Revd Dr Peter Toon: Septuagesima, Sexagesima & Quinquagesima are in fact three Latin words and they indicate how far away we are from Easter – that is, 70, 60 & 50 days respectively. From the fifth century after Christ these Sundays emerged as a preparatory cycle for Lent in the West.
The Latin names arose by analogy with Quadragesima, the first Sunday in Lent, known as the “fortieth day” before Easter. Quinquagesima is exactly fifty days before Easter but Sexagesima (60) and Septuagesima (70) are only approximations.
In Rome and the West, Septuagesima (the 70th) day before Easter was regarded as the beginning of the preparation for Easter and thus it was natural to attract to itself the theme of The Beginning, that is the Creation of the world by the Father through the Son and with the Holy Ghost. (Thus there began the reading of Genesis on this day in the monastic Daily Offices.)
In the Church of the East in the Byzantine tradition there also emerged a cycle of preparation before Lent proper, with the last two Sundays being known as “Meatfare” and “Cheesefare” Sundays. There is partial fasting between these two Sundays and then Lent begins on the Monday which is known as “Clean Monday,” with no meat or cheese.
In the West, in the modern post 1960s Roman Catholic and Anglican Prayer Books, the “Gesimas” have been abolished. However, they remain part of the Christian Year in The Book of Common Prayer. They serve to place worshippers today in a long tradition of regarding Lent to be so important as a preparation for Easter, the Feast of Feasts, as to require for itself a preliminary preparation. So the “Gesimas” are a preparation for the Preparation.
The Collect for Septuagesima which begins the short cycle anticipates two chief ideas of Lent – the confession of our sin and its just punishment, and the prayer for forgiveness from God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. Thus in these three weeks the faithful begin to turn their minds to Lent, its solemnity and how they will keep it, in joining with their Lord in his fasting, meditating, praying and resisting temptation in the wilderness. (Source)
THE SUNDAY CALLED SEPTUAGESIMA
From the Book of Common Prayer
O LORD, we beseech thee favourably to hear the prayers of thy people; that we, who are justly punished for our offences, may be mercifully delivered by thy goodness, for the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
THE EPISTLE. 1 Corinthians 9. 24.
KNOW ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things: now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
THE GOSPEL. St Matthew 20. 1.
AND Jesus spake unto them another parable, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the good-man of the house, saying, These last have worked but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong; didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way; I will give unto this last even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.