ASK FATHER: Septuagesima and pre-Lent preparation?



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?

Good question.

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. KAS says:

    Some of us are all excited about Lent and about the coming 100th anniversary of Fatima, and so we’re doing Ninevah 90– and have small groups to encourage each other, and prayers, novena, etc. We’ve started gearing up to start February 13th. I think the old way of preparing for Lent must have felt a bit like this, exciting!

    Anyway, I sadly could not find local friends interested, but did find an online group of gals who are giddy as I am over it. :)

    I wish they still did this that you write of here. It is COOL!!

  2. WmHesch says:

    For those who plan on keeping the traditional fast during Lent, Septuagesima is an opportune time to adjust your body by fasting a few days a week… Perhaps Monday, Wednesday and Friday?

    Since Easter preparations took various forms in the first millennium, Septuagesima itself denotes “the earliest day on which some Christians began the forty days of Lent, excluding Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday from the observance of the fast”

  3. Henry Edwards says:

    A fairly literal interpretation of the terms Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima:

    • Septuagesima Sunday is the 63rd day before Easter and thus falls in the
    7th (septimus) decade or 10-day period consisting of the 61st to 70th days before Easter;
    • Sexagesima Sunday is the 56th day before Easter and falls in the
    6th (sextus) decade consisting of the 51st to 60th days before Easter; and
    • Quinquagesima Sunday is the 49th day before Easter and falls in the
    5th (quintus) decade consisting of the 41st to 50th days before Easter.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  4. edwardswyco says:

    Thankfully, also in the Ordinariate we can experience Pre-Lent.

  5. Imrahil says:

    That said, and laudable things being laudable,

    the custom of the faithful populace to even make extended use of all the “legitimate worldly pleasure” thing (read “Carnival”) does not seem to be without its merit.

    Especially not if we Keep attention to the “legitimate” part, of Course.

    The point of a boot camp being that no matter how specifically prepared you are, and no matter how specifically prepared prospective soldiers not rarely are when arriving there, it’s still for a great lot of them – and ought to be – (sit venia verbo:) a pain in the backward parts. That is why the strictest-but-one day of Lenten discipline, Ash Wednesday, is right at the beginning and not after any obligatory preparation.

    In any case,
    one obvious preparation could be to attend an EF Mass for the Sunday, with its violet color, no-Gloria, and specific texts and sermons. Or if that doesn’t work, at least read the EF texts (and maybe some internet sermons or Matins readings). I don’t mean that as a “EF is better” specific thing (though this would be my opinion, somewhat simplified), but merely for the obvious particular reason that the OF doesn’t give us any pre-Lent.

  6. Imrahil says:

    (I might start at once to get patient with my creepy autocorrect which I tried to deactivate – yes I can spell, thanks – but didn’t manage to, and which capitalizes all sorts of words such as “keep” and “course” in my third paragraph. Excuse the mistakes.)

  7. Geoffrey says:

    Even though I rarely attend the extraordinary form nowadays, I try to “observe” Septuagesima in other ways. Septuagesima Sunday is the day last year’s palms are taken down and gathered up, and greater thought and planning is given to Lent.

    I wish some form of Septuagesima could one day be restored to the Ordinary Form. Lent can often catch people off guard.

  8. jfk03 says:

    Byzantine (Greek) Catholics also observe the pre-Lent Sundays. Last Sunday was the Sunday of the publican and the Pharisee. Next, the Sunday of the prodigal son. Then comes meatfare Sunday. The last Sunday before lent is called Cheesefare Sunday, because that is the last day for animal products before Great Lent. When observed, the Eastern great fast is much more rigorous than that of the Latin Church, where the fast is a vestigial remnant of what once was observed.

  9. Worm-120 says:

    So this year I decided not to let lent sneak up on me and I’ve gradually been incorporating more prayers, penance, and fasting into my routine to sort of prepare for lent.

  10. ksking says:

    Cradle-Catholic revert here, bread and buttered in the 70s: somehow I had a natural sense of this, I am surprised to say. I always plan out what my family is doing for Lent before Lent starts–usually a few weeks out. It’s amazing to me to hear that this practice was once part of Church tradition. It just makes sense to me (and I guess I fumbled around in the darkness and arrived at something good)–why wouldn’t we preserve this tradition and encourage and assist people in preparing? Why does the modern Church hold that spiritual practices are worthless?

  11. JabbaPapa says:

    I am a convert, baptised in 2005.

    And I seem to have a bit of a floaty Lent — often during Eastertide — for some causes I can neither understand nor explain, but this year is an early one, starting about a month ago.

    But not since before my Baptism have I passed a year without a Lenten period as such, except of course for my 40 years in the desert of not being a Catholic

  12. mysticalrose says:

    @WmHesch: What comprises the traditional fast? Abstaining from meat for the whole season, or it something more? Thanks, if you care to share!

  13. APX says:

    @WmHesch: What comprises the traditional fast? Abstaining from meat for the whole season, or it something
    Depends which “traditional fast” you’re referring to. Immediately prior to Vatican II was no meat, eggs or dairy along with one regular sized meal and a collation in the evening.

    Prior to that was the Black Fast. Same abstinence as above and only one regular sized meal not taken until after 3:00 pm.

  14. New Sister says:

    If anyone is interested in following Fr Heilman’s “Nineveh 90 Challenge”, which begins this Monday (convenient that it follows Septuagesima Sunday), the link is here,

    It’s a 90-day period of prayer, humility, and transformation from 13 February to 13 May, leading up to the 100th Anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima.

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