By Julie McDermott
With the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary this past Sunday, Christmas has come to an end, and we have sung our last Alleluia until Easter. The grocery stores now remind us that (the pagan versions of) St. Valentine’s and St. Patrick’s Day are approaching. By the time St. Patty’s comes around, we Anglicans will be in the midst of Lent. Then, in turn, the wonderful season of Easter with its feasting and joy in the resurrection of Our Lord will be upon us. It is a busy four months for Anglicans! Thankfully, the Church, in its wisdom, has given us a pause these next three weeks — before Lent, we enter into Gesimatide.
Due to the busyness of these months, it’s easy to welcome this respite and let Gesimatide slip by without appreciation. Yet the season — first mentioned in a homily by St. Gregory the Great in the late 600s — is rich with meaning and purpose. So what does Gesimatide mean to Anglicans?
The English equivalent to Gesimatide is the word Shrovetide. You may have also heard this time referred to as Carnival, which is derived from the Latin words carnem levare, “to take away the flesh.” However, one can argue that Shrovetide refers to only the week before Lent. In the "Ecclesiastical Institutes," written by Theodulphus and translated by Abt. Aelfric c. 1000, Shrovetide was recorded as: "In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do in the way of penance."
With this emphasis on saying confession, Gesimatide becomes a preparation for Lent and encourages us to make a confession of sin and receive absolution,thus making Lent a time for penance and renewal of faith. Gesimatide is preparation for preparation! Why? As humans, we cannot move from one thing to the next without transition. In the wisdom of the Church, we are given time in Lent to prepare for Easter, but we are also given time to prepare for being purposeful about preparation! As finite humans, we do not understand immediately but step by step. We read books page by page, watch movies scene by scene, and we experience our lives day by day, season by season. the Church leads us through this narrative of Redemption each year through the liturgical calendar.
Therefore, these few weeks are set aside for us to prayerfully consider how to approach our Lent this year -- to question how we will receive our penance and renew our faith. Take these weeks to set a discipline for your prayers and fasting during Lent, consider giving to your Bishop’s Lenten Appeal during Lent or another ministry, find a devotional book that you can read during Lent such as Purple Headed Mountain by Martin Thornton or Learning the Virtues by Roman Guardini.
Before refrigerators, these weeks were also used to eat up perishables in your home — primarily cheese and meat. St. Gregory the Great, writing to St. Augustine of Canterbury, issued the following rule: "We abstain from flesh, meat, and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese, and eggs." These fasting rules governed the Church in England and developed into the tradition of Shrove Tuesday, when you eat pancakes (made up of the last sugar, butter and eggs in your house!) for dinner. (A sidenote: this old tradition of giving up eggs is partly why we decorate eggs for Easter.) I personally prefer the Polish tradition of pazckis over pancakes and one of these years plan to try the German fasnacht!
Now, I’m not encouraging you to rush off and gain a bunch of weight in three weeks, but remember that Lent is a time of penitence. Now is the time decide how to include fasting, or abstaining, in your Lenten discipline and remove temptations from your home. By preparing in Gesimatide, we will be ready to receive ashes.
This Sunday we celebrate the first gesima, Septuagesima. The word itself, albeit awkward to say, simply means seventieth day. To help you remember, in Latin, “septua-” is the same prefix for seven/multiples of ten and seven (picture a septet, an ensemble of seven). “-Gesima” derives from the Latin for days. Why seventy? Because we are approximately seventy days from Easter. Sexagemisa is 60 days (“sex” is Latin for six) and Quinquagesima is exactly 50 days (“quinque” is Latin for five) from Easter. It is truly a pre-Lenten season — the countdown to Easter has begun!
Here is a breakdown of our lessons and collects during these weeks. Consider studying these passages and adding the collects into your daily prayers:
Collect: O LORD, we beseech thee favourably to hear the prayers of thy people; that we, who are justly punished for our offences, may be mercifully delivered by thy goodness, for the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
Epistle: 1 Cor 9:24-27
Gospel: St. Matthew 20:1. Parable of the workers in the Vineyard.
Collect: O LORD God, who seest that we put not our trust in any thing that we do; Mercifully grant that by thy power we may be defended against all adversity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Epistle: 2 Cor 11:19-31.
Gospel: St. Luke 8:4. Parable of the sower.
Collect: O LORD, who hast taught us that all our doings without charity are nothing worth; Send thy Holy Ghost, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before thee. Grant this for thine only Son Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.
Epistle: 1 Cor 13:1-13.
Gospel: St. Luke 18:31. Healing of a blind man.
Julie McDermott lives in Charlottesville, VA and is the Parish Administrator of All Saints Anglican Church.