Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima…most have probably not heard these words before. I had not either until a few months ago. I was doing chores around the house and listening to sermons I had downloaded from Audio Sancto when it began to play one titled Sexagesima Sunday. The priest giving the sermon has a very thick French accent. He proceeded to say “septuagesima” throughout the sermon. I don’ t think I will ever forget how to say it although it may be with a French accent.
Anyways, back to these words and what they mean. I recently started to attend the Latin mass regularly. I had been called to this liturgy for quite some time, but as with most things in my life I procrastinated and put it off. Mostly because it wasn’t convenient. Then this family came into our lives and they happened to attend the Latin mass. Their children were going to receive the sacrament of Confirmation and I really wanted our older three to as well. Our diocese waits until the kids are around 16 or 17 for confirmation. This is way too long to wait, but this topic will have to be put off for another time. It took my, slightly selfish, desire to have my children confirmed for me to follow Gods prompting in me towards this liturgy. It has been a little under a year since we started to regularly attend, which was during Lent last year. This is why I had not heard these words until recently.
I am going to quote from my Grandmothers New Marian Missal dated 1952, because it is so beautifully written and very thorough. Putting it into my own words would not do it justice.
Intorduced by three Sundays (Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima), the season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends with the death of Jesus in Passion Week. The struggle between our Lord and Satan ends with the victory of the Savior in the Eastertide. During the period from Septuagesima to Ash Wednesday, the liturgy speaks no more of our greatness but contemplates the misery of fallen humanity~the fatal consequences of original sin and actual sin~and the sacrifice that God asked from the faithful Melchisedech, symbol of the sacrifice that Jesus brings for the whole of humanity.
In this period we also prepare for the fasting and penance of the season of Lent. The season can be recapitulated with the words of the Preface of Lent:
“Who by this bodily fast doth curb our vices, dost lift up our minds, and bestow on us strength and rewards.” Our souls are slaves of the devil, flesh and the world. Jesus came into the world, not to be crowned king of the Jews, but to deliver us from this threefold bondage and to restore to us the divine life which we had lost….
Again on another page there is a shorter description:
The three Sundays preceding Ash Wednesday are called Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima, which mean, respectively, the seventieth, sixtieth and fiftieth day, that is, before Easter. They are mere names to correspond with the name of Lent (Quadragesima in Latin: fortieth); obviously they do not actually correspond with the period they indicate.
It is wrapped up with this thought:
Man, victim of the sin of Adam and of his own sins, is justly afflicted; groans and sorrows encompass him.
I cannot tell you how wonderful and sorrowful at the same time it was to learn about these wonderfully rich parts of our liturgy. It was wonderful because it seemed to tie up so many loose ends that I have felt for years when Lent arrived. Before when attending the Novus Ordo liturgy, Lent seemed to always sneak up on me and I was always completely unprepared. This sometimes caused stress and anxiety. What would I give up? What would my sacrifices be for this forty days? Would I be able to fulfill them? Was I prepared mentally? More often than not, I was not prepared and I would reduce my fasts and sacrifices to trivial things because I knew I just could not mentally handle anything more strict. Of course, this kind of thing does not bring about much spiritual growth, so I would end up feeling like my Lents were basically fruitless. I began to contemplate how people ever participated in strict fasts in the past and why would the Church do this. Why would she have these abrupt changes without any preparation. Oh the joy I felt when I realized that the Church didn’t have abrupt changes, in Her infinite wisdom she designed liturgical seasons that flow and prepare. The Church knew that man, victim of our own sins, would need a gentle weaning into the seasons and she gave it to us. Finally, I was being prepared.
The sorrow…well, the sorrow set in when I realized that this gentleness had been taken out of our liturgy. I won’t get into the who, the what, the why or the when of this, mainly because I don’t have the knowledge, but also because I don’t want to take us off topic. I felt so much sorrow and then some anger. I felt like a Protestant who had just realized that Martin Luther took seven books out of the Bible and what I have know my whole life was only the partial truth. This probably seems extreme if you have not truly experienced and understood this liturgy.
One of the best parts of this beautiful, rich liturgy is that I don’t have to be “Super Mom”. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. For years, I remember feeling inadequate because I couldn’t be that mom who always knew the feast days, the liturgical colors and what they mean…that mom who somehow remembered to get her advent and Lent stuff down from the attic BEFORE the season began…that mom who had the right curriculum to teach her children these things. I don’t have to. I have this very well thought out, organized, formulated, thousand year old liturgy to carry my family through the years. I don’t even have to go to mass every day to feel at peace about it. I don’t need all of those curriculum books I never even used because they were too overwhelming. I just need to go to mass as frequently as my life permits and look at my missal on the days I can’t to know what Saint is interceding for us that day, to know what part of the liturgy we are experiencing or about to experience…prepare, practice, and peacefully live.
This Lent I have been prepared. I spent a lot of time contemplating the upcoming season of Lent. I was able to prepare myself mentally and physically for the upcoming fasts and sacrifices. I was able to prepare my children. We spent time talking about it weeks before so that we knew what was coming. We have all chosen stricter things than in the past. We are practicing so that we may do more in the future. So far this Lent has been very fruitful and we are peacefully living.