Before the calendar was revised to create Ordinary Time, the Sundays leading up to Lent had much more interesting names than “The Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time.”
Say good bye to Alleluia
This Sunday, the first of three before Ash Wednesday, was called Septuagesima Sunday. It was the first warning of the approach of Lent. Actually, the warning began on the Saturday before when the Alleluia was used for the last time during the Divine Office and not again until the Easter Vigil.
The oldest known instance of this tradition is found in an antiphonarium of the ninth century written by St. Cornelius of Compiegne:
May the good angel of the Lord accompany thee, Alleluia, and give thee a good journey, that thou mayst come back to us in joy, Alleluia, Alleluia. (translated from the Latin)
Other instances of this tradition can be found in Spain and in Germany during the Middle Ages.
In France in the thirteenth century and beyond, the Vespers before Septuagesima Sunday contained this verse:
We are unworthy to sing a ceaseless Alleluia. Our sins bid us interrupt our Alleluia. The time is at hand when it behoves us to bewail our crimes.
The extraordinary form of the liturgy today ends vespers with the following verse:
Let us bless the Lord, Alleluia, Alleluia.
Thanks be to God, Alleluia, Alleluia.
The alleluia isn't said again until the Easter Vigil.
In some places there would actually be a procession with a small coffin containing an Alleluia banner that was buried on the church property!
A warning from the Liturgy
The other sign on Septuagesima about the approach of Lent is found in the Introit where the focus is on death and hell and in the collects that ask for salvation.
This also was the first Sunday when violet was worn at Mass.
This Sunday's readings also began a three week lesson about the events leading up to the salvation of Christ through Adam, Noah and Abraham.
In the Greek Church this Sunday is called Prophone which means “proclamation.” This is because during the Divine Liturgy the upcoming Lenten fast is announced. It is also called the Sunday of the Prodigal Son because that is the Gospel read on this day as a reminder to sinners to reconcile with the Church.