As we leave behind the Christmas Season there is a time of transition in which we begin to look to Lent, the Cross and Easter.
Septuagesima Sunday is the third Sunday before the start of Lent. Traditionally, it marked the beginning of preparations for Lent. It is followed by Sexagesima and Quinquagesima.
While the name Septuagesima means seventieth day in Late Latin, it is not 70 days before Easter, but only 63. But it may be that the names started with Quinquagesima (fiftieth), which is 49 days before Easter, or 50 if you include Easter. Then the previous two Sundays, working backwards, become Sexagesima and Septuagesima.
These Sundays lost their designation when the revision of services took place towards the end of the twentieth century. The names remain in the Book of Common Prayer but not in the Alternative Service Book or in Common Worship, which we use now.
In earlier times the Lenten fast was begun immediately after Septuagesima Sunday but for us the “gesima” Sundays can act as a precursor for Lent by using the collects and readings to set the scene. The themes can help us to orientate our thoughts towards keeping Lent.
31.01.2021 Septuagesima Sunday
The Collect for Septuagesima brings to mind motifs which appear in Lent: confession of sin, the punishment that sin warrants, forgiveness and God’s mercy. These themes direct our thoughts towards the keeping of Lent and remind us of how we should follow the example of our Lord in fasting, prayer and resisting temptation. The balance between the punishment we deserve and deliverance by God’s grace is expressed in the collect:
O Lord, we beseech thee favourably to hear the prayers of thy people; that we, who are justly punished for our offences, may be mercifully delivered 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. Amen. (BCP)
Coincidentally, this year in Common Worship we celebrate Candlemas on this Sunday. In the Old Testament reading (Malachi 3. 1 – 5) God is portrayed as the refiner, purifier and judge. Here is demonstrated the power of God to burn away all sin that pollutes a person and leave that person purified and pleasing to God.
This is an apt text for the beginning of our preparation
for the observance of Lent.