Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Question of the Septuagesima Season and the Modern Roman Liturgy: Possible Enrichment?

In the older form of the Roman calendar today is "Sexagesima" Sunday, the second of three Sundays found within the pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima. In the modern Roman calendar, by comparison, the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time is what is observed today, this pre-Lenten period having been removed as part of the post-conciliar liturgical reform.

Last Sunday, we took under consideration the historical origins and character of Pre-Lent and as was noted, this particular time of the liturgical year is one which perhaps most visibly stands out as it relates to the variances between the older and newer Roman calendars. For that reason, it is also a time which may invite our consideration. This may be further amplified by the existence -- and continued existence -- of a similar three week pre-Lenten season within various parts of the Christian East.

Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, in the twenty-first chapter of The Reform of the Roman Liturgy: 1948-1975 (p. 307, footnote 6), readily noted that the removal of Septuagesima in the modern Roman calendar was the source of some disagreement. He specifically notes Paul VI's own thoughts on the matter: "On one occasion Pope Paul VI compared the complex made up of Septuagesima, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter Triduum to bells calling people to Sunday Mass. The ringing of them an hour, half-hour, fifteen, and five minutes before the time of Mass has a psychological effect and prepares the faithful materially and spiritually for the celebration of the liturgy." In the end, whatever Paul VI's (and others) personal thoughts might have been on the preparatory value of the steps of Septuagesima season in relation to both Lent and ultimately Easter, the desire for simplication and an emphasis on the season of Lent, Archbishop Bugnini notes, was what won the day during those times -- and so it was removed from the modern Roman calendar.

Sitting a few decades out from the liturgical reform, and in the specific light of principles of the Benedictine liturgical reform such as "reform in continuity" and "mutual enrichment", a question for our own time may well arise; namely, whether these pre-Lenten Sundays might not be profitably re-inserted into the modern Roman calendar, thereby reforging a continuity with this aspect of the Roman calendar as it stood since around the time of Pope Gregory the Great, and a connection with the liturgical calendars of various Eastern churches -- while additionally proffering some spiritual benefit to the faithful as well?

As with all prospective questions of how Benedictine mutual enrichment or liturgical reform may eventually be manifest -- whether that pertains to development within the usus antiquior or within the modern Roman liturgy -- it will surely inspire debate and no small measure of disagreement.

Fr. Christopher Phillips, a priest of the Anglican use and pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement parish in San Antonio, Texas, recently offered his owns thoughts on this subject as it relates to the Anglican Ordinariate:

There are things about the old calendar that I miss, and I hope there will be a restoration in a revised liturgical use for the [new Anglican] Ordinariate.

I always loved the old "gesima" Sundays - the three Sundays of Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima, forming a pre-Lenten season which served as a bridge between Epiphanytide and the great Forty Days... The Collect appointed for the day makes for a real change of gears, as we moved from the outward-looking aspect of the manifestation of Christ to the world, into a more introspective attitude by looking into our own hearts and souls...

The Gospel reading then served as a reminder that the coming discipline of Lent was to prepare us for our work in building God's Kingdom...

There's a spiritual richness when these things are put into an historical context, and it would be a pity to lose it. It's all part of the treasury of the Church.

* * *

To give readers an opportunity to express their own sense of this question (particularly readers who do not themselves comment in the comment boxes) and to perhaps provide a spark to further consideration of the matter, I thought an informal poll on the subject might be of interest.

Evidently, the intent here is not in any way to suggest "liturgy by popular demand" or "by committee" but it is of interest always to hear from our readers.