On Quinquagesima Sunday.
This is the day traditionally known in Western Christendom as Quinquagesima Sunday, marking the fiftieth day before Easter Sunday. Just as the Byzantine churches observe a series of pre-Lenten Sundays which gradually prepare the faithful to embark upon the Great Fast, the calendar of the Roman Catholic Church historically included the pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima, beginning on the Sunday regarded liturgically as the seventieth day before Easter (hence the name "Septuagesima") and ending with Shrove Tuesday. The above image linking Septuagesima and Lent comes from an old English children's book by Enid Mary Chadwick called My Book of the Church's Year. I chose to reproduce Chadwick's work here partly because I find its Englishness charming ("And 2 more Sundays in Lent overleaf") and I appreciate the small details, like the monastic tonsure on the priest hearing confession and the woman flipping a pancake on Shrove Tuesday, but also because I believe that images like this can have catechetical value for adults as well as for children. To see the rest of the images in Chadwick's book, click here.
Writing at the Canadian scholastics' blog Ibo et Non Redibo, my Jesuit confrere Santiago Rodriguez recently offered an apologia for the liturgical season of Ordinary Time. I have misgivings about Ordinary Time as a concept, not, as Santi might suppose, because I find it "uninteresting" or "unremarkable," but because it does harm to the structure of the liturgical year. Designating Sundays according to their relationship to the crucial 'hinges' or turning points in the liturgical year provides a clear sense of coherence and direction; for example, the celebration of Sundays "after Epiphany" and "after Pentecost" serves as a reminder that Epiphany and Pentecost are not one-day events but have a lasting significance in the life of the Church - and, hopefully, in our individual lives as believers. The three pre-Lenten Sundays of Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima can similarly help us by offering a reminder that Lent is coming as well as an opportunity to prepare for that penitential season.
To my mind, the real problem with Ordinary Time is not that it is boring but rather the fact that the modern Roman Missal's Sundays per annum lack the moorings and reference points that have historically been an integral part of the liturgical calendar in the West as well as the East. In other words, the problem with Ordinary Time is that it does not make room for valuable and important celebrations like Quinquagesima Sunday. Happily, this is not an insoluble problem; the 'Reform of the Reform' desired by Pope Benedict XVI could provide a context for dealing with such issues, and I would submit that the Reform of the Reform must get at questions like the shape of the liturgical calendar if it is to have any lasting effect.
Moving from the general to the particular, I hope that readers who find themselves moving into Lent these days - perhaps tonight, perhaps on Wednesday - are able to make the most of this time of preparation. May these days be spiritually fruitful for all of us. AMDG.