Saturday, 7 February 2009

The Season of Septuagesima

The season of Septuagesima, which starts after Nones today, has disappeared from the modern calendar, so I thought it might be worth saying a little bit about it.

Three weeks of preparation for Lent

Septuagesima basically designates the three weeks before Lent, and is basically intended to ease us from the relative laxity of the Christmas period to what, at one time at any rate, was the extremely ascetical time of Lent (although you might want to note that the Pope has called on us to take Lenten fasting seriously this year!). So a time to do the pruning and tieing up of the vines in the vineyard...It actually seems to have originated with the Eastern Church, who, because they didn't fast on Saturdays, needed additional days to make up the forty days of fasting before Easter.

At one time, according to Dom Gueranger, monks began their Lenten fast at Septuagesima, the secular clergy abstained from meat at Quinquagesima Sunday (just before Lent starts), and the laity two days later on Ash Wednesday. The Rule of St Benedict, however, doesn't actually recognise Septuagesima either for fasting purposes or in the liturgy. So perhaps it is not surprising that by the fifteenth century everyone commenced their fast on the same day, namely Ash Wednesday. The black monks did, however, adopt the practice of suspending the Alleluia in the liturgy notwithstanding the Rule's provisions on the subject.

What happens during Septuagesima?

The Golden Legend gives some good advice on this subject:

"At Septuagesima beginneth the time of deviation or going out of the way, of the whole world, which began at Adam and dured unto Moses. And in this time is read the Book of Genesis. [At Matins] The time of Septuagesima representeth the time of deviation, that is of transgression. The Sexagesima [the middle Sunday of the three weeks] signifieth the time of revocation. The Quinquagesima [last Sunday before Lent] signifieth the time of remission. The Quadragesima signifieth of penance and satisfaction....

And in the time of deviation and of exile we leave the song of gladness, that is alleluia, but the Saturday of Easter we sing one alleluia, in enjoying us and thanking God of the vesture perpetual which by hope we abide for to recover in the sixth age. And in the mass we set a tract, in figuring the labour that yet we ought to do, and in fulfilling the commandments of God.

...In this time then of exile of the Church, full of many tribulations...But alway, for as much as she fall not in despair, is purposed to her in the Gospel and Epistle three manner of remedies. The first is that if she will issue of these tribulations, that she labour in the vineyard of her soul in cutting and pulling out the vices and the sins, and after in a way of this present life, she seek the works of penance. And after that in doing spiritual battle, she defend her strongly against the temptations of the enemy."

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