Snubbing Septuagesima

News: Commentary
by Rodney Pelletier  •  •  February 4, 2023   

Removing penance from the calendar

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Sunday, Feb. 5, begins the short pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima. The following excerpt from 'Reclaiming Tradition, Episode 6: Dulling Devotion,' explains the historical nature of the season and its subsequent removal from the Novus Ordo calendar. 

Despite Annibale Bugnini's Consilium claiming to restore ancient practices that had allegedly been corrupted by medieval Catholicism, some ancient disciplines were dumped altogether.

One of those was the "-gesima" Sundays, which went back further than the 6th century. They are the three Sundays before Ash Wednesday that were used to prepare people for Lent.

The names Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima signified the 70th, 60th and 50th days before Easter. They're not literally that exact number of days, of course.

The Season of Septuagesima

It was a short season marked by the elimination of the Gloria and Alleluia during Mass and the wearing of purple vestments by priests and other ministers of the altar.

While at some times the faithful did use it as a period of penance to prepare for Lent, it has become more famous as the Carnival season where people would have raucous celebrations, knowing that they would end their feasting on Ash Wednesday.

But despite its ancient roots, Pope Paul's liturgical commission put Septuagesima in its crosshairs, claiming, "The penitential character of the time of Septuagesima or pre-Lent is difficult for the faithful to understand without many explanations."

They are the three Sundays before Ash Wednesday that were used to prepare people for Lent.

Adrien Nocent, one of Consilium's members, commented, "The season of Septuagesima ought to be abolished ... that the faithful may see the progression of the liturgical year well and not be troubled by diverse 'anticipations.'"

In Annibale Bugnini's own book on the liturgical reform, a footnote reveals that Pope Paul valued Septuagesima.

He likened

the complex made up of Septuagesima, Lent, Holy Week and Easter Triduum to the bells calling people to Sunday Mass. The ringing of them an hour, a half-hour, fifteen, and five minutes before the time of Mass has a psychological effect and prepares the faithful materially and spiritually for the celebration of the liturgy.

But despite the pope's appreciation for Septuagesima and the Church's use of it for more than 1,000 years, Paul VI signed it away when he approved the liturgical commission's changes to the calendar in 1969.

Despite Vatican II calling for the clergy to teach the beauties of the faith to laymen, Pope Paul's liturgical commission opted to simply junk any ancient liturgical matters they deemed "difficult" or "in need of explanation."

It was claimed that people were troubled by "diverse anticipations." But why would they think laymen were troubled by a practice the Roman Church had been doing for well over a thousand years?

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Ironically, some members of the Consilium even considered keeping Septuagesima around in name only for the sake of ecumenism, all because some of the more conservative Lutherans and Anglicans still had it on their calendars.

Of course, the only reason why they had it was because it was a vestige of Catholicism that they still kept intact.

The commission's elite group of liturgical experts didn't seem to draw that conclusion, or if they did, it wasn't important to them.

It's illogical to claim that Septuagesima is 'inappropriate' and 'confusing' for Roman Catholics.

Both Eastern Catholics and the Orthodox also retain this season of preparation because it's ancient and spiritually beneficial.

It's illogical to claim that Septuagesima is "inappropriate" and "confusing" for Roman Catholics, while Eastern Rite Catholics have continued the ancient traditions and have not considered them confusing or inappropriate.

Pope Paul's Consilium claimed that numerous anticipations are "confusing" to the people, but who did the liturgists consult to obtain this information? Nobody.


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