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IHS Septuagesima Sunday—9 February A.D. 2020 Ave Maria!

Saint Paul - El Greco

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“O Lord, we beseech Thee graciously hear the prayers of Thy people; that we who are justly afflicted for our sins may, for the glory of Thy name, mercifully be delivered.”[1]

The Latin word “Septuagesima” tells us that we have approximately seventy days until Easter. The number is obviously approximate, as next Sunday will be “Sexagesima,” or sixrty days, and the following Sunday will be “Quinqagesima,” or fifty days—yet these Sundays are only seven days apart. “Quadragesima,” the forty days of Lenten fasting , begins on the Wednesday of Quinqagesima week (February 26th this year). These various “weeks” serve to remind us that the fast before Easter once lasted as long as seventy days. Various groups—monasteries and dioceses—picked the fasting period they considered most appropriate. The forty day Lent is attributed to Pope Gelasius (r. 492‑496), who incorporated it in his Sacramentary, and to Pope Gregory the Great (r. 590‑604) , who ratified the same period.

Most Catholics observe the forty day period. The three Sundays prior to Ash Wednesday serve to make us ready to begin Lent with alacrity when the time comes. Our first indication is liturgical. Masses of the season are celebrated in penitential purple vestments, and omit the “Gloria in excelsis,” the dismissal is “Benedicamus Dómino.” The word “Allelúia” is omitted from all Masses and Offices (in fact, at Vespers last night, there was very brief ceremony for “taking leave of the Alleluia.”)

We can use this time for practical preparation as well. Most of us would benefit from making a good examination of our consciences. That will allow us to make Lenten resolutions to give up our inappropriate behaviors. This is a personal thing, best done with adequate reflection on what is needed. Our resolutions ought to be based on what we need to do, as well as what we are willing to do in voluntary penance. Remember that voluntary penance is a good way to strengthen the will—that is that by giving up innocent pleasures, we can train ourselves to be able to refuse guilty pleasures when they present themselves.

This is what Saint Paul had in mind in his epistle: “I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection; lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.”[2] One who exercises little or no control over himself may fall into serious temptation, which he will have had no practice in resisting,

While Sundays are not mandatory fast days, it may be best to observe them as such, especially if we are giving up something for Lent that we consider attractive or addictive. That candy, that drink, or that cigarette taken on the seventh day can completely undo the training of the previous six days. Some of these habits are best abandoned completely, and not resumed after the Easter Vigil.

Our personal schedule is another thing to consider and to organize during this Septuagesima season. Things like party and movie dates ought not be planned. We all have to eat, but Lenten dinners ought to be much less festive than during other times of the year. Easter dinners and Easter parties ought to take place on or after Easter—not before! Non-Catholics are less likely to be offended if they know your reason for not attending their parties.

Finally, it is easy to sympathize with the workers in the Gospel—those who worked all day but received no more than those of the last hour.[3] But, instead, this must be understood to signify God’s mercy. We should be encouraged that it is possible to win the prize of eternal salvation, even if we have not been good Catholics in our previous years—in His mercy, God will accept our sincere efforts in the present—He will accept our contrition and our penance as though we had been living in accord with His law all the days of our lives. And if you are one of the few who have lived in holiness all your life, you will not be one to complain—rather, you will rejoice with God that another soul is being saved.

Now is the time to prepare for a good Lent. Spend the next two and a half weeks preparing yourself for the spiritual rejuvenation of a Lent in accord with God’s will.

“O Lord, we beseech Thee graciously hear the prayers of Thy people; that we who are justly afflicted for our sins may, for the glory of Thy name, mercifully be delivered.”


[1] Collect of Septuagesima

[2] Epistle: I Corinthians ix: 24-27 to x: 1-5

[3] Gospel: Matthew xx: 1-6

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