Tomorrow is the First Sunday of Lent, or Quadragesima Sunday in old money, signifying 40 days before Easter. (The ‘g’ is prounounced as ‘j’, by the way.) Some of you who have copies of the Anglican 1662 Book of Common Prayer or old Catholic Missals may have puzzled over the Sundays immediately preceding Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.
These Sundays, which Catholics now consider to be ‘Ordinary Time’ thanks to the post-Vatican II revision of the Church Calendar in 1969, are still referred to by their original Latin names in many Anglican parishes, conservative Lutheran churches and wherever the Catholic Extraordinary Form (Latin Mass) is said or sung. They are all reminders that Lent and its disciplines are imminent. These Sundays are as follows:
Septuagesima Sunday: This is the third Sunday before Ash Wednesday. In the early Church, no Gloria was sung nor was the Alleluia in the early Church. This is because it was the first Sunday of the call to Lenten discipline. Although the word ‘septuagesima’ means ‘seventieth’, it occurs only 63 days before Easter. The use of this word will be made more evident when we look at Quinquagesima Sunday.
Early Christians began observing Lent the day after Septuagesima Sunday. This is because Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays were not days of fasting in the early Church. So, if the faithful wished to fast for 40 days before Easter, following the example of Jesus, they would have had to start the Monday after Septuagesima Sunday. Today, only Sunday is a non-fast day, which is why Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.
Sexagesima Sunday: This is the Sunday after Septuagesima Sunday, or in today’s Church, the Second Sunday before Lent. In the Early Church, Lent would have begun the previous Monday (see Septuagesima Sunday above). Some Eastern Orthodox congregations refer to this particular Sunday as Dominica Carnisprivii (loosely translated as ‘No Meat Sunday’) and begin dietary observances for Lent on this day.
Quinquagesima Sunday: This is the final Sunday before Lent, or the Sunday immediately before Ash Wednesday. It is 50 days before Easter, hence ‘quinquagesima’, or ‘fiftieth’.
Scott P Richert, who wrote the text for About.com (see source links) is to be commended on his clear explanations, unlike New Advent, which doesn’t really explain they whys and the wherefores of these names and their significance.