Time. We never have enough time, and certainly we do not have enough time to pray! However, there is often a sad reality beyond a statement like this: we have more important things to do. Everyone makes time for what they love most. Furthermore, in our fast-paced, egocentric culture, we want things now, and the faster the better! However, those who have ever reached a difficult goal know that what is needed is a necessary time of preparation, of training. Would you ask a man on the street to help you file your taxes? Would you ask the woman at the bakery to run a marathon? No! Important things require preparation and we could even say that the more important the goal, the more necessary and usually more intense the preparation.
This notion can also be applied to the Church, but let’s start with a brief reminder. The Church as the Mystical Body of Christ represents to us the life of Christ in a cycle called the liturgical year. God, being eternal, is outside of time, and therefore the faithful can truly “enter into” every moment of His earthly life. We can look upon Him in the manger or upon Calvary. God, being infinitely good, only wishes the best for us. Sometimes this means allowing us to suffer in order to purify us. God, throughout salvation history, has led His people through trials for their well being. Did He lead the Israelites, His chosen people, directly into the promise land? No, because their hearts were not fully detached from the “joys of Egypt”, which were images of attachments to disordered passions; an additional time of purification was required. Even when God Himself became man, He chose to go into the desert for forty days before beginning His public ministry.
The Church as the bride of Christ, and like a good spouse, makes use of the same cure to heal her sick children. We are too attached to things of this world, and in one way or another, we are still lured by these “joys of Egypt”. The Church as a good mother prepares us for these difficult purifications slowly, while not hiding them form us entirely, because that would not form soldiers, but cowards, doing more harm than good. Rather she prepares us a little at a time in the difficult process of purification, in order to ensure that our hearts are as ready as possible for the joy prepared for us. Our ultimate bliss, that for which we were made, is God Himself, and if we fight the good fight until the end, we will contemplate Him for all eternity in heaven. This ultimate joy does not, however, lessen the legitimate intermediary joys of this life, since they lead to our ultimate reward like checkpoints leading to the finish line.
On Easter Sunday, the Church celebrates the Resurrection of Our Blessed Lord, which is the crowning point, and ultimate proof of His Divinity. This event filled His followers with joy because their Lord had been taken away but returned to them. The joy of Easter Sunday has filled the hearts of the faithful throughout the entirety of the glorious history of Christendom including our own times. A joy this great must not be entered into hastily, but requires a time of purification. The season of Lent is the preparation for Easter and is familiar to all Catholics and even protestants. There is, however, an additional preparation time called ‘Septuagesima’, which is perhaps less known, even to Catholics.
If Lent is the preparation for Easter, Septuagesima is the preparation for Lent, and thus ultimately participates in the preparation for Easter. Its name comes from the Latin word for seventy, approximately indicating the number of days until Easter. Septuagesima is a time where the Church begins to prepare us for the rigors of Lent. During this season, the Church prepares us liturgically for the upcoming mortifications we will endure during Lent. The Gloria, the Church’s angelic hymn of joy, is no longer sung, but the organ, the king of instruments, which will be silenced during Lent, is still permitted. Violet, the color of penance, is used in the liturgy. The relics which remind us of the eternal joy of the saints, and the reward which awaits the faithful, are removed from the altar, and the alleluia is no longer said, being replaced during Mass by the Tract. The wisdom of the Church is evident: she begins to prepare us gradually by removing some signs of joy, but not all at once.
The Church, by removing these external elements, wishes to teach us how we should prepare our hearts. In her wisdom, she knows that we are easily moved by our senses, and therefore, she employs as an instrument to teach the faithful. The Church is reminding us that a great time of penance is coming, a time to renew our resolutions, and detach our hearts from this world that is fading away. Catholics, however, do not do penance in order to glory in their own virtues, but rather as an effective means of uniting themselves to Christ.
There is a principle which is important to keep in mind during these penitential times: in order to enter into the joy of the Resurrection more fully, we must also enter into the sorrows of the Passion more fully. We have roughly seventy days to prepare ourselves for Christ’s Resurrection. Isn’t that something worth making time for?