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In keeping with the tradition of the Book of Common Prayer and the Anglican missals, Divine Worship: The Missal and the calendars of the personal ordinariates provide for the observance of the Pre-Lent season, or Septuagesimatide. In this article we will discuss the historical nature of this season, and look at how it is observed in the liturgical provision of Anglicanorum cœtibus.

The Symbolism of Pre-Lent

Seventy days before the celebration of Easter, the Church has traditionally marked time in order to prepare for the coming Lenten fast, itself the principal preparation for the Paschal feast. This season is often referred to as Pre-Lent, or Septuagesimatide: a reference to the first of the three Sundays that indicate seventy (Septuagesima), sixty (Sexagesima), and fifty (Quinquagesima) days respectively before Easter. Dom Prosper Guéranger writes that this time “forms one of the principal divisions of the liturgical year.”

The forty days of Lent (the season known as Quadragesima) represent not only the forty days and nights that Our Lord spent in the wilderness, but also the forty years which the People of Israel spent in exodus; the journey to the Promised Land that foreshadows the Christian pilgrimage to the New Jerusalem. As the Israelites received salvation from the bonds of slavery in Egypt, passing through the Red Sea unscathed to reach their promised home, so Christians see in this a foretaste of the salvation offered them from the bonds of slavery to sin, passing through the waters of the sacred font, and on to the eternal Promised Land of heaven.

The seventy days before Easter, which take into account Pre-Lent and Lent itself, represent a further parallel. Just as the forty year exodus of the Israelites is mirrored by Lent, so too the Babylonian captivity of seventy years prefigures the days from Septuagesima to Easter. Amalar of Metz (†850) writes about this season at length, drawing out the scriptural connotations in the prophecies of Isaiah, Zechariah, and Jeremiah, and also the apocalyptic visions of the Book of Revelation. In his liturgical commentary, Ælfric of Eynsham (†1010) writes to the monks of his monastery thus: “In Septuagesima . . . we humiliate ourselves willingly for our sins, just as the Hebrew people was humiliated unwillingly for seventy years, serving the king of Babylon without the voice of joy and happiness, the voice of the bridegroom and the bride.”

And although there are in fact sixty-three days in this period, Guéranger tells us that “the Church, according to the style so continually used in the Sacred Scriptures, uses the round number instead of the literal and precise one.” Alcuin of York (†804), a student of the Venerable Bede, offers another suggestion when he explains in a letter to Charlemagne that these seventy days are marked from Septuagesima to the Saturday of the Easter Octave; perhaps indicative of the significance of the entire Easter week as a continuation of Easter Sunday itself.

Pope Saint Gregory the Great likens the call to conversion marked by these days—seventy, sixty, fifty, and so forth—to the call of the householder in the gospel given for Septuagesima in both the ancient Roman liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer (Mt. 20: 1-16). He writes: “The householder therefore, in the morning early, at the third hour, the sixth, the ninth, and the eleventh, hires labourers to till His Vineyard; because from the beginning of this world until the end He ceases not to gather together preachers to instruct the multitude of the faithful.” This he furthers links to salvation history: “For the morning of the world was from Adam to Noah: the third hour from Noah to Abraham: the sixth from Abraham to Moses: the ninth from Moses till the Coming of the Lord: the eleventh from the Lord’s Coming till the end of the world.” In these timings, he continues, we may see “the changing of the years in the life of man,” and thus Pre-Lent acts as a reminder of the need for all sorts and conditions of men to return to the Lord.

In essence, then, this season seeks to awaken the children of the Church to the real urgency of conversion, the purpose of Lent being the response to the call to conversion, not just its first hearing. As Blessed Pope Paul VI would say of Septuagesima centuries later, these Sundays act as the bells that summon the faithful to the church at various intervals before Mass.

The Liturgical Character of Pre-Lent

What, then, is the general liturgical character of this season? First, the season seems to have a dual purpose: penitence, and preparation for Lent. The penitence of Pre-Lent contrasts with that of Lent itself, being restricted (in the West, at least) to the liturgy, rather than fasting and abstinence. This is achieved through the use of violet vestments, the suppression of the Gloria in excelsis and the Alleluia, and the use of the Tract. In contrast with Lent, folded chasubles were not worn during this period. Flowers are permitted according to custom, as is the use of the organ, and the normative Sunday preface of the Trinity is prescribed by the Missale Romanum (and the Common Preface on weekdays). In those places where liturgical custom saw the use of unbleached linen (“Lenten Array”), particularly in England, this was similarly not used until Lent proper. It is worth noting that, in a sense, all of this means that Septuagesimatide is perhaps the only season of the year with a purely liturgical expression of penitence.

These penitential characteristics are related to the texts, but they are perhaps primarily external factors: colour, music, and liturgical environment. With regard to the preparatory character of Pre-Lent, the Mass formularies are more important. Here we find the orations and readings, as well as the texts of the Office, draw not only on the undoing of mankind in Genesis (in the case of Mattins), but also represent a petitionary nature, particularly in the Introits. These facets prepare the ground for the season of Lent in parallel with the external liturgical penitence, and enable the Pre-Lent season to act as what Rembert Van Doren called, “the doorway of Lent.” As we shall see, in the discussion surrounding the suppression of Septuagesimatide in the Roman Rite in the 1960s, these distinctions were deemed important.

The Development of Pre-Lent

With the symbolism and liturgical character of this season in mind, then, we turn here to the historical development of the season in the life of the Church. The liturgical origins of Pre-Lent are in the Christian East. Here both Saturday and Sunday were regarded as days upon which no fasting should take place and so, as Blessed Ildefonso Schuster points out, “in order to the complete the forty days of Lent, the Greeks anticipated the penitential season by some weeks, and from [Septuagesima] onward abstained from meat.” This practice is still reflected in the East, when the Sundays that precede Lent are marked by certain readings, and the gradual setting-aside of certain foods. For example, the Tenth Sunday before Pascha contains the Gospel of the Publican and the Pharisee, to encourage discretion in fasting; the Ninth Sunday before Pascha contains the Parable of the Prodigal Son, to encourage reflection on one’s sin; by tradition the Eighth Sunday before Pascha is Meatfare Sunday, after which the faithful abstain from eating meat until Easter, and the Seventh Sunday before Pascha is Cheesefare Sunday, after which the faithful abstain from eating dairy products until Easter.

In the West, the custom of the Pre-Lent liturgical observance developed later, to be confirmed by Pope Saint Gregory the Great when he added Station Churches to the Lenten practice, encompassing the three Sundays before Lent. Schuster remarks that the saintly pontiff also established the Mass formularies for these Sundays. The season remained in the Roman Rite from the time of Saint Gregory until the calendar reforms of 1969.

In Anglicanism, the Pre-Lent season, together (substantially) with the collects and readings associated with the Sundays of the ancient Roman order, were preserved in the Eucharistic liturgy through the texts of the Book of Common Prayer from 1549 onwards. Although Cranmer’s preface to the Prayer Book lauded the “godly and decent order of the ancient Fathers,” particularly concerning the reading of Genesis at Mattins in Septuagesimatide, he in fact rejected this arrangement in favour of a simpler lectionary. It is noteworthy that this practice was revived by the 1922 Daily Office Lectionary, in significant part as the result of the scholarship of the Oxford Movement.

The Suppression of Pre-Lent in the Roman Rite

Without entering into a detailed discussion on the merits of the suppression of Pre-Lent in the Roman Rite following the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, it is pertinent to our considerations to look briefly at the decisions that underpinned this change. Here we are greatly assisted by the recent work of Dr Lauren Pristas.

As Pristas comments, in the consideration of the group responsible for the revision of the General Roman Calendar (Cœtus I), a general opinion arose amongst the members to suppress the season of Septuagesima, but nevertheless to retain the formularies of the Pre-Lent Sundays, either on these Sundays or at another time in the year. The primary consideration here was to differentiate more clearly between Pre-Lent and Lent proper (i.e., the penitential character), rather than to remove all reference to the preparatory nature of the season. In essence, this meant the use of the Gloria in excelsis and the Alleluia in these weeks, and the use of green vestments in place of violet, but preserving the Mass formularies associated with the three Sundays. In fact there was a preference expressed in the Schemata for the revision of the calendar, to preserve the preparatory character of the season through the continued use of its texts, even if the penitential character was suppressed. In the end, the decision regarding use of the Mass formularies fell to another group (Cœtus XVIII) and so the explicit suppression of the season (substantially, the names and penitential character) meant that the associated texts were lost.

One important fact from this process regards nomenclature. A distinction was made in the work of Cœtus I between the names of these Sundays and the character of the season. As Pristas points out, “the two were distinguished for ecumenical reasons: the question of retaining the names was left unsettled in deference to the ‘separated brethren’ who continued to use them, while the determination to suppress those things which marked Septuagesima as a distinct season was firm.” Whilst this was ultimately overruled, the mere discussion of the importance of the season to other Christians indicates an awareness of the significance of Septuagesima in other ecclesial communities; one which is perhaps rekindled in Divine Worship.

All of this said, recent liturgical books of The Church of England and The Episcopal Church in the United States have moved from this nomenclature, and indeed from the observance of Pre-Lent in any clear way, adopting more closely the post-conciliar Roman practice. Although Common Worship maintains the use of the  titles“Sundays before Lent” and“Pre-Lent,” the liturgical colour is specified as green, the Gloria in excelsis is prescribed, and the collects bear no resemblance to those found in the Book of Common Prayer. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer itself remains unaltered.

Characteristics of Pre-Lent in Divine Worship

With all of this in mind we come now to consider the season of Pre-Lent in the liturgical life of the personal ordinariates. First, we should mention that the prescription of keeping this season in the personal ordinariates is not limited to celebrations according to Divine Worship: The Missal. The season of Pre-Lent is mandated in the calendar of all three personal ordinariates, and thus even in celebrations according to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the nomenclature associated with the season is to be used. The Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite is governed by the calendar in use in 1962. Aware of the ecumenical significance attributed to the nomenclature in the revision of the Roman Rite after the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council mentioned above, this is an important gesture on the part of the communities of the personal ordinariates; one which points not only to the liturgical nature of the project of Anglicanorum cœtibus, but also its ecumenical mission.

Secondly, it is worth noting that the propers and orations of the traditional Pre-Lent observance of the Roman Rite, were preserved with some limited differences in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549. Chief amongst the distinctions between the pre-conciliar Missale Romanum and the Book of Common Prayer are the removal of the reference to Saint Paul in the Collect for Sexagesima, and the new composition of 1549 for the Collect for Quinquagesima, based upon the Epistle. Divine Worship: The Missal preserves the Collects of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer with the propers drawn (substantially) from the Anglican Missal, itself based on the pre-conciliar Roman Rite. The readings are taken from the three year lectionary common to the Ordinary Form.

This means that the Pre-Lent season in Divine Worship is not only in substantial continuity with the ancient practice of the Roman liturgy, dating back to Pope Saint Gregory the Great, but also the classical Anglican tradition, found in the historic versions of the Book of Common Prayer and the Anglican missals. It continues in the use of the nomenclature and preparatory nature of the season, and by suppressing the use of the Gloria in excelsis and Alleluia, and by adopting violet vesture and the Tract, is also provides for the penitential character of Pre-Lent which was, ultimately, the central bone of contention in the revision of the Roman Rite in the 1960s.

In addition to this, and undergirding the penitential character of the season whilst making a distinction from Lent itself, Divine Worship prescribes the use of a special preface in Pre-Lent. Although this may also be used in Lent itself, its provision enhances the ancient character of the Pre-Lent season as a distinct season of the year, and one which is defined by the principally liturgical nature of its observance. The preface in question is uniquely found in the Roman Rite in Divine Worship: The Missal, and replaces the normative use of a Preface of the Lord’s Day on Sundays. The text draws on Hebrews 4, and is a centonized version of the Proper Preface for Lent in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer of The Episcopal Church in the United States of America, found subsequently in the Book of Divine Worship.


In providing the Pre-Lent observance in Divine Worship, the liturgical provision of Anglicanorum cœtibus maintains the ancient practice of the Roman Rite, as received by the classical Anglican liturgical tradition, and presented in large part by the Anglican missals. This not only preserves for Catholic worship an element of the Anglican liturgical tradition, particularly through the translations of these ancient texts provided in the missal, but also revives an important element of the liturgical patrimony of the Latin Church. In this way Divine Worship: The Missal embodies the purpose of the canonical structure of the personal ordinariate as a juridical body that enables the flourishing of the Anglican tradition within the Catholic Church whilst, at the same time, integrating such treasures into the life of the wider Roman Rite.

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