“The three Sundays before Lent have been traditionally referred to as the ‘Gesima’ Sundays – Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima. The Latin names for these Sundays signify that they are the seventieth, sixtieth, and fiftieth days (approximately) before Easter.
This season of Pre-Lent was a time of preparation for the great fast of Lent. It was meant to call Christians back from their Christmas feasting and joy in order to prepare themselves for fasting and humiliation in the approaching time of Lent. This is why purple vestments have been traditionally used during this season” (excerpt taken from COMMON PRAYER: A Commentary on the Prayer Book Lectionary Volume 2: Septuagesima to Easter Eve).
In a newsletter from the Diocese of Mid-America of the Reformed Episcopal Church, the Bishop Ordinary, The Rt. Rev. Royal Grote wrote the following about the “Gesima” Sundays, which I believe are great words of wisdom for us to contemplate as we approach the Season of Lent.
“The ‘Gesima’ Sundays are the three Sundays prior to Ash Wednesday. These three Sundays are not part of Lent. They are a time of spiritual preparation for the 40 days of Lent. They came into existence because of specific events occurring in the world, and they were the means by which the Church answered the problems which arose. The Church answered with Prayer. I include a bit of the history of these Sundays so that we might make right use of them.
It was AD 568, when the savage Germanic hordes known as the Lombards entered northern Italy . . . Suddenly, with their appearance; the holy city of Rome was in jeopardy. John the Third in response to this invasion appointed three Sundays before the beginning of Lent in order to implore the Lord to “mercifully deliver” his people from their enemy.
On Septuagesima Sunday the Christians of Rome gathered at the Church of St. Laurence, and the Collect which appears in the 1928 Prayer Book was read: ‘O Lord we beseech thee favorably to hear the prayers of thy people; that we who are justly punished for our offenses may be mercifully delivered by thy goodness. For the glory of thy Name, through Christ our Savior who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, World without end. Amen.’
The early Church understood an important principle. Their best defense rested in the Lord, not in the might of man. Their best opportunity to achieve blessedness and happiness here on earth was dependent on the grace of God, not the labor of their hand. This is the focus of the Pre-lenten ‘Gesima’ Sundays. Oh how we need to be reminded of that today. With all of the problems of the world and society surrounding us, we need to fix our eyes on the One who can really solve those things. They will only be resolved by the gracious providing of our merciful God.”