Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church


Choosing the Ordinary or the Extraordinary?

February 4th, 2020, Promulgated by Diane Harris

For the three Sundays prior to Ash Wednesday there are significant differences between Masses in the Ordinary Form (OF) and those in the Extraordinary Form (EF). In 2020the readings will be for the 5th, 6th and 7th Sundays in the Season of Ordinary Time. For example, the Gospels will be Matthew 5:13-16 (Salt of the Earth); Matthew 5:17-37 (You have heard, but I say ….) and Matthew 5:38-48 (Love your Enemies.) These three readings in Ordinary Time follow in the Bible the giving of the Beatitudes, as Christ contrasts the New and Old Testaments. (These readings will change when the liturgy moves to Mark and to Luke in the three year cycle of Ordinary time.)

Septuagesima Mass (picture site unknown.) In the Rochester Diocese, only two churches offer the ‘gesima Masses, both are in Irondequoit: St. Thomas the Apostle Latin Mass at 11:15 AM and St. Cecilia Church where St. Alban parish, in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, celebrates at 11:00 AM. Both sites will have ‘gesima Masses on Sundays Feb  9, 16 and 23, 2020.      All are welcome.


In contrast, the readings in the Extraordinary Form (EF) of the Traditional Latin Mass are the same each year on these three Sundays: Matthew 20:1-16 (Householder Hiring Workers); Luke 8: 4-15 (Sowing of the Seed); and Luke 18:31-43 (Christ prepares the Twelve for His Crucifixion and Cures a Blind Man.)

But there are more differences between the Ordinary and the Extraordinary Masses than just the readings. In the OF, the priest will continue to wear the green vestments of that season, before putting on hold for a few months the Season of Ordinary time. In the EF the priest wears purple, beginning a short penitential season of three weeks before Ash Wednesday. In the EF, the Season (which does not exist in the OF) is called the “Season of Septuagesima.”

Here is how my St. Joseph Missal describes this mysterious season of the ‘gesimas, in which comparatively few people have had the chance to participate (unless they are old enough to have attended the historic Latin Mass before the changes post-Vatican II or have access to a stable Latin Mass Community):

“With Septuagesima begins the Pre-Lenten season, which comprises Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima Sundays. These three weeks form a transition from the joy of Christmastide to the austerity of the Penitential Season of Lent. This is the Season when the Church most earnestly invites her children to prepare properly for the Feast of Christ’s Glorious Resurrection. She urges them to rise from and to expiate their sins; to practice prayer and charity with greater zeal; to become indeed new men through God’s grace. From Septuagesima to Holy Saturday the ‘Alleluia’ as well as the ‘Gloria in excelsis’ are omitted in ‘Masses of the Season.’ Purple vestments are used to signify penance.”

So, what about that strange word “Septuagesima?” It is from the same root as Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture by SEVENTY scholars, whose work remarkably agreed one with the other. And Septuagesima is SEVENTY days before Easter. Another way to understand Septuagesima, in the context of Sexagesima and Quinquagesima, is the number of weeks until the next liturgical season. Septuagesima is SEVEN weeks before Passion Time, beginning on Passion Sunday. Sexagesima is SIX weeks and Quinquagesima FIVE weeks before Passion Time.

But what are we supposed to do with those nearly three weeks of the Season of Septuagesima? After all, the Church in general seems to almost totally ignore the opportunity to use the ‘gesimas to make Lent more fruitful. Try a search for Septuagesima on the USCCB site. There are two mentions in one document on Sequences in 2012. Here are some ideas about possible use of Septuagesima and Lent:

  • It somehow does not seem appropriate, in these difficult times in the Church and in the world in which we live, to simply ignore better preparation for Lent, to waste the chance to get a head start on a meaningful Lent, to make a difference in the lives of those for whom we pray. If we think of it merely as “3 more weeks of Lent” it can seem like merely a prolongation of sacrifice, maybe even exhausting.
  • A typical response to Lent, without planning, can tempt us to do whatever we usually do, but more often or for a longer time; i.e. using the extra three weeks preparation to multiply our usual devotions, increase attendance at daily Mass, confess more frequently, say more rosaries, do some extra fasting.  For some people it works well and is a natural fit for a penitential season; for others it may make Lent seem like a loooong time!
  • I have spoken to some priests about the matter and one approach seems to be that in those three weeks is the opportunity to ‘try out’ some plans for Lent, to see if the effort can be sustained with all the other demands on their time, or perhaps their taking on something needing more than the 40 days of Lent, perhaps in spiritual reading or scripture study. Or to try out possibilities like extra fasting and adoration or to concentrate and expand on a difficult work.
  • A longer pre-Lent and Lenten season may also enjoy the benefit of more time to make small local pilgrimages. Some ideas are the Fatima Shrine, the Shrine of the North American Martyrs or a visit to the Trappist Monastery at Piffard, or to Mt. Saviour Monastery near Elmira.
  • It also seems that Ash Wednesday should not be diminished in any way by three weeks of preparation; rather, the ashes should encourage us to step up whatever effort we are undertaking. Having this checkpoint does indeed invite a renewal of effort, or a change in direction if necessary.

It is worth spending a few moments on the idea of a special or focused project of prayer during Lent; i.e. having a beginning (Septuagesima), a checkpoint or objective on Ash Wednesday, and a prolongation of effort into and through Passion Sunday and Holy Week. One of the following could be just the ‘right’ spiritual project for an individual, a family or a small focused group:

  • For the Universal Church, protection of the deposit of the faith, and for the holiness of her hierarchy. We believe the Holy Spirit is with us until the end of time. But we don’t know how soon that will be! Yet it is always appropriate to pray for the good of the Church, especially in these times, when an idol shows up in the Vatican, high level prelates are plunged to the depths of ignominy for abuse of their vocation and of souls, and when the very fundamental teachings of Christ are being exploited and twisted by the enemy. Our answer? We pray. We discern. We follow the faithful voices. And to do that, even with a modicum of success, requires much prayer. Hopefully, some priests will begin (even if secretly) to offer votive masses against schism. Isn’t prayer, supplemented by a Mass Stipend, like praying twice?
  • For the holiness of priests: Try to have a list of specific priests and seminarians to pray for every day by name. Offer up the extra devotions (stations of the cross, rosaries, Masses etc.) for their protection, purity and perseverance. They especially need prayers to be strong in this onslaught against celibacy. Choose some reading about the priesthood, and make a point to space it out over the pre-Lenten and Lenten season, even discuss with one or a few friends. I’m sure priests could make even better recommendations for reading, but I offer a few which have moved me:
    • “A Priest Forever” about the life of Fr. Eugene Hamilton, ordained 3 hours before he died, by Fr. Benedict Groeshel.
    • “The Priest is not His Own” by Fulton J. Sheen.
    • “To the Priests — Our Lady’s Beloved Sons” by The Marian Movement of Priests
    • I have also had recommended to me various books about good priests serving the Church today. However, no one becomes a saint until death, and those most elevated are sometimes the biggest targets. With all that has happened and is happening in the Church, I caution against putting too much emphasis on contemporaries. Look how the Maciel’s of the world, greatly praised, did so much damage to souls.
  • For discernment of vocations (to the priesthood and religious life, and lay service to God.) Pray for the voice of God to be received into individual souls, for the gift of discernment for those being called, and for the laity to be strong and encourage vocations among family and friends. Use some time during Septuagesima and Lent to research an understanding of the essence of conversion  from St. Paul’s being knocked to the ground outside Damascus through the stories of saints answering the call, like Sts. Augustine, Joan of Arc, Ignatius of Loyola, Edith Stein,  and so many more. Give a young person a copy of Lives of the Saints, spend time viewing some of the excellent DVD’s and sharing them with youth, and explore the importance of prayer — read about the Mothers of Lu and their commitment to vocations. Also, consider donating to one of the funds to help seminarians financially, such as the one supported by Cardinal Burke or the fund for seminarians in the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP).
  • Pray deeply and long for the persecuted Church: The horror of what has been happening in China, how the underground Catholics feel so betrayed and how their churches are being destroyed is worthy of much meditation and begging. We are the same Body of Christ. How can we not share their sufferings? Pray for His Eminence, Cardinal Zen, in particular. And pray for those in Syria and Iraq who have lost everything, in places which were evangelized by the Apostles themselves. If we are not familiar with the stories, we at least can google to find, and pray for particular situations which come up in the news stories, for the mother holding the dead baby, for the father who has lost his whole family. Lent is a time to share together with them in prayer. Having an intensity in a such a particular situation can sustain us for the entire penitential season. Mass, Communion, Adoration, Reading Sacred Scripture, Rosaries, Divine Mercy Chaplet. Just our lips to God’s ears. Consider supporting “The Church in Need.”
  • Try a new-to-you prayer situation. For some of us it may be learning the Divine Mercy Chaplet, for others it could be learning about the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office) even if praying an abbreviated approach such as just morning prayer, or just vespers. Go to to find the Liturgy of the Hours free for each day and pray with the Universal Church throughout the world.

Probably the other thing worth mentioning is that for some of us it is better to take little bites than to fail at taking on too much. The time of Septuagesima can be a chance to try out one or more ideas, and unashamedly walk away from what doesn’t feel appropriate for this time in our own lives. Why miss nearly three free weeks by delaying to Ash Wednesday? If you have more ideas, you can add to this list of possibilities in a comment, please do so!


2 Responses to “Choosing the Ordinary or the Extraordinary?”

  1. avatar christian says:

    St. Alban Catholic Church, located at St. Cecilia Church (2732 Culver Road, Irondequoit, NY, of St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish) a parish of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, a Roman rite under the Pope, observes the Pre-lenten Season of Septuagesima, with the priest wearing purple vestments. St. Alban Catholic Church is having Gesima Masses at 11 A.M. on Sundays, February 9, February 16, and February 23, 2020.

    The liturgies are in English. Masses use the Divine Worship Missal, promulgated and approved by the Vatican for the beginning of Advent 2015. The Anglican Use Liturgy is derived from the Sarum Rite of the Roman Rite established by Saint Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury, and Richard Poore in the 11th century. (Richard Poore, a medieval English Bishop, moved from the nearby fortress of Old Sarum and established Salisbury Cathedral and the city of Salisbury. Richard Poore served as Bishop of Chichester, Bishop of Salisbury, and Bishop of Durham).

    According to Bishop Steven Lopes, Bishop of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, who had previously worked at the Vatican for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the faith, the Sarum Rite predates the Tridentine Rite by about 75 years.

    A poem by John Betjeman about Septuagesima:

    Septuagesima – seventy days
    To Easter’s primrose tide of praise;
    The Gesimas – Septua, Sexa, Quinc
    Mean Lent is near, which makes you think.
    Septuagesima – when we’re told
    To “run the race”, to “keep our hold”,
    Ignore injustice, not give in, and practise stern self-discipline;
    A somewhat unattractive time
    Which hardly lends itself to rhyme.

    John Betjeman wrote an appreciation for the end of Septuagesima and for those who work so tirelessly to maintain churches:

    But this is all anticipating
    Septuagesima – time of waiting,
    Running the race or holding fast.
    Let’s praise the man who goes to light
    The church stove on an icy night.
    Let’s praise that hard-worked he or she
    The Treasurer of the P.C.C.
    Let’s praise the cleaner of the aisles,
    The nave and candlesticks and tiles.
    Let’s praise the organist who tries
    To make the choir increase in size,
    Or if that simply cannot be,
    Just to improve its quality.
    Let’s praise the ringers in the tower
    Who come to ring in cold and shower.
    But most of all let’s praise the few
    Who are seen in their accustomed pew
    Throughout the year, whate’er the weather,
    That they may worship God together.
    These, like a fire of glowing coals,
    Strike warmth into each other’s souls,
    And though they be but two or three
    They keep the Church for you and me.

    Thank you Diane for your excellent suggestions for Septuagesima and Lent.

  2. avatar Diane Harris says:

    Thank you, Christian, for telling us how that St. Alban Catholic Community will also be celebrating Septuagesima Time at their 11 AM Mass (in English) on all three Sundays of this pre-Lenten Season at St. Cecilia Church in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Along with the Latin Mass at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Irondequoit is indeed blessed! Thanks to your input, I was able to revise the Caption on the Mass picture.

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