Have you ever heard of Septuagesima Sunday or Sexagesima Sunday? Or for that matter, Quinquagesima or even Quadragesima? You never know which quiz these names might come up in, so now you will be forearmed with the right answers!
In the Church’s Liturgical Calendar that was in use prior to 1969, we would now be in the pre-Lent preparation period. The Third Sunday before the beginning of Lent was called Septuagesima Sunday, Septuagesima literally meaning “seventieth” in Latin, that is, 70 days until Easter (although in fact there are only 63 days). The next Sunday, the Second Sunday before Lent, was called Sexagesima Sunday, that is, 60 days before Easter and the following Sunday, the one before Ash Wednesday, was called Quinquagesima meaning “fiftieth” or 50 days until Easter. (In fact, there were 49 days). The First Sunday of Lent itself was called Quadragesima Sunday (40 days til Easter). These names date back to a time when it was common for Christians to begin the Lenten fast immediately after Septuagesima Sunday. Just as Lent today begins 46 days before Easter – since Sundays are not days of fasting – so, in the early Church, Saturdays and Thursdays were considered fast-free days. So in order to fit in 40 days of fasting before Easter, the fast had to start three weeks earlier. These pre-Lent Sundays are still observed in celebrations of Mass according to the 1962 Missal, but they were removed when the liturgical calendar was revised in 1969, in order to underline and focus on the forty days and forty nights of Lent and the fasting associated with it. In the post-1969 Missal, Sundays, which always celebrate the Lord’s resurrection – even in Lent – are not fast days.