The ‘Gesimas are starting February 5, 2023 and this is a season also known as Pre-Lent, many of us have probably never heard of this before or maybe you've just forgotten. It is a period of preparation and feasting that hasn’t been a part of the liturgical calendar since before Vatican II. Yes, feasting which I am going to go to town with in the weeks to follow so look out for more yummy recipes. The three Sundays that precede Lent are called Septuagesima (70th), Sexagesima (60th), and Quinquagesima (50th), say that five times fast! This period ends with Quinquagesima, also known as “Carnival” season, or Shrovetide depending on the culture celebrating. Most of us only know about and actively celebrate one day of this season, Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday, which is the last day of Pre-Lent. In addition to this, there is one week called Quadragesima (40th) that occurs during the Lenten Season, but every week gives us a preparatory countdown for Easter.
Septuagesima Sunday is filled with meaning and tradition which I must admit that I am sad has been lost but I am determined through my own practice of the faith to revive. The number of days is significant (Septuagesima - 70) in that it is representative of the freedom that came after the seventy years of Babylonian Captivity and the freedom which we have obtained through Christ’s death and resurrection to the Promised Land of Heaven. It is a time for “sobriety and somberness” which help us to slowly orient ourselves to the depths of grace that Lent holds for us. This rhythm just makes sense given that we prepare and plan for all sorts of other major events in our lives and honestly, it’s just not that easy to go from the daily routine of Ordinary Time to an overnight focus on being intensely penitential. It is one of the longest and most important seasons in the Church wherein we prepare ourselves to receive the greatest act of love which we have ever and will ever be given. In light of the nature of this time, it's fitting that we engage ourselves so that we can be as ready as one can to receive the graces of Lent and then Easter.
In terms of traditions, this one begins at vespers the previous night when the last “Alleluias” are supposed to be sung. On Septuagesima Sunday the Alleluia would be buried and not sung again until Easter. In fact, there is a burying ceremony which is like a “little funeral”. Inside a little coffin would be a banner with “Alleluia” written on it which would be processed with candles and the cross to a burial place to be sprinkled, incensed, and buried. If you would like to partake in this tradition you can purchase an Alleluia sign here.
I can’t get enough of these unique and theologically rich Catholic traditions; they bring life and joy to living out our faith. In addition to that are also some more fun and festive things to do as a family or community throughout the ‘Gesima weeks. In the Orthodox tradition they have designated “meatfare” and “cheesefare” Sundays. In Russia the week before Lent is called “Butter Week”, which was basically meant for me and I will be flying out to Russia within the next few weeks. This was actually done because in the days prior to refrigeration, you would need to use up the perishable foods before Lent began.
I'm thinking this is the perfect time to make a bountiful charcuterie board! What do you think?
I’m hoping that better engaging in the traditions that come within the ‘Gesimas will give more intentional focus to what is most and ultimately important here, preparing for Lent.