A reminder from Fr. Blake:
For our forefathers Lent meant getting rid of a great deal of the preserved food that had been put aside for the winter and was likely to go to waste as the weather suddenly warmed; all those preserved meat products, and not just bacon and preserved foods but also cheese and dairy products. It was literally a time for saying carne vale, farewell to meat. It was a period of conspicuous consumption of which our English pancakes and ‘Shrove Tuesday’ are just the flat remnant….
Septuagessima, was a way in the Church hauled up the violet banner, saying ‘now is the time to begin to get ready, eat drink and be merry for tomorrow you fast’. The Church seems everywhere to have opposed the excesses of Septuagessima, until under Bunini [sic] it itself was abolished, in a characteristic gesture.
Yet, as with so much in the Church, there is a depth which must illuminate mere historical patterns, as Dom Gueranger reminds us:
The grave maternal voice of the Church will soon be heard, inviting us to the Lenten penance; but she wishes us to prepare for this laborious baptism, by employing these three weeks in considering the deep wounds caused in our souls by sin. True, – the beauty and loveliness of the Little Child, born to us in Bethlehem, are great beyond measure; but our souls are so needy, that they require other lessons than those He gave us of humility and simplicity. Our Jesus is the Victim of the divine justice, and he has now attained the fulness of his age; the altar, on which he is to be slain, is ready: and since it is for us that he is to be sacrificed, we should at once set ourselves to consider, what are the debts we have contracted towards that infinite Justice, which is about to punish the Innocent One instead of us the guilty. …
[Hence,] the Christian, who would spend Septuagesima according to the spirit of the Church, must make war upon that false security, that self-satisfaction, which are so common to effeminate and tepid souls, and produce spiritual barrenness. It is well for them, if these delusions do not insensibly lead them to the absolute loss of the true Christian spirit. He that thinks himself dispensed from that continual watchfulness, which is so strongly inculcated by our Divine Master [St. Mark, xiii. 37], is already in the enemy’s power. He that feels no need of combat and of struggle in order to persevere and make progress in virtue, … should fear that he is not even on the road to that Kingdom of God, which is only to be won by violence [St. Matth,. xi. 12]. He that forgets the sins, which God’s mercy has forgiven him, should fear his being the victim of a dangerous delusion [Ecclus. v. 5]. Let us, during these days, which we are going to devote to the honest unflinching contemplation of our miseries, give glory to our God, and derive, from the knowledge of ourselves, fresh motives of confidence in Him, who, in spite of all our wretchedness and sin, humbled himself so low as to become one of us, in order that he might exalt us even to union with Himself.
Fr. Blake was certainly not endorsing sinful excess, but it needs to be kept in mind that, far from calling us to “sin boldly”, Septuagesima reminds us to feast piously. It is a season I am so thankful for having discovered this year. Let the great debridement continue so that the antibiotics of penance may have their greatest effect.