, in my imprecise layman’s terms anyway, was that they were part of the promulgated calendar of the Church; licit, required, and universally observed within the Roman Church. Since the 1962 books are now a fully licit and recognized usage of the Roman Rite, and since the 1962 books use the 1962 calendar complete with pre-Lenten Sundays, said pre-Lenten Sundays are now fully licit and recognized and indeed, it would seem to me, required within the Extraordinary Form, at least until the Holy See says otherwise. Hence, while not currently observed universally within the Roman Church (please God, may that soon change), the pre-Lenten Sundays and other seasons of the old calendar have nevertheless “regained something of their ancient status.”

    Methinks, Centristian, you might have been looking too hard and missed the obvious. Happens to all of us from time to time. God Bless.

  18. Jack Hughes says:

    Looking foward to the Lenten season……… ending with the Ressurection !!!

  19. disco says:


    I defer to you sir. Growing up in uptight New England we rarely experienced such wonders

  20. Hugh says:

    Tomorrow night (Saturday before Septuagesima) we’ll be farewelling the Alleluia at my place in Melbourne, Australia for the third year running. 1st Vespers for Septuagesima Sunday will be sung at 7.00 pm (music sheet here: ) – men on one side of my hallway, women on the other. At the end of Vespers, the altar cloth is removed, revealing a purple one underneath. An “Alleluia” (large lettering gold Aquitaine font Alleluia on a black background A2 size black card) which was suspended in front of the altar is removed, placed on a black cloth covered board and we process singing “Alleluia, Dulce Carmen” to a little stone grave at the back of the yard. The Alleluia is wrapped up, placed in a waterproof cylinder and buried in the grave. Everyone adds a stone to the grave.

    Before Vespers we have green cocktails (mohitos are popular) and after, purple. Everyone may wear something purple, something green.

    Hey, if you’re nearby, drop in. That’s green cocktails at 6.30, Vespers at 7.00 pm. But let me know for catering & photocopying purposes. ( hughdhenry atsign gmail dot com )

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