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What is Sexagesima?

We are now in the second week of Pre-Lent in the Ordinariate Calendar. Today, Sunday, the Solemnity of the Chair of St. Peter, the Patronal Feast of the PCOSCP, overrides Sexagesima Sunday. No worries though, it's still a week in Pre-Lent.

The Pre-Lenten season is from the Medieval era and existed until it was removed from the Roman Rite Calendar in 1970 after Vatican II. However, as part of our Anglican Patrimony with special reference to our English Catholic sources, we have received the restoration of the Pre-Lent season. Pope Benedict XVI restored Pre-Lent in the Roman Rite (Western Catholics) for the Extroardinary Form folks in 2007 (Summorum Pontificum) and for Ordinariate Form folks in 2012 (Anglicanorum Coetibus). This season, as prior said, is a way for us to prepare our bodies and souls for Lent by dwelling on our sins, what vices they are, contemplating on the virtue to defeat them, and then with the guidance of The Holy Spirit, preparing to keep a holy fast. Pre-Lent allows us to wean ourselves into the fast.

Originally these weeks: Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima in tandem with Lent looked something like the Eastern Catholic Rites' 8 week Lent rather than our modern 6.5 week lent. Pope Melchiades and Sylvester were worried about people keeping a fast and abstaining on Fridays of Lent and how that might overly weaken their constitution on Saturdays, so they implemented these weeks to "make up" for a relaxed Saturday fast. Today Eastern Catholics and The Orthodox relax the fast on Saturday with fish and wine which keeps some of this ancient flavor.

Sexagesima is the second week of Pre-Lent. It's name means "sixtieth" as it falls within the 50-60 day range from Easter, 57 to be specific. This week is described as "The Widowhood of The Church" because our Bridegroom, Christ, has been taken from us. In the parable of the wheat (Mt 13), the Medieval Church attributed the hundred-fold yield to virgins but the sixty-fold to the virgins. Thus we think of The Church as the widow bride who has yet to consummate her love with her bridegroom on the Last Day, when heaven and earth and all things are consummated to their Creator.

What sorts of things do we reflect upon in Sexagesima to prepare for Lent? If you've been saying The Daily Office you'll notice that Morning and Evening Prayer began with Genesis 1 with Creation, The Fall, then taken us to Abraham and God's Covenant with him. This reminds us that we are part of a Cosmic story with a purpose. When that purpose failed and we fell, the Covenants were instituted to put us back on track. The ultimate and final of these Covenants was Jesus's New Covenant instituted at The Last Supper, i.e. The Mass. We enter that New Covenant through Baptism. Those who pray Morning Prayer will know how The Benedictus links up the promise to our forefather Abraham to our current Covenant. And thus your, our, Baptismal Covenant is how Catholics today are the "newest" chapter in God's Story. I.E. God still is, there is still is a covenant, saints do miraculous things, people rebel against God and either fall or are reconciled. The Scriptures are not a strange ancient book to the faithful Catholic, their just a few chapters prior to the believer's own existence - that's all.

Contemplate on your Baptismal Covenant. If you've forgotten it, there's a good chance this is the season for you to experience tremendous spiritual growth. Here is The Baptismal Covenant text:

Celebrant: Do you reject Satan? R: I do. Celebrant: And all his works? R: I do. Celebrant: And all his empty promises? R: I do.

Celebrant: Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth? R: I do. Celebrant: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father? R: I do. Celebrant: Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting? R: I do. The celebrant and the congregation give their assent to this profession of faith: Celebrant: This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it, in Christ Jesus our Lord. All: Amen.

If you didn't notice, the articulation of The Faith one assents to in Baptism is simply The Apostle's Creed. If you pray the Daily Office you get to pray this once or twice a day. This means that by praying the official Prayers of The Church you are in a habit of reciting your Baptismal Covenant. Now contemplate on it. If you're not sure how, I highly recommend Evelynn Underhill's School of Charity. It is only 80 to 100 pages with large margins. It is an extended reflection on The Apostle's Creed that is beautifully written for a Christian living in a post-industrial society. Underhill was an Anglican Mystic who reintroduced Patristics to British laity in the mid 20th c.

What else should we think about during Sexagesima?

Sexagesima being 60 is 6 multiplied by 10.

Ten is the number of the "tithe," which literally means tenth. Our forefather Abraham tithed to Melchizedek the priest who offered bread and wine and was a foreshadow to Christ. So then ten signifies to us our due to God. Man was made after the Fall of the Angels (cm. Rev 12 to Gen 1), and for this reason Early Church Fathers speculate that we were made to restore the disorder created in the 9 Angelic Orders. This makes us the tenth order of rational creatures, the one made to restore order to God's Cosmic Symphony that we call Creation.

The 6 signifies then two things to us: God and Man. God is Trinity consisting of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. And Man's faculties are three: memory, intellect, and will. Thus Man who is one but three owes praise and worship to the God who is one yet three, making 6. Thus Sexagesima exhorts us, Man, to give our due to God by offering our very souls to His purposes.

Q: But how do we do this?

A: Sexagesima being 60 is also 10 x 2 x 3.

Now ten is the number of the Decalogue, i.e. The Ten Commandments. And in the Ordinariate Form of the Mass at St. Aelred Catholic Community we will replace the "Summary of the Law" with a recitation of the full Decalogue during Lent for this reason. Our Lord told us if we keep these then we shall merit eternal life (Matthew 19). For this reason the memorization of The Decalogue has been a part of Catechesis since day one of the Christian life. Knowledge precedes Love. He must know what is holy if we are to live holy lives. Thus the intellect and some factual knowledge are precursors to feelings or any sort of ethical behaviour. We can see this in The Church's practice: we are exhorted to use the Decalogue as a way of examining our conscience for Confession. I.E. If the Decalogue helps lead me to Confession, and Confession leads me back to Jesus' New Covenant by allowing me to receive Eucharist again, then the Decalogue is a vital part of the eucharist. It isn't just for kids. It's taught to kids that they may be prepared for adult life.

Now the "two" is of Jesus's "Summary of the Law:" thou shalt love the Lord thy God and love thy neighbor as thyself, on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Jesus amplifies the Ten Commandments and shows the numerous ways in which we can break them in thought, word, or deed. Use this part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7 with The Decalogue to see how Christians examen their consciences in the light of Christ.

Three is the number of objects we are required to love to merit eternal life: God, Neighbor, Self. We begin by loving ourselves for our own sake, which is selfish but is where we start due to Original Sin and concupiscence. We then love our neighbor for ourselves, then we love God for our own sake. When we begin the second phase of the spiritual life there is a major turn when we come to love God for his sake. We know this requires Baptism, Eucharist, and all the other sacraments to aid and fortify the grace given to us to fulfill our Baptismal Covenants. How we come to make this turn to loving God for his own sake is something of a mystery. We know grace is needed, we know we must cooperate, but what more can be said? The Lord knows. It's a mystery to me but I'm grateful it's available. Then we climb back down, loving neighbor for God's sake, and lastly ourselves for God's sake. And thus by loving we fulfill The Law, for those who love not only do not transgress a neighbor, not only do they do justice to God, neighbor and self, but they go beyond justice to the excesses of love.

Pre-Lent is about us being honest with ourselves about where we are on that ladder. Without an honest diagnosis we can't possibly hope for self-prescribed medication to help us. So too without an honest spiritual diagnosis our self-prescribed fasts can miss the mark. Talk with your priest and/or spiritual confessor about your disposition, the vices you're struggling with, identify the corresponding virtue, then locate concrete practices that cultivate that practice. Most importantly, identify forms of grace in the sacraments and also in sacramentals to help you fight the good fight.

Hopefully this will help you prepare for Lent in weeks to come. Keep preppin!


The illustration depics Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac, from an English Missal circa 1300's AD.

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