Homily for Septuagesima Sunday (in the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite)
Today is Septuagesima Sunday, the beginning of our preparation for the season of Lent. It is the first time that I have ever celebrated this feast, since I’ve only been actively involved in the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite since last October, so I turned to the valuable multi-volume work on the liturgical year penned by Dom Prosper Guéranger, which I highly recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about the traditions and prayers of the traditional Latin liturgy.
As he explains, this Sunday begins our immediate preparations for the Lenten period of spiritual purification that leads up to Easter. We already start to adopt some of the liturgical disciplines of Lent, by wearing the violet vestments and suppressing the Gloria and the Alleluia. We could think of this as something like the warmup exercises that athletes perform before a game; while not yet bound by the strict rules of official play, we get ourselves ready to start off the actual contest on the right foot.
This image works well with our reading from St Paul for today. He compares the Christian life to a race in which we all run to win – we all need to strive with discipline and self-denial to receive the reward of salvation which God has prepared for us. That is true of the Christian life in general, but it is also particularly true of the season of Lent when we focus our efforts more intensely on the ascetic side of our Christian vocation. St Paul ends this passage with a sobering reminder that not everyone who runs the race is a winner; not all those who go through the motions of following God are actually pleasing to Him.
At the same time, we should not be discouraged if we feel that we have not been running the race well in our lives or in past Lenten seasons. God is calling us all today to start the race anew. The parable in the Gospel we just heard explains that it is never too late to start working for God. Instead of a race, Jesus uses the image of working in a vineyard, where even those who are called to work late in the day receive the same pay as the rest.
Let us begin the path towards Easter encouraged by the messages in today’s Mass to prepare ourselves well through our practices of prayer and sacrifice, with great confidence in God’s love and assistance. As the Gradual says, God does not forsake those who seek Him.