Wait…what? Lent? Didn’t we just have Christmas? I think we all have this thought every year. And for the Novus Ordo rite, they still have three weeks (as of yesterday) until the somber season of preparing for Christ’s Death and Resurrection begins, with really no prior preparation. But the traditional rite has a separate season dedicated to preparing for Lent called Septuagesima, which begins this coming Sunday and lasts for three weeks until Ash Wednesday. Lent is a long season and it is a more austere and strict time in the Catholic Church. It’s kind of like running a marathon. You wouldn’t just start running on the day of the race and hope that everything works out. And so it is with Lent. You have to slowly start preparing yourself to be stricter and more receptive to the austerity before the season begins. Otherwise you will burn out very quickly. During Lent, we give one or multiple things up that have been hindering our growth in the spiritual life and our relationship with Christ, as well as make changes to our routine that will aid in this growth, such as more spiritual reading and/or more time for silent prayer. Septuagesima helps us to slowly start integrating these things into our routine so that both mentally and physically we feel ready when Ash Wednesday rolls around.
Septuagesima also brings about changes liturgically in the traditional rite. The purple vestments are worn and the Gloria and Alleluia are taken out, although it is permissible to play the organ up until Ash Wednesday. These changes remind the faithful that we are getting set for a long period of spiritual preparation, which entails austerity and fasting from both physical and emotional attitudes so that we can die to ourselves in order to rise with Christ on Easter Sunday. It helps us to get into the mindset of making the effort to make real changes in our lives that will bring us closer to Him. The whole idea of Septuagesima season is to be like strength and conditioning for our spiritual muscles, which need to be worked out as much as our physical ones. In this way we will be made ready for the spiritual marathon that is Lent.
So what are you going to give up and what are you going to add to your routine to help you die to yourself and grow closer to Christ? It’s almost time to start thinking about it and preparing to do it. We have a three week warm-up for this marathon; let’s make the most of it.