Editor’s note: This is our annual pre-lent post, originally published on our blog on February 12, 2017. It has slightly been edited to reflect our current liturgical customs. – IJR+
This morning we begin Septuagesima, the first of three Sundays in “pre-Lent.” This period from Septuagesima to Shrove Tuesday began as a way for monastic clergy to prepare for Lent, but eventually spread to all of the Western Church, until it fell into wide disuse in the 20th Century. Among traditional Prayer Book Anglicans and others who maintain the historic Church Calendar, pre-Lent is still observed. One of the main ways we mark this season is to begin some of the Lenten liturgical practices. What follows is a list of some of the things you will see changing at All Saints in observance of Pre-Lent:
The most obvious change is the use of violet vestments. Liturgically, violet symbolizes penitence, preparation, and sacrifice. In Lent, we symbolically go into the desert with Jesus for his forty-day fast as he prepares for ministry and is both tested and tempted to leave his calling. In pre-Lent, we prepare for this period of penitence, sacrifice, and even preparation (yes, we prepare to prepare).
Alleluias and the Gloria
To underscore the penitential nature of Lent, we refrain from singing the Gloria in Excelsis and from saying or singing “Alleluia” beginning at Septuagesima. The Gloria is arguably the most joyful of the Church’s hymns, and the exclamation “Alleluia” is arguably the most joyful response to God’s goodness. By consciously limiting these expressions of joy, we are reminded of our need for repentance and our need of God’s mercy. We are, in effect, going through a liturgical fast to accompany our upcoming culinary fast.
As a side note, one of the older liturgical customs in the Anglican Church is to read or sing through all of the psalms each month as part of the Daily Offices. I once wondered what to do with the Alleluias in the psalms in observance of the custom of putting away the Alleluias from Septuagesima through Lent. That is, do we skip psalms that have Alleluia or do we just skip those verses? As I researched this further, I discovered that the Coverdale translation of the Psalter (i.e., the translation used in the classical versions of the Book of Common Prayer,including our American 1928 edition) do not actually ever use the word Alleluia! Instead, it always translates the Hebrew term as “praise ye the LORD.” So, for those of us who prefer the monthly psalm cycle, the practice of putting away the Alleluias doesn’t change anything.
The Daily Offices
While some put away the Gloria Patri following the psalms and canticles in addition to putting away the Gloria in Excelsis, this is by no means a widespread custom. At All Saints, we typically continue to pray the Gloria Patri. There are, however, some other customs with respect to the Offices that we do observe.
A very widespread custom in the Church was to refrain from singing or reciting the ancient hymn, Te Deum laudamus, during Lent and Advent, largely for the same reasons as we put away the Alleluias. If you attend our Matins services on Fridays or during Holy Week, we will usually follow this custom. Instead, we will most sing the Benedictus es, Domine or the Benedicite, omnia opera Domini, canticles taken from the additions to Daniel in the Apocrypha. Since I don’t want to make any of the ladies who attend our Women’s Bible Study late, we will usually sing the shorter of the two on Fridays.
Another canticle that may be changed is the Venite at Matins, which precedes the Psalms. In our American Prayer Book tradition, we combine portions from Psalms 95 and 96 for our usual Venite. In other parts of the Communion, the canticle is limited to the entirety of Psalm 95, which has a more penitential character and includes a warning against following after our own ways rather than God’s. Starting in Septuagesima, I will use this form of the Venite when I am officiating, especially on Fridays, as per the option in the rubrics. Also per the rubrics, the Venite may be omitted on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday to underscore the particularly mournful and penitential tone of those days.
The older English custom, codified in the 1662 edition of the Prayer Book, is to follow Matins with the Litany every Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday. The Litany, or “General Supplication” has a very penitential character, and is suitable as a preparation for Holy Communion or as an accompaniment for fasting. At All Saints, in addition to using the Litany as the processional hymn on the first Sunday in Lent and Advent, we will take up the custom of following Matins with the Litany on Fridays. Additionally, there may be some Evensong services with the Litany during this time.
Preparation and Penitence
As we begin a season of penitence, reflection, and fasting, our hope is that these liturgical changes will help put is in the proper mindset and focus us on the Lord and our need for Him. As we look at Jesus’ life, we see that there were high points and low points, times of joy and times of sorrow. In following His life, the Liturgical year has the same. St. James wrote: “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” May this season bring revival in our parish and in our individual lives as we do just that.