This Sunday begins the little season of Pre-Lent or "Shrovetide." These three Sundays with the funny names - Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima - provide a kind of warm-up leading to Ash Wednesday and Lent. The names themselves just refer to number of days (approximately and in round numbers) until Easter - 70, 60, and 50, respectively - but they urge us by their countdown and liturgical symbolism to begin thinking about and preparing for a holy Lent, and that so we may celebrate a joyful Easter. (This year, Sexagesima will be superseded by the Solemnity of the Chair of St. Peter, our Ordinariate's Feast of Title).
So, beginning this Sunday, Septuagesima, the liturgical color changes to penitential purple, the Gloria in excelsis is not sung, and the Alleluias drop out of the Mass - in hymns, at the Gospel (the Alleluia is replaced by a "Tract"), and in the fraction anthem ("Alleluia. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia.").
The point of these changes and of Pre-Lent itself for us to thing about how we will keep Lent. What disciplines will we undertake? How will our prayer, fasting, and alms giving - which after all are normal, year-round elements of the Christian life - be intensified? There is more to say about all of that, but that is what this season is for. In the meantime, I will leave you with a hymn that well expresses the meaning and hope of this little Shrovetide season, "Alleluia, song of gladness," which is traditionally sung in the week before Septuagesima as "Alleluias" are buried (which we did at Wednesday School last night!) to be "resurrected" at Easter:
Alleluia, song of gladness, voice of joy that cannot die;
Alleluia is the anthem ever dear to choirs on high;
In the house of God abiding thus they sing eternally.
Alleluia thou resoundest, true Jerusalem and free;
Alleluia, joyful mother, all thy children sing with thee;
But by Babylon’s sad waters mourning exiles now are we.
Alleluia we deserve not here to chant forevermore;
Alleluia our transgressions make us for a while give o’er;
For the holy time is coming bidding us our sins deplore.
Therefore in our hymns we pray Thee, grant us, blessèd Trinity,
At the last to keep Thine Easter in our home beyond the sky;
There to Thee forever singing Alleluia joyfully.
(Latin, 11th century, tr by John Mason Neale, 1861)
God bless you,