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Musical Musings: Miscellaneous

Pre-Lent Traditions

by Gary D. Penkala

Prior to the liturgical calendar reforms of the 60s, a short season called Septuagesima preceded Lent. It began on Septuagesima Sunday (meaning "seventy" days until Easter) and included Sexagesima Sunday and Quinquagesima Sunday, ending on the day before Ash Wednesday. The Church no longer celebrates this pre-Lent season, but there are still some ceremonies and traditions that can be retained, whether in the Liturgy as a parish, or in the home as a family.

The old introits for the Masses of the season of Septuagesima petitioned God, our Rock and Stronghold, for strength (perhaps to endure the sacrifices and trials of the upcoming Lenten season):
  • Septuagesima Sunday: I love you, O Lord, my strength, O Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer. [Psalm 18]
  • Sexagesima Sunday: Arise, O Lord, help us and deliver us. [Psalm 44]
  • Quinquagesima Sunday: Be my rock of refuge, O God, a stronghold to give me safety. You are my rock and my fortress; in your justice rescue me and deliver me. [Psalm 31]
This same longing for fortitude can be manifest in our liturgies on the last Sunday before Lent. A setting of Psalm 18 or 44 or 31 can certainly be used as the Opening Song or Communion Song, with a refrain that expresses the steadfast protection of God.

On this same Sunday, the old practice of "burying the Alleluia" can be revived. "Alleluia," the exclamation from Hebrew Scripture, translates, "Praise Yahweh." It is used by the Church as a great expression of joy, hence it is discontinued during the somber penintential season of Lent. Ethel Marbach, in Family Liturgical Customs for Lent, writes:

The depositio (burial) of the Alleluia of medieval times became a solemn, emotional farewell to a well-known song. "We part from Alleluia as from a beloved friend, whom we embrace many times and kiss before we leave him." (Bishop William Duranti, 1296). Choir boys marched in procession with crosses, tapers, holy water, carrying a coffin (containing the Alleluia banner) with great "moaning and mourning." They buried the coffin at the cloister (garden), sprinkled and incensed it. In Paris a straw figure bearing an Alleluia of gold letters was carried out and burned in the churchyard.
We can still preserve this concept (without perhaps as much sentimentality) on the last Sunday before Lent. First, use hymns with many "Alleluias" in the text (e.g. All Creatures of Our God and King). Before the closing procession (or as part of it) a festive "Alleluia" banner can be carried to one of the side altars or to the baptismal font. There the banner is removed from the pole, folded, placed on the altar or font, and covered with a purple cloth. It can then be retrieved and become part of the Gospel procession at the Great Easter Vigil Mass when the Alleluia returns to the liturgy.

Many cultures also have their non-liturgical celebrations for this time before Lent. Witness Mardi Gras (meaning "Fat Tuesday") which ends on the day before Lent (Shrove or Fat Tuesday). Also, the festival Carnevale (meaning "Farewell, meat!") is a wonderful way the Italians (particularly the Venetians) have of using up those meats, butter, cheese, eggs and fat prior to the Lenten fast. In Germanic countries, Shrove Tuesday is the time for frying Fastnacht pastries, a flat, sweetened jelly doughnut -- a deliciously utilitarian means of using up that oil! A German recipe follows, via Donna Godfrey from Pennsylvania Dutch country:


Yield: 12 doughnuts
1 envelope dry yeast
1 cup warm water
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup flour
4 T butter
5 1/2 cups flour
pinch nutmeg
2 cups whole milk
1 T plus 1/2 cup granulated sugar
vegetable oil for deep frying
sugar for dusting
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the first measure of flour to the yeast. Stir until smooth. Add the milk. Stir in the first measure of sugar and half of the second measure of flour. Set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled.

Stir in the salt, eggs, butter, the second measure of sugar, the nutmeg and sufficient additional flour to make a firm dough. Let rise until doubled in bulk. Punch down. Roll out on a floured board. Cut into squares (or circles). Set on a floured board. Let rise.

Preheat the oil in the deep fryer. Deep fry the Fastnachts until light and golden. Drain on paper towels. Roll in granulated sugar while still warm.

Tasting these will certainly prepare one for all the rigors of Lent!

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