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Rood Screen by Sir Ninian Comper in Saint Mary's, Wellingborough

Rood Screen by Sir Ninian Comper in Saint Mary’s, Wellingborough

The General Roman Calendar provides the basic structure and content for the proper (i.e., specific) calendars of the personal ordinariates established under the auspices of Anglicanorum cœtibus. In an explanatory note on 8 March 2012, Monsignor Andrew Burnham made the point that the proper calendar for the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham makes ‘very few modifications to the General Roman Calendar or to the National Calendars of England and Wales’. This is similarly the case for the ordinariates in the United States (together with the deanery of Saint John the Baptist in Canada) and in Australia. In each case, the ordinary form of the Roman rite is the basis of the calendar’s constitution.

However, these proper calendars also preserve terminology which has remained in use in the liturgical books of the Anglican tradition, continuing these traditions as means for nourishing the faith of the members of the personal ordinariates and as ‘a treasure to shared’ (AC III). Where these terms share a common vocabulary with the extraordinary form of the Roman rite there is an opportunity to consider what Pope Benedict called a mutual enrichment between the two principle forms of the Roman liturgy, but it is worth noting that this is a secondary – albeit welcome – fruit of the ordinariate’s liturgical provision. A happy coincidence, we might say, as much as a conscious intention to restore ancient terms to contemporary practice with the wider Roman rite.

Tomorrow will see the celebration of one such distinctive element in the ordinariate calendars: Septuagesima. With this begins a three week build-up, referred to as pre-Lent, which has a somewhat restrained tone and character, as a means of easing the Christian faithful into the rigours of the forty days of Lent proper. This pre-Lent discipline is common to the ordinariates and the extraordinary form, but it also finds a place in the Eastern Churches that celebrate the Byzantine liturgy. 

What are the liturgical characteristics of pre-Lent? In the East, the pre-Lenten season begins on the ‘Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee’ (70 days before Easter, like Septuagesima), with the gradual curtailment of the eating of meat and dairy. In the West, the liturgy is the principal marker with the use of violet vestments and, amongst other things, the suppression of the Alleluia and the Gloria in excelsis. This latter element gave rise to the mediæval custom, especially in England, of ‘Burying the Alleluia’ in the Easter sepulchre (still to be found in some churches), until the solemn intonation of the Alleluia at the paschal vigil. The ancient Roman liturgy also preserved the practice of the deacon and subdeacon wearing the violet dalmatic and tunicle in the ‘gesimas’ but reduced their vesture to the planetæ plicatæ, or folded chasuble, in Lent itself (see Archdale King, The Liturgy of the Roman Church, 129-131). This practice was later abandoned under Blessed John XXIII.

And what are the spiritual characteristics of pre-Lent? With the season held in common with the extraordinary form, we can turn to Dom Prosper Guéranger, who summarizes these with his usual eloquence in his commentary on the liturgical year: “The mystery of a God becoming Incarnate for the love of his creature, has opened to us the path of the Illuminative Way; but we have not yet seen the brightest of its Light. Let not our hearts be troubled; the divine wonders we witnessed at Bethlehem are to be surpassed by those that are to grace the day of our Jesus’ Triumph: but, that our eye may contemplate these future mysteries, it must be purified by courageously looking into the deep abyss of our own personal miseries. God will grant us his divine light for the discovery; and if we come to know ourselves, to understand the grievousness of original sin, to see the malice of our own sins, and to comprehend, at least in some degree, the infinite mercy of God towards us, – we shall be prepared for the holy expiations of Lent, and for the ineffable joys of Easter”. 

Thus this Sunday begins a period of seven weeks of preparation for the Church’s celebration of the resurrection of the Lord at Easter. We are given a chance to prepare to keep a holy Lent by a certain liturgical restraint and spiritual rigour, but we are also given a clear reminder of what is to come. By trudging through these seven weeks we can see more fully the joy that will come from the seven weeks of celebration from Easter itself until Whitsun (Pentecost). As Dom Guéranger further encourages us, “Having heard these sweet whisperings of hope, let us now bravely face the realities brought before us by our dear Mother the Church”.

Collect for Septuagesima in the 1549, 1552, and 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and in the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:

O Lord, we beseech thee favourably to hear the prayers of thy people; that we, who are justly punished for our offenses, may be mercifully defended by thy goodness, for the glory of thy name; through Jesus Christ our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.