What’s a Gesima?

Beloved in Christ,

In 1969, following on the heels of the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church devised a new lectionary, that is, a new cycle by which Scripture is read in church on Sundays. In the 1980s that new lectionary became the basis of the Revised Common Lectionary which is used widely in both Catholic and Protestant churches today, including the Anglican Church of Canada.

Prior to this innovation the lectionary of the Western church reached back about 1,000 years, some readings going back even further.[1] To be sure, certain things were gained with the new lectionary. A three-year rather than a one-year cycle and the addition of a reading from the Old Testament meant that more of the Bible would be heard in church on Sundays. However, other things were lost including the three Sundays before Lent traditionally know as Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima – Latin for 70, 60, and 50 days (approximately) before Easter. Together these three Sundays form the season of Shrovetide.

Illustration from Enid Chadwick’s My Book of the Church’s Year.

We might think of Shrovetide as a pre-Lent. During the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany we celebrate the Word of God come among us in the flesh of Jesus Christ, the love and power and wisdom of God shown to us in Jesus so that we might behold the glory of God and come to share in God’s own life.

Lent is the season when we consider more fully the nature of our transformation in Christ. It is about conflict, suffering, self-denial, and journeying with Christ all the way to the end. But before Lent there are these three Sundays in which we are called back from our Christmas feasting in order to prepare ourselves for the work of Lent. The time for feasting is over, the time for work has begun. Let us then, over these next three Sundays, attend to the virtues required for such work!

God’s peace.


[1] If you are interested to learn more about some of these changes to the lectionary you can read any of the fine essays at Lectionary Central on the subject, perhaps beginning with this one by the Canadian cleric The Rev’d Gavin Dunbar

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