18 - 25 minutes readSeptuagesima Sunday ~ Dom Prosper Gueranger

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Septuagesima Sunday

The holy Church calls us together today in order that we may hear from her lips the sad history of the fall of our first parents. This awful event implies the Passion and cruel Death of the Son of God made Man, who has mercifully taken upon Himself to expiate this and every subsequent sin committed by Adam and us his children. It is of the utmost importance that we should understand the greatness of the remedy; we must, therefore, consider the grievousness of the wound inflicted. For this purpose, we will spend the present week in meditating on the nature and consequences of the sin of our first parents.

Formerly, the Church used to read in her Matins of today that passage of the Book of Genesis, where Moses relates to all future generations, but in words of most impressive and sublime simplicity, how the first sin was brought into the world. In the present form of the liturgy, the reading of this history of the fall is deferred till Wednesday, and the preceding days give us the account of the six days of creation. We will anticipate the great instruction, and begin it at once, inasmuch as it forms the basis of the whole week’s teaching.

De Libro Genesis. From the Book of Genesis
Cap. iii. Ch. iii.
Sed et serpens erat callidior cunctis animantibus terræ, quæ fecerat Dominus Deus. Qui dixit ad mulierem: Cur præcepit vobis Deus et non comederetis de omni ligno paradiso? Cui respondit mulier: De fructu lignorum quæ sunt in paradiso vescimur: de fructu vero ligni, quod est in medio paradisi, præcepit nobis Deus ne comederemus, et ne tangeremus illus, ne forte moramur. Dixit autem serpens ad mulierem: Nequaquam morte moriemini; scit enim Deus quod in quocumque die comederitis ex eo, aperientur oculi vestri, et eritis sicut dii, scientes bonum et malum. Vidit igitur mulier, quod bonum esset lignum ad vescendum, et pulchrum oculis, aspectuque delectabile: et tulit de fructu illius, et comedit: deditque viro suo, qui comedit. Et aperti sunt oculi amborum. Now the serpent was more subtle than any of the beasts of the earth, which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman: Why hath God commanded you, that you should not eat of every tree of paradise? And the woman answered him, saying: Of the fruit of the trees that are in paradise we do eat; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of paradise, God hath commanded us that we should not eat, and that we should not touch it, lest perhaps we die. And the serpent said to the woman: No, you shall not die the death; for God doth know, that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold: and she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat: and gave to her husband, who did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened.
Cumque cognovissent se esse nudos, consuerunt folio ficus, et fecerunt sibi perizomata. Et cum audissent vocem Domini Dei deambulantis in paradiso, ad auram post meridiem, abscondit se Adam et uxor ejus a facie Domini Dei, in medio ligni paradisi. Vocavitque Dominus Deus Adam, et dixit ei: Ubi es? Qui ait: Vocem tuam audivi in paradiso, et timui, eo quod nudus essem et abscondi me. Cui dixit: Quis enim indicavit tibi quod nudus esses, nisi quod ex ligno de quo præceperam tibi ne comederes, comedisti? Dixitque Adam: Mulier, quam dedisti mihi sociam dedit mihi de ligno, et comedi. Et dixit Dominus Deus ad mulierem: Quare hoc fecisti? Quæ respondit: Serpens decepit me, et comedi. And when they perceived themselves to be naked, they sewed together fig-leaves, and made themselves aprons. And when they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in paradise, at the afternoon air, Adam and his wife hid themselves from the face of the Lord God, amidst the trees of paradise. And the Lord God called Adam, and said to him: Where art thou? And he said: I heard thy voice in paradise, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself. And he said to him: And who hath told thee that thou wast naked, but that thou hast eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat? And Adam said: The woman, whom thou gavest me, to be my companion, gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And he Lord God said to the woman: Why hast thou done this? And she answered: The serpent deceived me, and I did eat.

Et ait Dominus Deus ad serpentem: Quia fecisti hoc, maledictus es inter omnia animantia, et bestias terræ: super pectus tuum gradieris, et terram comedes cunctis diebus vitæ tuæ. Inimicitias ponam inter te et mulierem, et semen tuum et semen illius; ipsa conteret caput tuum, et tu insidiaberis calcaneo ejus. Mulieri quoque dixit: Multiplicabo ærumnas tuas, et conceptus tuos: in dolore paries filios, et sub viri potestate eris, et ipse dominabitur tui. Adæ vero dixit: Quia audisti vocem uxoris tuæ, et comedisti de ligno, ex quo præceperam tibi ne comederes, maledicta terra in opere tuo: in laboribus comedes ex ea cunctis diebus vitæ tuæ. Spinas et tribulos germinabit tibi, et comedes herbam terræ. In sudore vultus tui vesceris pane, donec revertaris in terram, de qua sumptus es: quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris. And the Lord God said to the serpent: Because thou hast done this thing, thou art cursed among all cattle, and beasts of the earth: upon thy breast shalt thou go, and earth shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed; she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel. To the woman, also, he said: I will multiply thy sorrows, and thy conceptions: in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee. And to Adam he said: Because thou hast hearkened to the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, cursed is the earth in thy work; with labor and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee, and thou shalt eat the herbs of the earth. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return to the earth, out of which thou was taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.

Oh! terrible page of man’s history! It alone explains to us our present position on the earth. It tells us what we are in the eyes of God, and how humbly we should comport ourselves before His divine Majesty. We will make it the subject of this week’s meditation. And now, let us prepare to profit by the liturgy of this Sunday, which we call Septuagesima.

In the Greek Church, it is called Prophoné (Proclamation), because on this day they announce to the people the coming fast of Lent, and the precise day of Easter. It is also called the Sunday of the prodigal son, because that parable is read in their liturgy for this Sunday, as an invitation to sinners to draw nigh to the God of mercy. But it is the last day of the week Prophoné, which, by a strange custom, begins with the preceding Monday, as do also the two following weeks.


The Station at Rome is in the church of Saint Lawrence outside the walls. The ancient liturgists observe the relation between the just Abel (whose being murdered by Cain is the subject of one of the responsories of today’s Matins) and the courageous martyr, over whose tomb the Church of Rome commences her Septuagesima.

The Introit describes the fears of death, wherewith Adam and his whole posterity are tormented, in consequence of sin. But in the midst of all this misery there is heard a cry of hope, for man is still permitted to ask mercy from his God. God gave man a promise on the very day of his condemnation: the sinner needs but confess his miseries, and the very Lord against whom he sinned will become his deliverer.

Circumdederunt me gemitus mortis, dolores inferni circumdederunt me: et in tribulatione mea invocavi Dominum, et exaudivit de templo sancto suo vocem meam. The groans of death surrounded me, and the sorrows of hell encompassed me; and in my affliction I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice from his holy temple.
Ps. Diligam te, Domine, fortitudo mea: Dominus firmamentum meum, et refugium meum, et liberator meus. ℣ Gloria Patri. Circumdederunt. Ps. I will love thee, O Lord, my strength: the Lord is my firmament, my refuge, and my deliverer. ℣ Glory. The groans.

In the Collect, the Church acknowledges that her children justly suffer the chastisements which are the consequences of sin; but she beseeches her divine Lord to send them that mercy which will deliver them.

Preces populi tui, quæsumus, Domine, clementer exaudi: ut qui juste pro peccatis nostris affligimur, pro tui nominis gloria misericorditer liberemur. Per Dominum. Mercifully hear, we beseech thee, O Lord, the prayers of thy people; that we who are justly afflicted for our sins, may be mercifully delivered for the glory of thy name. Through, &c.
Second Collect
A cunctis nos, quæsumus, Domine, mentis et corporis defende periculis: et intercedente beata et gloriosa semperque Virgine Dei Genitrice Maria, cum beato Joseph, beatis apostolis tuis Petro et Paulo, atque beato N., et omnibus sanctis, salutem nobis tribue benignus et pacem: ut destructis adversitatibus et erroribus universis, Ecclesia tua secura tibi serviat libertate. Preserve us, O Lord, we beseech thee, from all dangers of soul and body: and by the intercession of the glorious and blessed Mary, the ever Virgin Mother of God, of blessed Joseph, of thy blessed apostles, Peter and Paul, of blessed N. (here is mentioned the titular saint of the church), and of all the saints, grant us, in thy mercy, health and peace; that, all adversities and errors being removed, thy Church may serve thee with undisturbed liberty.

The priest adds a third Collect, which is left to his own choice.

Lectio Epistolæ beati Pauli Apostoli ad Corintheos. Lesson of the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle, to the Corinthians.
1 Cap. ix., x. 1 Ch. ix., x.
Fratres, nescitis quod ii qui in stadio currunt, omnes quidem currunt, sed unus accipit bravium? Sic currite ut comprehendatis. Omnis autem qui in agone contendit, ab omnibus se abstinet, et illi quidem ut corruptibilem coronam accipiant: nos autem incorruptam. Ego igitur sic curro, non quasi in incertum: sic pugno, non quasi aerem verberans: sed castigo corpus meum, et in servitutem redigo: ne forte cum aliis praedicaverim, ipse reprobus efficiar. Nolo enim vos ignorare fratres, quoniam patres nostri omnes sub nube fuerunt, et omnes mare transierunt, et omnes in Moyse baptizati sunt in nube, et in mari: et omnes eamdem escam spiritalem manducaverunt, et omnes eumdem potum spiritalem biberunt (bibebant autem de spiritali, consequente eos, petra: petra autem erat Christus): sed non in pluribus eorum beneplacitum est Deo. Brethren, know you not that they that run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run that you may obtain. And every one that striveth for the mastery, refraineth himself from all things: and they indeed that they may receive a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible one. 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. For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea. And all in Moses were baptized, in the cloud, and in the sea: And did all eat the same spiritual food, And all drank the same spiritual drink; (and they drank of the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.) But with most of them God was not well pleased.

These stirring words of the apostle deepen the sentiments already produced in us by the sad recollections of which we are this day reminded. He tells us that this world is a race wherein all must run; but that they alone win the prize who run well. Let us, therefore, rid ourselves of everything that could impede us, and make us lose our crown. Let us not deceive ourselves: we are never sure, until we reach the goal. Is our conversion more solid than was St. Paul’s? Are our good works better done or more meritorious than were his? Yet he assures us that he was not without the fear that he might perhaps be lost; for which cause he chastised his body, and kept it in subjection to the spirit. Man, in his present state, has not the same will for all that is right and just, which Adam had before he sinned, and which, notwithstanding, he abused to his own ruin. We have a bias which inclines us to evil; so that our only means of keeping our ground is to sacrifice the flesh to the spirit. To many this is a very harsh doctrine; hence, they are sure to fail; they never can win the prize. Like the Israelites spoken of by our apostle, they will be left behind to die in the desert, and so lose the promised land. Yet they saw the same miracles that Josue and Caleb saw! So true is it that nothing can make a salutary impression on a heart which is obstinately bent on fixing all its happiness in the things of this present life; and though it is forced, each day, to own that they are vain, yet each day it returns to them, vainly but determinedly loving them.

The heart, on the contrary, that puts its trust in God, and mans itself to energy by the thought of the divine assistance being abundantly given to him that asks it, will not flag or faint in the race, and will win the heavenly prize. God’s eye is unceasingly on all them that toil and suffer. These are the truths expressed in the Gradual.

Adjutor in opportunitatibus, in tribulatione: sperent in te qui noverunt te, quoniam non derelinquis quærentes te, Domine. A helper in due time, in tribulation: let them trust in thee, who know thee, for thou hast not forsaken them that seek thee, O Lord.
℣. Quoniam non in finem oblivio erit pauperis; patientia pauperum non peribit in æternum: exsurge, Domine, non prævaleat homo. ℣. For the poor man shall not be forgotten to the end; the patience of the poor man shall not perish for ever: arise, O Lord, let not man prevail.

The Tract sends forth our cry to God, and the Cry is from the very depths of our misery. Man is humbled exceedingly by the fall; but he knows that God is full of mercy, and that, in His goodness, He punishes our iniquities less than they deserve: were it not so, none of us could hope for pardon:

De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine: Domine, exaudi vocem meam. From the depths I have cried to thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice.
℣. Fiant aures tuæ intendentes in orationem servi tui. ℣. Let thine ears be attentive to the voice of thy servant.
℣. Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine: Domine, quis sustinebit? ℣ If thou shalt observe iniquities, O Lord, Lord, who shall endure it?
℣. Quia apud te propitiatio est, et propter legem tuam sustinui te, Domine. ℣. For with thee is propitiation, and by reason of thy law I have expected thee, O Lord.

Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Matthæum. Sequel of the holy Gospel according to St. Matthew.
Cap.xx. Ch. xx.
In illo tempore: dixit Jesus discipulis suis parabolam hanc: Simile est regnum cælorum homini patrifamilias, qui exiit primo mane conducere operarios in vineam suam. Conventione autem facta cum operariis ex denario diurno, misit eos in vineam suam. Et egressus circa horam tertiam, vidit alios stantes in foro otiosos, et dixit illis: Ite et vos in vineam meam, et quod justum fuerit dabo vobis. Illi autem abierunt. Iterum autem exiit circa sextam et nonam horam: et fecit similiter. Circa undecimam vero exiit, et invenit alios stantes, et dicit illis: Quid hic statis tota die otiosi? Dicunt ei: Quia nemo nos conduxit. Dicit illis: Ite et vos in vineam meam. Cum sero autem factum esset, dicit dominus vineae procuratori suo: Voca operarios, et redde illis mercedem incipiens a novissimis usque ad primos. Cum venissent ergo qui circa undecimam horam venerant, acceperunt singulos denarios. Venientes autem et primi, arbitrati sunt quod plus essent accepturi: acceperunt autem et ipsi singulos denarios. Et accipientes murmurabant adversus patrem familias, dicentes: Hi novissimi una hora fecerunt, et pares illos nobis fecisti, qui portavimus pondus diei, et æstus. At ille respondens uni eorum, dixit: Amice, non facio tibi injuriam: nonne ex denario convenisti mecum? Tolle quod tuum est, et vade: volo autem et huic novissimo dare sicut et tibi. Aut non licet mihi quod volo, facere? an oculus tuus nequam est, quia ego bonus sum? Sic erunt novissimi primi, et primi novissimi. Multi enim sunt vocati, pauci vero electi. At that time, Jesus spoke to his disciples this parable: The kingdom of heaven is like to an householder, who went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And having agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour, he saw others standing in the market place idle. And he said to them: Go you also into my vineyard, and I will give you what shall be just. And they went their way. And again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did in like manner. But about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing, and he saith to them: Why stand you here all the day idle? They say to him: Because no man hath hired us. He saith to them: Go you also into my vineyard. And when evening was come, the lord of the vineyard saith to his steward: Call the labourers and pay them their hire, beginning from the last even to the first. When therefore they were come, that came about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first also came, they thought that they should receive more: and they also received every man a penny. And receiving it they murmured against the master of the house, Saying: These last have worked but one hour, and thou hast made them equal to us, that have borne the burden of the day and the heats. But he answering said to one of them: Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst thou not agree with me for a penny? Take what is thine, and go thy way: I will also give to this last even as to thee. Or, is it not lawful for me to do what I will? is thy eye evil, because I am good? So shall the last be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.

It is of importance that we should well understand this parable of the Gospel, and why the Church inserts it in today’s liturgy. Firstly, then, let us recall to mind on what occasion our Savior spoke this parable, and what instruction He intended to convey by it to the Jews. He wishes to warn them of the fast approach of the day when their Law is to give way to the Christian Law; and He would prepare their minds against the jealousy and prejudice which might arise in them, at the thought that God was about to form a Covenant with the Gentiles. The vineyard is the Church in its several periods, from the beginning of the world to the time when God Himself dwelt among them, and formed all true believers into one visible and permanent society. The morning is the time from Adam to Noah; the third hour begins with Noah and ends with Abraham; the sixth hour includes the period which elapsed between Abraham and Moses; and lastly, the ninth hour opens with the age of the prophets, and closes with the birth of the Savior. The Messias came at the eleventh hour, when the world seemed to be at the decline of its day. Mercies unprecedented were reserved for this last period, during which salvation was to be given to the Gentiles by the preaching of the apostles. It is by this mystery of mercy that our Savior rebukes the Jewish pride. By the selfish murmurings made against the master of the house by the early laborers, our Lord signifies the indignation which the scribes and pharisees would show at the Gentiles being adopted as God’s children. Then He shows them how their jealousy would be chastised: Israel, that had labored before us, shall be rejected for their obduracy of heart, and we Gentiles, the last comers, shall be made first, for we shall be made members of that Catholic Church which is the bride of the Son of God.

This is the interpretation of our parable given by St. Augustine and St. Gregory the great, and by the generality of the holy fathers. But it conveys a second instruction, as we are assured by the two holy doctors just named. It signifies the calling given by God to each of us individually, pressing us to labor during this life for the kingdom prepared for us. The morning is our childhood. The third hour, according to the division used by the ancients in counting their day, is sunrise; it is our youth. The sixth hour, by which name they called our midday, is manhood. The eleventh hour, which immediately preceded sunset, is old age. The Master of the house calls His laborers at all these various hours. They must go that very hour. They that are called in the morning may not put off their starting for the vineyard, under pretext of going afterwards, when the Master shall call them later on. Who has told them that they shall live to the eleventh hour? They that are called at the third hour may be dead at the sixth. God will call to the labors of the last hour such as shall be living when that hour comes; but if we should die at midday, that last call will not avail us. Besides, God has not promised us a second call if we excuse ourselves from the first.

At the Offertory, the Church invites us to celebrate the praises of God. God has mercifully granted us that the hymns we sing to the glory of His name should be our consolation in this vale of tears.

Bonum est confiteri Domino, et psallere nomini tuo, Altissime. It is good to give praise to the Lord, and to sing to thy name, O Most High.
Muneribus nostris quæsumus, Domine, precibusque susceptis: et cœlestibus nos munda mysteriis, et clementer exaudi. Per Dominum. Having received, O Lord, our offerings and prayers, cleanse us, we beseech thee, by these heavenly mysteries, and mercifully hear us. Through, &c.
Second Secret
Exaudi nos, Deus salutaris noster: ut per hujus Sacramenti virtutem, a cunctis nos mentis et corporis hostibus tuearis, gratiam tribuens in præsenti, et gloriam in futuro. Graciously grant us, O God, our Savior, that by virtue of this Sacrament, thou mayst defend us from all enemies, both of soul and body; giving us grace in this life, and glory in the next.

The third Secret is left to the priest’s own choice.

In the Communion antiphon, the Church prays that man, having now been regenerated by the Bread of heaven, may regain that likeness to his God which Adam received at his creation. The greater our misery, the stronger should be our hope in Him who descended to us that we might ascend to Him.

Illumina faciem tuam super servum tuum, et salvum me fac in tua misericordia: Domine, non confundar, quoniam invocavi te. Make thy face to shine upon thy servant; save me in thy mercy. Let me not be confounded, O Lord, for I have called upon thee.
Fideles tui, Deus, per tua dona firmentur: ut eadem et percipiendo requirant, et quærendo sine fine percipiant. Per Dominum. May thy faithful, O God, be strengthened by thy gifts; that by receiving them, they may ever hunger after them, and hungering after them, they may have their desires satisfied in the everlasting possession of them. Through, &c.
Second Postcommunion
Mundet et muniat nos, quæsumus Domine, divini Sacramenti munis oblatum, et intercedente beata Virgine Dei Genitrice Maria, cum beato Joseph, beatis apostolis Petro et Paulo, atque beato N. et omnibus sanctis, a cunctis nos reddat et perversitatibus expiatos, et adversitatibus expeditos. May the oblation of this divine Sacrament, we beseech thee, O Lord, both cleanse and defend us; and by the intercession of blessed Mary, the Virgin-Mother of God, of blessed Joseph, of the blessed apostles, Peter and Paul, of blessed N., and of all the saints, free us from all sin, and deliver us from all adversity.

The third Postcommunion is left to the priest’s own choice.


The psalms and antiphons are as earlier in the volume.

CAPITULUM (1 Corinthians 9)

Brethren, know you not that they that run the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that you may obtain.

The hymn and versicle are as earlier in the volume.


The householder said to the labourers: Why stand you here all the day idle? But they answering said to him: Because no man, hath hired us. Go ye, also, into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.


Mercifully hear, we beseech thee, O Lord, the prayers of thy people; that we who are justly afflicted for our sins may be mercifully delivered for the glory of they name. Through, etc.

For each day of this week we select a few stanzas from the hymn, which the Greek liturgy uses in the Office for the Sunday preceding the fast of Lent. It is a lamentation over Adam’s fall.


Because he broke the commandment of his Lord, and was led by intemperance to taste a food which was to be one of bitterness to him, Adam was banished from the paradise of delight, and condemned to till the earth whence himself was taken, and to eat his bread in the sweat of his brow. Let us, therefore, covet temperance, lest, like him, we may have to weep out of the paradise; let us be temperate and enter heave.

God, my Creator, took dust from the earth, quickened me with a living soul, graciously made me the king of all visible things on earth, and gave me fellowship with the angels; but crafty Satan, making the serpent his instrument, allured me with food, banished me far from the glory of God and made me a slave to death in the bowels of the earth: but thou, O God, art my Lord, and full of mercy: recall me from exile.

Being deceived by the craft of the enemy, I miserable man, violated thy commandment, O Lord; and being stripped of the garment which thy divine hand had woven for me, I am now clad with leaves of the fig-tree, and with a skin garment; I am condemned to eat a bread for which I must toil with the sweat of my brown, and the earth is cursed, so that it may yield me thorns and thistles: but do thou, that in after-times tookest flesh from the Virgin, recall and restore me to paradise.

O paradise! most worthy of all our reverence, beautiful beyond measure, tabernacle built by God, joy and delight without end, glory of the just, joy of the prophets, and dwelling of the saints; may thy prayers, the sound of thy leaves, obtain for me from the Creator of all things, that thy gates, which my sin hat shut against me, may be thrown open to me, and that I may be made worthy to partake of the tree of life, and of that joy which i once so sweetly tasted in thy bosom.


This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)