Liturgy Lesson: Septuagesima and Putting Away the Alleluias

Liturgy Lesson: Septuagesima and Putting Away the Alleluias

Three weeks prior to Ash Wednesday, on the day before Septuagesima Sunday, the ancient Church would chant a bittersweet hymn bidding farewell to the word “Alleluia”: “We do not now deserve to sing the Alleluia forever; Guilt forces us to dismiss you, O Alleluia.” Known as the Depositio of the Alleluia, this ceremony ushered in Septuagesima, the roughly seventy days prior to Easter that help us make the transition from the joy of Epiphany to the penitence of Lent—a season so important to ancient Christians that they actually had a separate season to prepare for it. Thus, the day after Septuagesima Sunday, they would begin a period of voluntary fasting that would grow more restrictive as it approached the fuller, obligatory Lenten fast. They would eat less, and the consumption of certain “pleasure” items, such as butter, milk, eggs, and cheese, would gradually be abandoned. Starting on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, they would abstain from meat. Thus the name for this seven-day period before Ash Wednesday is “Carnival,” from the Latin carne levarium, meaning “removal of meat.” Finally, within the week of Carnival, the last three days (prior to Lent) would be reserved for personal confession. This period, ending on Shrove Tuesday, is known as “Shrovetide” from the old English word “to shrive,” which means to have sins forgiven through absolution. In today’s Church, we mark this period of examen by putting away the Alleluias, then the Gloria—a liturgical fast paralleling the physical one, using all as devotional tools to help us open our hearts to the Holy Ghost, so He can show us where we need His help, healing, and restoration to fully celebrate the Resurrection life of Easter in Spirit and Truth. May the season work in us God’s purpose to be fit clay for the Master’s Hand!

 

Collect for Septuagesima

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 Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen. (Collect for Septuagesima, 1928 BCP, p.229)

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