TSD 45: Septuagesima

It's kind of like pre-gaming Lent

These Seven Days…

…in the Ordinary Form

It is the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings are Isaiah 58:7-10, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, and Matthew 5:13-16.

The clear theme this week is living in the logic of the Kingdom, not the logic of the world, thus spreading God’s light and drawing people to Him. Isaiah presages both the Sermon on the Mount and today’s Gospel in particular (“You are the light of the world”) when he records these words of the Lord:

Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn…

Christ’s direction that “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” should not be read as contradicting his admonition one chapter later about public almsgiving (“take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them”). One distinction is between directing our good works for God’s glory or for worldly acclaim. St. Hilary also writes: “He means not that we should seek glory of men, but that though we conceal it, our work may shine forth in honour of God to those among whom we live.”

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Don’t do this.

Friday, February 14, is the Feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. Celebrated in the East from the time of their deaths in the late ninth century, these brothers were added to the calendar of the universal Church in 1880 and given the title “Apostles to the Slavs” by Pope Leo XIII. A century later, Pope St. John Paul II named them co-patrons of Europe with St. Benedict.

Born a year apart in the Greek town of Thessalonica, they were living in a Constantinople monastery when they accepted missionary duty in Moravia. Naturally, Cyril’s first move was to invent an alphabet to suit the spoken language of the Slavs, then translate the Scriptures into that newly-transcribed language. This alphabet later developed into the Cyrillic letters that are used in Slavic languages to this day.

In order to effectively evangelize the peoples of Moravia, the brothers translated the Mass into the prevailing language, now called Old Church Slavonic. They consistently battled German bishops who opposed this innovation, even imprisoning Methodius, but the Slavonic Mass was twice approved by Rome: by Adrian II in 867 and by John VIII in the next decade. Cyril died first, on this date in 869, followed by his brother about 15 years later.

The first page of the Gospel of Mark in the Glagolitic Script of Old Church Slavonic. From the tenth-century Codex Zographensis.

…in the Extraordinary Form

It is Septuagesima Sunday. The Epistle is 1 Corinthians 9:24-10:5 and the Gospel is Matthew 20:1-16, the parable of the workers in the vineyard.

Here’s part of the note from the St. Andrew Missal on this short season of Septuagesima:

The Septuagesima season always begins with the ninth week before Easter and includes three Sundays called respectively Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima. These names which were borrowed from the numeral system of the time, denote a series of decades [ten days] working back from the commencement of Lent, which is known in Latin as Quadragesima. …

This liturgical period is a prelude to Lent and a remote preparation for Easter. It serves as a time of transition for the soul, which must pass from Christmas joys to the stern penance of the sacred forty days. Even if the fast us not yet of obligation, the color of the vestments worn is already violet. As during Advent, the Gloria … is suspended, since this hymn which celebrated Christ’s birth in our mortal flesh, is reserved to extol Him when born in His undying Body, i.e., when He rises from the tomb.

The tone and content of the lessons, therefore, shifts to work and struggle for holiness in this life. St Paul writes, fittingly as we begin to ease into our Lenten penances:

I therefore so run, not as at an uncertainty: I so fight, not as one beating the air: But I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.

Regarding the times of the day described in the Gospel parable, in which the master gives the same pay to the last worker to arrive as the first, St. Gregory writes:

The morning is the period that elapsed from the time of Adam to Noah, the third hour from Noah to Abraham, the sixth hour from Abraham to Moses, the ninth hours from Moses to the coming of the Lord, and at the eleventh hour the Gentiles are called.

And so this lesson not only turns our attention to the work we are called to in the vineyard of the Lord, but reintroduces us to the whole drama of salvation history as we prepare for Lent.

Rembrandt, using his patented chiaroscuro, depicts the master’s payments at the end of the day (1637).

Friday, February 14, is the Feast of St. Valentine. Note that this feast does, in fact, only appear in the old calendar: St. Val was booted by Cyril & Methodius in the new one. So I guess every who celebrates it is a crypto-trad?

The identity of the real St. Valentine(s) is hard to pin down: similar stories have attached to different men, all culminating on February 14. The typical hagiography goes like this:

While under house arrest of Judge Asterius, and discussing his faith with him, Valentinus … was discussing the validity of Jesus. The judge put Valentinus to the test and brought to him the judge's adopted blind daughter. If Valentinus succeeded in restoring the girl's sight, Asterius would do whatever he asked. Valentinus, praying to God, laid his hands on her eyes and the child's vision was restored. Immediately humbled, the judge asked Valentinus what he should do. Valentinus replied that all of the idols around the judge's house should be broken, and that the judge should fast for three days and then undergo … baptism. The judge obeyed and, as a result, freed all the Christian inmates under his authority. The judge, his family, and his forty-four member household … were baptized. Valentinus was later arrested again for continuing to evangelize and was sent to the prefect of Rome, to the emperor Claudius Gothicus himself. Claudius took a liking to him until Valentinus tried to convince Claudius to embrace Christianity, whereupon Claudius refused and condemned Valentinus to death, commanding that Valentinus either renounce his faith or he would be beaten with clubs and beheaded. Valentinus refused and Claudius' command was executed outside the Flaminian Gate February 14, 269.

As for the association of the day with romance, the Catholic Encyclopedia gives this simple explanation:

The popular customs associated with Saint Valentine's Day undoubtedly had their origin in a conventional belief generally received in England and France during the Middle Ages, that on 14 February, i.e. half way through the second month of the year, the birds began to pair.

It’s contested among scholars whether Chaucer’s reference to the day in his Parlement of Foules recognized an existed association between St. Val and lovers, or invented it.

For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne's day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.

A noggin apparently belonging to one the St. Valentines, in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome.

…in both forms of the Roman Rite

Monday, February 10, is the Feast of St. Scholastica. The sister (maybe the twin?) of St. Benedict, St. Scholastica followed her brother to Monte Cassino and lived in a hermitage at the base of the mountain. The home she made with a few other women is said to be the foundation of women’s Benedictine monasticism.

The famous story about Scholastica, related by Gregory the Great, is that she would make annual visits to her brother at a place in between her home and his monastery, where they would spend hours in prayer and theological discourse. On one of these visits, perhaps sensing her imminent death, she asked her brother to stay, but he insisted that he must return to the monastery. The sister turned immediately to prayer and a violent rainstorm began, keeping Benedict from returning for the night, during which the two continued their prayer and discussion. A few days later, Scholastica died, and her brother is said to have seen her soul, in the form of a dove, ascend to the heavens from his monastic cell.

This day in infamous for the St. Scholastica Day riots that took place in Oxford in the fourteenth century. They began with a couple students complaining about the quality of the wine in a local tavern, and ended with about a hundred people dead. That, as they say, escalated quickly.

This fresco from the Benedictine monastery at Subiaco depicts St. Scholastica’s prayer for rain. Her sly glance and the assistant’s expectant look skyward are both delightful.

Tuesday, February 11, is the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. The original visions of St. Bernadette Soubirous occurred between February and July 1858. Their veracity was affirmed by the local bishop two years later, and devotion to the Blessed Mother under this title two years after that. There are many replicas of the grotto of Lourdes, including several in the U.S.: on the campus of the University of the Notre Dame; Mother Angelica’s Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama; at the National Shrine near Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Maryland; and at the Church of Notre Dame in the Morningside neighborhood of New York City. A lesser known and more modest version was built in the sculpture garden of Old St. Patrick’s in Pittsburgh, below.

I’m particularly intrigued by the Lourdes Medical Bureau, an affiliation of medical professionals with offices within the sanctuary in Lourdes whose business is to screen potential miracles. While early confirmations of miraculous healings were a bit, uh, loose, the current procedure is exceptionally rigorous. Here’s the bureau’s official website with more information.

Celebrated labor priest Fr. James Cox, who served for decades at St. Patrick’s in Pittsburgh’s Strip District Neighborhood, had a strong devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes; he credited the waters of Lourdes for healing of a persistent eye ailment, and in gratitude made a pilgrimage to the site every year. There are two replicas in the church—this outdoors one, and a small scene in the sanctuary.

Those Seven Days…

Eight years! (The 6yo insisted on making the symmetric fruit plate.)

Some of the EMTV memes are a little much, but this one is beautiful:

Let me also observe: For a sovereign state, that amount of money is a pittance.

Francis’s wisdom on our glut of stuff alongside our void of meaning will be remembered among his most valuable contributions.

It’s so simple, but such a good practice in virtue: When in doubt, ask, “What good will this do?”

Savannah is one of the most underrated cities in this country and you should plan to visit ASAP. Surprisingly deep Catholic history, too: The cathedral is lovely and grand, and the Flannery O’Connor childhood home is down the street.

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The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Savannah, Georgia.

Tip Jar

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That’s not how hashtags work, but whatever.

hashtag much obliged

As for me…

My episodes of At Home with Jim & Joy aired on EWTN this week. We talked about my book from several years ago on Catholic fatherhood, as well as my new projects. Here’s Wednesday’s episode (the freeze frame is unfortunate), and I’ll post Friday’s next week:

Feedback, &c.

Did I miss something important? Get something wrong? Do you have ideas for how to improve These Seven Days? Drop me a line at tsd.brandonmcg@gmail.com. This is a work in progress, and your feedback will help to make it the best it can be.

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