The season of Lent has a very penitential undertone which calls the Church to reflect on the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ. Just as there are preparations to major events in the history of men and women, the feast of Easter has preparations through Lent and the Holy Week. Historically, Lent also had a prelude that took on the aspects of penitential season. This is called the SEPTUAGESIMA SUNDAY.


Septuagesima comes from the Latin word for “seventieth”. And Septuagesima Sunday is the name for the ninth Sunday before Easter, the third before Ash Wednesday.

In fact, the term Septuagesima is sometimes applied to the seventy days starting on Septuagesima Sunday and ending on the Saturday after Easter. There are a lot of debate among writers about the “seventieth nature” of this Sunday and for some “it is certainly not the seventieth day before Easter, still less is the next Sunday the sixtieth, fiftieth, etc.” (Amularius, “De eccl. Off.”, I, I; New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia Online).

Historically, on this Sunday, “Septuagesima is today inaugurated in the Roman Martyrology by the words: “Septuagesima Sunday, on which the canticle of the Lord, Alleluia, ceases to be said.” (New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia Online)

Although the origins of Septuagesima as a liturgical season are obscure, it serves a pre-Lent and a time to precondition into Lent.


As a time for pre-Lent, it consists of three Sundays with particular numbered names such as Septuagesima (seventieth), Sexagesima (sixtieth), and Quinquagesima (fiftieth). “Septuagesima Sunday [is] so called because it falls within seventy days but more than sixty days before Easter. The next Sunday is within sixty, Sexagesima, and the next within fifty, Quinquagesima…Falling with forty days of Easter (excluding Sundays) the next Sunday is Quadragesima.” (Hughes, 1982, p.10) Therefore, Septuagesima Sunday was a penitential season and a prelude to Lent.



With the revision of the Liturgy after Vatican Council II, this terminology (Septuagesima Sunday) is no longer used, and the period before Ash Wednesday starting with Septuagesima has disappeared. (Lang, 1989, p.580) The advent of Vatican II calls for revision for Sacred Liturgy and especially the Liturgical Year. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) from 1963 called for the Liturgical Year to be revised so that it would “duly nourish the piety of the faithful who celebrate the mysteries of the Christian redemption and above all, the paschal mystery…” Also, the Constitution says that “The minds of the faithful should be directed primarily toward the feasts of the Lord whereby the mysteries of salvation are celebrated throughout the year” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 108).



Therefore, with the call for reform by the Second Vatican Council, the Liturgical Calendar was reformed. And in this, Septuagesima was removed.

In actual fact, both the Motu proprio (Mysterii paschalis of Pope St. Paul VI) and the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar do not mention Septuagesima. Hence, the commentary accompanying the General Norms explains that “Septuagesima time, an anticipation of Lent, is suppressed…This revision returns Lent to its original unity and significance. The season of Septuagesima is abolished since it had no meaning of its own…It was difficult to explain the season to the people, even the names of its Sundays were obscure. Most of all, it took away from the ‘newness’ of the penitential theme, proper to the liturgy of Lent” (Regan, Advent to Pentecost: Comparing the Seasons in the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite, pp.77-78)

Septuagesima was suppressed and removed from the General Roman Calendar and Septuagesima, Sexagesima or Quinquagesima Sundays are treated as Sundays in the Ordinary Time. The revision of Vatican II made Septuagesima to disappear and the central focus on the Paschal Mystery in the Liturgical Year becomes pronounced.


“The season of Lent is a preparation for the celebration of Easter. The Liturgy prepares the catechumens for the celebration of the paschal mystery by the various stages of Christian Initiation: it also prepares the faithful, who recall their Baptism and do penance in preparation for Easter.” (General Norms for the Liturgical Year, n.27)

The period of Lent is an essential period in the Liturgical Year because it prepares Catholics for the celebration of the great feast of Easter.

The celebration of the paschal mystery has a great and profound impact on the Liturgical Year and the whole Church. With Lent, the Church prepares for the celebration of Easter.

As a penitential season of prayer, Lent starts with Ash Wednesday and continues until Holy Saturday.

It extends for a period of forty (40) days exclusive of Sundays, since fasting never occurs on the Lord’s Day. Also, Sundays are excluded in Lent because Sundays take on a different character than other days. Sunday is always a celebration of the resurrection of the Lord hence Lent cannot touch it. Some writers see Sundays as “little Easters” and that they must not be treated as days of penance.

The season of Lent calls to mind the elements of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. And during the season of Lent, Catholics and Christians are called to pray just as Jesus Christ prayed throughout the whole of His passion. Therefore, prayer become an important element of the season of Lent.

Fasting is also an element of the season of Lent where Christians especially Catholics are also called to fast and abstain from certain things for their penitential preparation towards Easter. Almsgiving as an element of Lent gives the opportunity for denying of ‘too much’ in order that the ‘have-nots’ can at least have something to live on. These elements of the season of Lent bring out the twofold character of the season: to perform penance and to recall or prepare for baptism.


The season of Lent is a period for a penitential nature of the Church. The penitential aspect includes various facets primarily and originally as a period of fasting. Christians deny themselves through various forms in order to put smiles on other peoples’ faces. Self-denial, self-detachment and other acts of seeking for mercy because of our sins are practiced during this season.

Historically, rigorous and even more bizarre acts of flagellation were meted out on people themselves as forms of penance. But the Church today calls on us to put out simple acts of giving to the poor, doing works of charity, praying, etc in order to perform our penances.

Lent as a season of Lent with the most recent prescription by Pope St. Paul VI explicitly names Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as days of both fast and abstinence and other Fridays of Lent as days of abstinence. (Lang, 1989, p.317)


The period of Lent reminds and prepares Catechumens for their baptism which is administered liturgically on Holy Saturday. Historically, the Church celebrated the end of Lent with large baptismal ceremonies especially on Holy Saturday. Christians during the early centuries gathered for prayer and the celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism on the afternoon of Holy Saturday. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “Holy Saturday and the vigil of Pentecost were the only days on which baptism was administered.”

In the early Church one can readily see why the preparation for baptism was predominant.

A study of the Liturgy of this season amply testifies to that fact; the baptismal features of former times are being restored as efforts toward reestablishing the Rite of Christian Initiation increase. (Lang, 1989, p.317). Therefore, the Lenten Liturgy calls us to deepen the sense of our condition as baptized people. This is seen in the various stages through which the catechumens are taken throughout the season of Lent before they receive baptism on Holy Saturday.


As a sacred time of the year, Holy Week commemorates and remembers the last week of Jesus’ life on this earth. These are days leading up to the great Easter feast.


The last week in Lent, immediately before Easter, commencing with Passion (Palm Sunday) Sunday and concluding with Holy Saturday. As such it is the focus of the Church’s liturgical cycle during which God’s redeeming act of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ is commemorated in a special way.

The week is “Holy” because through this week we relive and reenact the occurrences which encompass Jesus Christ’s end of life on earth. This week sees the suffering, death through crucifixion and eventually the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Holy Week also makes us to celebrate the Paschal Mystery whereby Jesus Christ reconciled the world to His Father.

The days between Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday) and Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday) are known as Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday and Holy Wednesday (Spy Wednesday). Spy Wednesday gets its name from the story of Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus Christ. His (Judas Iscariot) ordeal with the chief priests is remembered on this day. Judas Iscariot served as a spy among the disciples of Jesus Christ who spied, betrayed and sold the master for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-25). Holy Thursday is called “Maundy Thursday” because “Maundy” comes from the Latin word mandatum which means “commandment”.

This reflects the commandment Jesus gave to His disciples during the Last Supper: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34). The Latin has this as “mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut vos ut et vos diligatis invicem” Hence, the mandatum with its derivative of Maundy.

Holy Week serves as a prelude and the final preparation for the celebration of Easter.

In this week, the Church’s celebration reaches its climax because it is the Week of weeks where the redemptive works of Jesus Christ was manifested.


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By Edith Mensah

Edith Mensah is a trained journalist who believes in delivering up to the mark contents and has utmost regard for ethical standards. Kindly get in touch via email- [email protected] +233202152290