“Standing on the Front Porch of Lent”: Septuagesima, the Three Weeks, “Pre-Lent”
…a time to prepare for separation from the “noisy distractions of the world…”
Or, another way of seeing it, “easing into Lent.”
Brother Nicholas Obl.S.B., Mount Saviour Monastery
February 8, 2020:
Who can imagine that in three weeks, Lent will begin? It seems like just yesterday we celebrated Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, and The Presentation. But preparation for Lent can now begin for those who elect to do so!
At Vigils this evening, we may enter into the nearly-forgotten tradition of “Pre-Lent” (no longer officially marked by the Catholic Church) called Septuagesima (Latin for the “seventieth” day before Easter). It is a time that can be thought of as “standing on the front porch of Lent.” It can be a part of our personal- and communal-spiritual calendar that helps to prepare for Lent, which is itself the Preparation of the Redemptive Act of Good Friday.
+ Per crucem et passionem tuam. Libera nos Domine +
(By Your Cross and Passion Deliver us, Lord)
Dom Prosper Louis Pascal Guéranger , French Benedictine monk (d. 1875), who served for nearly 40 years as the Abbot of Solesmes Abbey—-and was the founder of the French Benedictine Congregation, re-establishing monastic life in France after it had been suppressed by the French Revolution—-writes eloquently of the history and practice of Septuagesima, or “Pre-Lent.”
A “extensive snippet” of his writing, regarding its history and practices, is found at:
No longer formally a part of the Roman Calendar, it falls on the following weeks in 2020:
Septuagesima – Sunday February 9 (“seventieth” day before Easter)
Sexagesima – Sunday February 16 (“sixtieth” day before Easter)
Quinquagesima – Sunday February 23 (“fiftieth” day before Easter)
Ash Wednesday – February 26, Lent Begins
Dom Prosper Guéranger, Abbot, wrote:
“The Season of Septuagesima comprises the three weeks immediately preceding Lent. It forms one of the principal divisions of the Liturgical Year, and is itself divided into three parts, each part corresponding to a week: the first is called Septuagesima; the second, Sexagesima; the third, Quinquagesima.
All three are named from their numerical reference to Lent, which, in the language of the Church, is called Quadragesima, – that is, Forty, – because the great Feast of Easter is prepared for by holy exercises of Forty Days. The words Quinquagesima, Sexagesima, and Septuagesima, tell us of the same great Solemnity as looming in the distance, and as being the great object towards which the Church would have us now begin to turn all our thoughts, and desires, and devotion.
Now, the Feast of Easter must be prepared for by a forty-days’ recollectedness and penance. Those forty-days are one of the principal Seasons of the Liturgical Year, and one of the most powerful means employed by the Church for exciting in the hearts of her children the spirit of their Christian vocation. It is of the utmost importance, that such a Season of penance should produce its work in our souls, – the renovation of the whole spiritual life. The Church, therefore, has instituted a preparation for the holy time of Lent. She gives us the three weeks of Septuagesima, during which she withdraws us, as much as may be, from the noisy distractions of the world, in order that our hearts may be the more readily impressed by the solemn warning she is to give us, at the commencement of Lent, by marking our foreheads with ashes.”
Fast-forward to Today:
Contemporary theology of Lent may be summed up by the line from Pope Francis:
“Lent is a favourable season for opening the doors to all those in need and recognizing in them the face of Christ.”
These days the practice of pre-Lent, it seems, has been forgotten, although the Church offers that it retains the significance of “[possessing] a rich history and [is of] much meditative value.”
While in the past the focus of Pre-Lent, and Lent itself, were on fasting, abstinence, penance and prayer, the “spirituality” of Lent has shifted from what we “give up” to “what we DO” to foster justice, peace, reaching out to our sisters and brothers who are Christ’s other-self, and aiding our ailing world. Of course, the former practices remain of untouchable worth; the present-day movement toward Christ’s others-self, community, and the world are rooted in them.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) offers:
“During Lent, we are asked to devote ourselves to seeking the Lord in prayer and reading Scripture, to service by giving alms [hot link], and to practice self-control through fasting [hot link]. Many know of the tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent, but we are also called to practice self-discipline and fast in other ways throughout the season. Contemplate the meaning and origins of the Lenten fasting tradition in this reflection [hot link]. In addition, the giving of alms is one way to share God’s gifts—not only through the distribution of money, but through the sharing of our time and talents. As St. John Chrysostom reminds us: “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2446)….[more]” Going to the website, http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/lent/index.cfm , three key words are “hot linked” for further contemplation.
Saint Basil the Great, fourth century A.D. declared, “The bread that you possess belongs to the hungry. The clothes that you store in boxes, belong to the naked. The shoes rotting by you, belong to the bare-foot. The money that you hide belongs to anyone in need. You wrong as many people as you could help.”–rather powerful words for his time and for ours!
Again, Pope Francis’ words are meant for daily reflection, but perhaps beginning prior to Lent, they will disposition us for a sacred Lenten season. Growing inequality “… is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules….In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.” Pope Francis, 24 Nov. 2013 (Evangelii Gaudium).
“Today…the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape. We have to say [no] to an economy of exclusion and inequality. We must say no to the financial system that rules rather than serves….The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent heart.” Pope Francis, 24 Nov. 2013 (Evangelii Gaudium).
I’d like to suggest that while focusing on the all-important contemporary expressions, we can incorporate them into Septuagesima, the Three Weeks, Pre-Lent.” In fact, the USCCB’s Lenten guidance and the teachings of the Holy Father seem not only appropriate for we who celebrate Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima—-that is, standing on the “porch of Lent” during these next three weeks—-but something to strive for during a lifetime! Pax.