Last Sunday, we entered the season of the Church year known as “Septuagesima.” The three weeks of this brief season provide a liturgical transition between Epiphany and Lent. The season of Septuagesima is an ancient observance, included in the Gelasian Sacramentary dating to the early sixth century, probably earlier. Our observance of these three Sundays unites us with the Church of the ages.
The names of these Sundays may strike us as a bit odd: Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima. To understand these Latin names, we must first understand that Ash Wednesday is Quadrigesima. Quadrigesima is the Latin number “fortieth”. Ash Wednesday is the fortieth day before Easter (not counting Sundays). The great Forty Day Fast of Lent does not include the Sundays in the enumeration of days.
Counting backwards three days from Quadrigesima, and adding the Sundays in Lent back in, we come to Quinquagesima, the fiftieth day before Easter. Although they are not exactly the sixtieth and seventieth days before Easter, the two Sundays before Quinquagesima are called Sexagesima (sixtieth) and Septuagesima (seventieth). Today is Sexagesima Sunday. (“Septuagesima” is used to designate the entire three-week season.)
To mark the transition from Epiphany to Lent, during Septuagesima, the Gloria in Excelsis and Alleluias are omitted.
In the late 1960s, the Pope eliminated Septuagesima with the innovation of the three-year series. Some Lutheran churches followed Rome in this innovation. You may have friends in other Lutheran churches that will not celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord for several weeks yet, and so will not be afforded the opportunity to join with the Church of the ages in observing Septuagesima season.
At Immanuel, however, we keep the historic tradition of the Lutheran Church. Martin Luther preached and celebrated the Septuagesima season, as had the Church for a millennium before him. And so we reverently, penitentially, and expectantly prepare for Easter, the joyous Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.