Sunday, February 12, 2017
Pre-Lent begins with three “gesima” Sundays—Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima. Of these, only Quinquagesima is literally named—“fifty days” before Easter. As in Lent, the vestments are purple, the Gloria and Alleluias are dropped, and the dismissal is “Let us bless the Lord.” But Shrovetide is not quite Lent. Pre-Lent is actually the carnival season (or Mardi-Gras as they say in New Orleans). There is a certain festivity that attends to using up all the things to be abstained from during Lent.
However, when pre-Lent was removed, the character of Lent was altered. You might associate Lent with repentance above all, but that’s not how it was supposed to work. In the old arrangement, Shrovetide was the time to repent, the time to be “shriven” of your sins (to make your confession and be absolved), while Lent was the time to “do penance.” As Lent was the desert experience, pre-Lent was said to be the Babylonian captivity when you prayed to return to the Promised Land.
In searching for a fitting bulletin graphic, I found a set of shields for each season. The pictures and words on the shields are telling. For pre-Lent, they are tools for discerning and rejecting sin: “Law, Scripture, Prayer, Repentance.” For Lent, they are tools for making amends for our faults: “Alms, Fasting, Abstinence, Scourging.”
Pre-Lent is not redundant (just “getting ready to get ready for Easter”), but a unique time of transition to holy ground.