This Sunday (three Sundays before Ash Wednesday), February 17, 2019, is traditionally known as Septuagesima — Latin for “seventieth” and understood to be approximately the seventieth day before Easter. Septuagesima is the traditional beginning of Pre-Lent.
This observance has been abolished in the Church’s law and, largely, in her life (in the West) for a few decades now. But it is worth our reconsideration for several reasons:
- Eastern Catholics still observe it
- The Orthodox still observe it
- It was/is part of Catholic discipline and life for well over 1,000 years
- The recently-developed “Anglican Ordinariates” observe it
- Some segments of other Christian faiths observe it
- Also, It makes good sense!
In summary, those of us who attend/celebrate the Novus Ordo may be in the majority, but for that reason we stand out all the more when so many around us are still doing or are re-discovering what, until recently, basically all Christians had always done.
Yes, Lent is a time of more rigorous discipline, and basic human psychology suggests that taking on a more rigorous discipline is something that we do better to ease ourselves into, instead of jumping in whole-hog (and then possibly being overwhelmed and abandoning it altogether, as happens with so many who find themselves unable to complete their Lenten commitment).
Amy Welborn has an extensive post on the topic of Septuagesima HERE, with links to many other sites. Here is a taste:
The point being…Lent calls for preparation. And while it’s all well and good to look at the calendar, wonder, “Hey, when is Ash Wednesday this year?” And then say, “Yikes…that’s soon! Okay. Start thinking. What am I going to give up?” …well, what these traditional preparation-for-the-preparatory seasons do is to set the fact of that realization and need to prepare into a deep context that is wise, rooted in the richness of tradition, and helpful.
To be clear: unless you go to the Traditional Latin Mass or Divine Liturgy in an Eastern Catholic parish, there is nothing really different about this Sunday. And nothing extra is required of you in current law. I am suggesting that it’d be a good idea to adopt the “spirit” of this ancient observance for yourself/your family, as a way of easing in to what will hopefully be a more successful Lent than in the past.
Read over the posts and think/pray about it. In any case, it’s good to know more about our traditions and to reflect upon the earnestness and rigor that was required of our ancestors. We get off rather easily in comparison. I’m not sure we’re better off for it.
Fr. Zuhlsdorf also has some good commentary on Septuagesima/Pre-Lent: HERE.
On a related note, as we think about what we will give up for Lent this year, I’d like to renew two suggestions:
- Do not give up chocolate (click HERE for more on that)
- Do give up excuses (click HERE for more on that)
Amy also has a good Lent round-up HERE.