Christian Traditions 007: Septuagesima Sunday

Von Trapp Follow-Along: Maria makes little mention of Septuagesima Sunday specifically, but discusses the entire period of the Pre-Lent Season and Carnival under “CARNIVAL” and “PRE-LENT.” (See her book.)


As discussed in the previous post, Septuagesima Sunday marks the beginning of the Pre-Lent Season and Carnival.

1 February 2015WHEN IS IT?

Septuagesima Sunday occurs on the third Sunday before Ash Wednesday, or about two and a half weeks before Ash Wednesday. This year, it will occur on 1 February.

Because Ash Wednesday is a moveable feast, so is Septuagesima Sunday. The earliest date Septuagesima may occur is 18 January and the latest is 22 February. (Coincidentally, those are the dates of the two Catholic Feasts of the Chair of St. Peter. The first, on 18 January, is celebrated by some Protestant churches as the Feast of the Confession of Peter. The second, on 22 February, is still commemorated by some Catholic churches as the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter.)

septuagesimaWHAT IS IT?

Septuagesima Sunday is so named because it occurs within 70 days before Easter. Specifically, it occurs exactly 64 days before Easter while the next Sunday, Sexagesima, occurs 57 days before Easter. However, the following Sunday, Quinquagesima, occurs 50 days before Easter (if you include both Easter Sunday and Quinquagesima Sunday in the counting), hence the name Quinquagesima. It is believed that Sexagesima and Septuagesima are named more in relation to Quinquagesima than in relation to Easter itself.

It is the first day of the Pre-Lent Season. A liturgist named Amalarius of Metz (c. 780-850) wrote that “Septuagesima” refers to a period of 70 days which include the nine weeks before Easter plus Easter Week, which represents the 70-year captivity of Jews in Babylon, as told in Ezra, Daniel, and other Old Testament books. Septuagesima Sunday has been observed since at least the 500s AD. For the most part, Septuagesima Sunday and Septuagesima Week are omitted from post-1969 Catholic usage and any traditions reserved for this day or this week are moved to Ash Wednesday. However, some Catholic groups do not follow the 1969 standards and at least one other—the Polish National Catholic Church—has reinstated it. Some Protestants adopted the same 1969 Catholic change in full or with variations while other Protestants did not adopt the 1969 Catholic changes and have continued to observe traditional Septuagesima Sunday practices. The Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches also retain the Pre-Lent Season but with 22 days’ length rather than 17.

Traditionally, on Septuagesima Sunday, the “Alleluia” (or “Hallelujah”) is laid aside or “buried” and not taken out again until Easter Sunday. Alleluia is a Hebrew word similar to our “Hoorah!”—a word of triumph chanted to hail a victor after a battle, and the chant John the Beloved heard in heaven during his vision of the Apocalypse after the Beast (popularly known now as “the Antichrist”), Satan, and all the forces of evil have been overthrown (Revelation 19:1-7). Ever since the Medieval Times, children would carry a wooden tablet on which was engraved the word “Alleluia” in a long procession into the church, lay it at the altar, and cover it with a purple cloth. Then, on Easter, the priest would chant a threefold Alleluia in triumphal tones. The Lent and, to some degree, Pre-Lent Seasons remind us that we are sinful and dead in our sins (Romans 5:11-12, 18-21) whereas the Easter Triduum (Good Friday through Easter Sunday) reminds us that as Christ was crucified and resurrected, so are we crucified in order to be dead to sin and resurrected to life in Christ (Romans 6:3-11). Therefore, because Lent is a time to remember our sad state prior to Christ, and Pre-Lent leads up to and mentally prepares us for Lent, Alleluia is buried in Pre-Lent and no longer spoken or sung until Christ’s triumphal victory over death on Easter Sunday. During Pre-Lent, people begin formulating their Lent resolutions (or parents help their children to do so).

One planning to complete a 40-day Lenten fast without including Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays would begin on Septuagesima Sunday.


The second Sunday before Ash Wednesday, Sexagesima Sunday, occurs 8 February this year and the first Sunday before Ash Wednesday, Quinquagesima Sunday, occurs 15 February this year. There are only three Sundays in the Pre-Lent Season.


There are a few traditional activities for this day.

  • (Traditional) Readings. Because this season prepares us for Lent, which reminds us of our sinful nature and need of a Savior, it is traditional to read the account of the Fall of Man from Creation through Cain and Abel on Septuagesima Sunday or during this week.
    • Genesis 1-4
    • I Corinthians 9
    • Matthew 20:1-16
  • (Traditional) Alleluia Burial. As described above, the Alleluia is traditionally buried on this day and no more alleluias are sung until Easter Sunday. You may perform a variation of this event by purchasing a decorative item that reads “Alleluia” or “Hallelujah” or creating your own. The simplest version might involve simply writing the word on a sheet of paper or cardboard. Place it in a special place (I think most of us don’t have home altars, which is where Maria Von Trapp describes things like this being placed, but perhaps you have a fireplace mantel or some other place where it would be safely undisturbed for 70 days) and cover it with a violet or purple cloth. If you have children, you may have the children take turns marching it around the house while singing hymns incorporating the word “Alleluia” or “Hallelujah.”
  • (Traditional) Prayer. Pray the following or use it to guide your own prayer.
    • “O LORD, we ask that You hear the prayers of Your people; that we, who are justly punished for our offenses, may be mercifully delivered by Your goodness, for the glory of Your Name; through Jesus Christ our Saviour, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.  Amen.”


The most appropriate symbol for this day is the number 70.

  • Knitting Pattern: “Numbers” by Frankie Brown (here). (These measure 4 inches length using DK [8 ply] or 3 inches length using Fingering [4 ply]. Since I recommend all these ornaments be less than 3 inches long, you should use Fingering.) (Note: knit only the 7 and 0. You may consider stitching them together. If you’re really ambitious, you might consider double-knitting and then stuffing them.)
  • Crochet Pattern: “Numbers 0-9” by CreativeCrochetWorkshop (here) (these measure 2 inches in length) or “The Moogly Crochet Numbers” by Tamara Kelly (here) (these measure 3.5 inches in length). (Note: crochet only the 7 and 0. You may consider stitching them together.)



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s