Sunday, 24 January 2016
The Season of Septuagesima - Historical Note
Historical note from the St Andrew's Daily Missal
However, just as in the Christmas season, when we read in the Missal of the slaughter of the Innocents, of the flight into Egypt and even of the return from that country before being reminded of the adoration of the Magi, so we need not look for the maintenance of a strictly historical order in the sequence of the events which are brought before us in the season of Septuagesima and in Lent. Thus we find the Temptation in the desert is put on the first Sunday in Lent, and our Lord's baptism on the octave day of Epiphany, January 13; that the parable of the Sower, which belongs to the second of the three years ministry, comes after that of the Labourers in the vineyard, which was spoken by our Lord in the third year, and so on. It is for us, who are acquainted with the life of Christ in the order in which it is usually reconstructed, to place in their right setting each of the scenes which the Gospels retrace for us.
Thus the Gospel for Sexagesima Sunday belongs to the second year of our Lord's ministry. It is the parable of the Sower, spoken at Capharnaum by the side of the Lake of Genesareth and no doubt suggested by the verdant appearance of the neighbouring hills. On the other hand the Gospel for Septuagesima proposes for our meditation, the parable of the Labourers in the vineyard spoken by our Lord in Perea, in the third year. The Passover, when the Redeemer is to be offered up is nigh at hand, and He makes known to His apostles that all is soon to be fulfilled that was foretold by the prophets about His Passion. After this, He crosses the Jordan on His way to Jerusalem, and at Jericho cures the blind man as related in the Gospel for Quinquagesima Sunday.
If, in the Missal, the Church does not follow the historical order of our Lord's life, none the less she passes from the mysteries of His Childhood to those of His public life and His passion, and then on the mysteries of His glory; it is for us to enter into her mind in this respect, if we wish to live as one with her in heart and soul during the year. Certainly we must never lose sight of the fact that the cycle has only been formed slowly from elements belonging to widely different liturgies and periods, elements which only later have been brought into direct connection with each other. Lent, for example, existed before the institution of the Septuagesima season, and it was only by an atferthought that four days were added to it, that we might have a forty days' fast like that of our Lord in the wilderness. But it cannot be denied that the cycle as we have it to-day, the seasons of penance and special effort which are represented by Septuagesima and Lent, corresponds to that stage of our Lord's public life begun by His retreat into the desert, followed by His baptism, and ended tragically by His Passion which the Church commemorates during the season called Passiontide.
This idea of uniting our hearts with our Lord in His life of toil and missionary effort comes out very clearly in numerous passages both in the Mass and the divine office for this season. Indeed, we may ask ourselves, is not the best way of preparing to celebrate the glorious happenings of Paschaltide, that of uniting ourselves with Christ in the sorrowful events which began with His sacred ministry? For it is from this moment that our Lord's enemies begin to declare themselves, and we see their hatred grow ever more and more until it reaches its full satisfaction on Good Friday in the murder of God.
We see more clearly now the reason for that rejection of Israel and election of the Gentiles to which constant allusion is made in the liturgy for Septuagesima and Lent. Formerly indeed, it was at Easter that pagan converts were baptized, and the liturgical seasons which preceded that feast were intended to prepare them for baptism and show them how they would occupy the place of the unfaithful people in the kingdom of God, because they had accepted the Messias whom Israel rejected. This part of the cycle closely unites the Church to her divine Spouse in that part of His life in which He wrought our salvation, which means that we make our own, all the dispositions of our Lord as divine lover of souls and our Redeemer, and that we co-operate in His redemptive work by doing penance, by listening to the word of God and by driving from our hearts the devil whose kingdom Christ came to destroy.
It is appropriate therefore, that the battles and toils of Christ and His Church are depicted in this part of the liturgical cycle. Christ and His Spouse have only fulfilled what almighty God had promised to the patriarchs and announced by the prophets, and what had already been partly fulfilled by God's people under the Old Law. Thus the liturgy supplies a grand unity to the whole divine plan by annihilating the distances of time and space, by making all generations contemporaneous with each other, in Him whose life it retraces year by year.