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Dear father Angelo,

I’m practicing the Lenten fast in its pre-conciliar form, and a question occurred to me. Regarding the Solemnities of Saint Joseph and the Annunciation of the Lord, are those considered days of fasting? I know that if these Solemnities happen to be on a Friday there is no abstinence; however, I found nothing about fasting.

After the Vespers of Saturday, shall I maintain the fasting or am I exempted from it, since Sunday has already started?

And what were the penance practices during the time of septuagesima?

I thank you in advance for your answers.

The answer from the priest

My dear,

1. The Solemnity of Saint Joseph could never happen on a Holy Friday or Ash Wednesday. If it fell during the Holy Week, it was anticipated, as is still done today.

If the Annunciation happened during Holy Week, it was celebrated following the first Sunday after Easter, like we do nowadays. If the Solemnity of Saint Joseph happened on a Friday of Lent there was a dispensation from abstinence and fasting.

2- You have the desire to practice penance as it used to be and ask me how it was done during the time of Septuagesima. Well, before the liturgical reform implemented with the Second Vatican Council, the Lenten Season was preceded by three Sundays that were respectively called Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima.

The Sunday of Septuagesima fell approximately 70 days before Easter, hence its name. These three weeks used to be called in a briefer way ‘the time of Septuagesima‘.

3- Originally, the preparation for Easter only comprised the forty days of Lent. However, the Eastern Christian had the custom of restraining from fasting on Saturdays in addition to Sundays, so it was decided to complete the days of fasting by anticipating the Lenten observance.

4- In the West, this practice was introduced gradually: at first the fasting was anticipated by a week, which was thus called Quinquagesima.

Soon after the Sexagesima was added, and the Septuagesima was introduced towards the end of the sixth century.

5- In the East, the names of Quinquagesima, Sexagesima and Septuagesima respond to the numbers of 50, 60 and 70 days before Easter only approximately. The denomination, which relates to the tens was created in consonance with the word Quadragesima.

6- Concerning the liturgy, there were elements that resembled the Lenten season: violet vestments, the omission of the Gloria and the Alleluia (which, by the way, was suppressed until Holy Saturday). At the Vesper before the Septuagesima, the singers used to add two Alleluias to the Benedicamus Domino, then it was answered by singing ‘Deo Gratias‘, which was also followed by two Alleluias. This liturgical gesture was called the “deposition of the Alleluia”, Clausum Alleluia (the cloistering of the Alleluia), or “farewell to the Alleluia”.

These denominations demonstrate the great impression the Lenten season had on the imagination of our fathers, especially during the Middle Ages: they used to dramatize by representing the cessation of this chant of joy as if it was the disappearance of a loved one, accompanied by different ceremonies of pain (like the symbolical reposition of two keys, which were named ‘keys of the Alleluia’).

I wish you every good, I bless you and assure you of remembrance to the Lord.

Father Angelo