Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The time between Candlemas and Ash Wednesday is unique in the rhythm of the liturgical year. It is traditionally given the name of “Septuagesima,” which means “70th” as in 70 days until Easter. “Septuagesima Sunday” was February 12 this year. From that Sunday, we have 63 days until Easter. This number is rounded up in the liturgical imagination of the Church to the Biblical number of 70, which commemorates the 70 years that the People of Israel spent in the Babylonian Exile. Septuagesima Sunday began our solemn countdown to Easter, which is our return to the Promised Land after the tears of the exile.
Next week, we will say more about the spirituality of this liturgical time. This time before Lent is also popularly called “Shrovetide” or “Carnival.” Carnival takes its name in the Latin languages from the abstinence from meat (“carnis”) that traditionally marked the entire Season of Lent. Thus, before Ash Wednesday, the faithful would consume their meat and other animal products before the Sacred Fast. Hence the eating of pancakes in England and of gumbo and funnel cake in New Orleans! This custom is the origin of the names “Mardi Gras” in French and “Fat Tuesday” in American English. It also is part of the reason why we eat eggs at Easter! In the Catholic culture of Germanic lands, the carnival time before Lent is called “Fastnacht,” the eve before the fast.
“Shrovetide” takes its name from the English word “to shrive,” which means “to hear confessions.” As the “Catholic Encyclopedia” tells us, this custom “is sufficiently explained by a sentence in the Anglo-Saxon ‘Ecclesiastical Institutes’ translated from Theodulphus by Abbot Aelfric about A.D. 1000: ‘In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do [in the way of penance].'” In other words, it was a time to go to confession before Lent in order to receive from the priest the penance that one would observe throughout the Lenten season.
As we know from our own times, Shrovetide and Carnival have often degenerated into occasions of sinful behavior. The “Catholic Encyclopedia” tells us: ‘The Church repeatedly made efforts to check the excesses of the carnival, especially in Italy. During the sixteenth century in particular a special form of the Forty Hours Prayer was instituted in many places on the Monday and Tuesday of Shrovetide, partly to draw the people away from these dangerous occasions of sin, partly to make expiation for the excesses committed. By a special constitution addressed by Benedict XIV to the archbishops and bishops of the Papal States, and headed “Super Bacchanalibus’, a plenary indulgence was granted in 1747 to those who took part in the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament which was to be carried out daily for three days during the carnival season.” Following this sacred custom of reparation, we will have a Carnival Holy Hour at Our Lady of the Pillar Church from 7:00-8:00 PM on February 28, in order to do penance for our sins and to ask the Lord for the grace of a holy Lenten Fast.
Pray for me,
Father Joseph Previtali