Lent is here again?
Have you ever noticed how quickly Lent rolls around? All of a sudden it is Ash Wednesday and, with our busy lives, we are suddenly struggling to determine “And what am I giving up for Lent this year?” Particularly in this year of Our Lord 2024, Ash Wednesday rolls around early, as soon as February 14!
Holy Mother Church in her ancient practices of penance, and in her liturgical seasons, once had us be prepared for all of this. A period, known as the Septuagesima season, also named pre-Lent, commenced on Septuagesima Sunday (this year 28 January 2024), which was around 70 days before Easter Sunday. Three Liturgical Sundays were included in this period, a somber tone came upon the liturgy and Church, and colours of the vestments were changed to the penitential violet All of this happened a couple of weeks before the commencement of Lent on Ash Wednesday and the First Sunday of Lent.
Sadly, the liturgical reformers at Vatican II considered that this took away from the celebration of, what became nominated, “Ordinary Time” and so those three Pre-Lent Sundays - Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinqagesima - were removed from the Liturgical Calendar altogether. Lent was designated to begin on Ash Wednesday, and the faithful were consigned - unless they were particularly attuned to it - to having Ash Wednesday perennially “pop up on them,” together with that annual struggle to begin Lent with any real earnestness. How often as the first weeks of Lent roll on we find ourselves struggling to keep to our penances partly, simply, because we are unprepared.
The Septuagesima Season then helps us to be prepared for the wonderful, and very much needed, penitential season of Lent. As I often mention to penitents a few weeks out from Lent, while listening to their struggles and failures to be truly penitential in a hedonistic world: “It seems Lent rolls around yearly at just the right time. We need Lent right now; we need to get back on track, particularly in the area of penance”. And so it is. The Septuagesima period helps us to make the most of this holy season.
Septuagesima70 is born
Some years ago I was encouraged by a few young parishioners to respond to the Exodus90trend. This programme saw people adopting severe penitential practices based on a philosophy that argued 90 days consistent practice (of anything) was required if that change was to become permanent. Whilst filled with laudable content in the areas of prayer and penance, nevertheless, in order to coincide with Lent, and to permit the participants to complete Exodus90 by Easter, all would begin Exodus90 very early on in the secular year. And this would occur during the wonderful Christmas season where, traditionally, penitential practices had been lessened.
Many found the programme very useful, but very difficult, and some reported to me that once Exodus90 was over they very rarely kept to their prayer or penance regimes. Indeed they confessed they rarely kept up anything of it at all!
With this in mind a few of us set to work to develop a “programme” (I really do dislike that word, but it works) to help live this spirit of penance and prayer, but respecting the confines too of the traditional liturgical calendar of the Church, including Septuagesima and Lent, but not excluding the Christmas season, and feast days. Septuagesima70 was born.
Finding time to meditate
One of the principal aims that we had for this period was, not just to ensure that penance was lived well, but to help the faithful return to the venerable (and essential, in our secular age) practice of daily meditation. Enter Fr. Hamon, and his classic Hamon’s meditations, which have become a backbone of Septuagesima70.
I cannot speak highly enough about these magnificent, and profound, meditations, especially those of the Lenten season. (Indeed I find it difficult to contemplate that one man could have developed so many wonderful and inspiring meditations - for each day of the year and additionally for some of the Saints’ days - except for the effects of superabundant grace). Fr. Hamon assists us to return to the ancient practice of meditating, not just on the Holy Scriptures but also, crucially, upon Sacred Doctrine. His techniques will have you renew your desire to pray daily, and has seen many continue these practices of meditation well beyond the Lenten season. Regularly participants have spoken of Septuagesima70 having “changed their lives”. I invite you to join us if this year you wish to be prepared to make a really good Lent. Moreover, in an age of confusion in Church and State Septuagesima70 can provide easy and practical means, should you feel prompted, to offer penances for your own sins, and the sins of the world.
Prayer and Penance - the call of Our Lady…
Indeed, be assured: penance and penitential practices are a key plank of Septuagesima70, which is offered to all completely free. The programme is not for the frivolous. It is demanding. With practices like daily meditations, cold showers, no social media or television, regular fasting, to mention just a few of the practices there is no doubt that when Easter rolls around you will be entitled to say “I have made a good Lent this year”. You may even have lost a few kilos. Can I invite you to join us? Can you think of some other people who may also benefit from this. I promise you (and they), that you will be glad for it.
So, let’s do this for ourselves and for God. Want to know more?