Liturgical Year IV: The Time between Christmas and Lent

Awhile back we looked at the 1969 calendar (used with the Ordinary Form) which was instituted with Paul VI’s Motu proprio Mysterii paschalis. We did a general overview of the differences, and similarities, between it and the 1962 Calendar (used with the Extraordinary Form), which is part of Benedict XVI’s Motu proprio Summorum pontificum. One general difference was that the 1962 calendar is divided into two main parts, The Christmas Cycle, and The Easter Cycle. These two big parts have further subdivisions. Then, we looked a little more closely at Christmas Time and saw a fairly substantial difference between the two calendars regarding what happens during the period between Christmas and Ash Wednesday. Today we’ll go into this a bit more.

In the 1962 calendar, the Christmas Cycle, you’ll recall, always has Epiphany on Epiphany (January 6th); then comes Part III of the Cycle: “The Season after Epiphany.” This has up to six “Sundays after Epiphany”, depending on the date of Ash Wednesday, and the Christmas Cycle officially ends the Saturday prior to Septuagesima Sunday.

On Septuagesima Sunday begins the Second Part of the Liturgical Year: The Easter Cycle. This Cycle is divided into Part I: Season of Lent, Part II: Eastertide, and Part III: After Whitsunday. Plus, there’s a bonus bit: the three Pre-Lenten Sundays known as Septuagesima (seventieth), Sexuagesima (sixtieth) and Quinquagesima (fiftieth) Sundays. Fr. John Zuhlsdorf has a piece in the Catholic Herald (go read it there!) where he explains the Pre-Lenten Sundays in his ineluctable way (he also explains the names of the Sundays): 

“We plan for all sorts of important events, like vacations and birthday parties, well in advance. In general, the more significant an event we approach, the more time and effort we put into the preparation…”

The point is, these three Sundays were a period of preparing for the Lenten Fast, which in turn is a preparation for Easter. As Fr. Z points out in his article, waiting until the night before to prepare for the final exam is poor planning. I know, I tried this once in college and it didn’t end well.

The 1969 calendar does away with this. Christmas Time in the new calendar ends on the Sunday following January 6th, and the first of the two segments of Ordinary Time begins on that Monday. That final Sunday after January 6th, by the way, is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and it may come as soon as the day after January 6th, as it did this year. Thus, this first segment of Ordinary Time includes the old “Time After Epiphany” of the Christmas Cycle and the pre-Lenten Sundays of the Easter Cycle. It straddles, if you will, the break between the two Cycles in the 1962 calendar.

My Daily Roman Missal, Third Edition has this to say about Ordinary Time:

“Apart from those seasons having their own distinctive character, thirty-three or thirty-four weeks remain in the yearly cycle that do not celebrate a particular element of the mystery of Christ. Rather, especially on Sundays, these weeks are devoted to the mystery of Christ in its entirety. This period is known as Ordinary Time.” (pg. 838)

Thus, this past Sunday, 28 January 2018, was either the beginning of the Easter Cycle with Septuagesima Sunday, and began the three week pre-Lenten preparation (not a period of fasting, wait for Ash Wednesday!) or it was the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

There it is.