After the Transfiguration of Our Lord, the little season of pre-Lent begins. It is a three-week season that serves as a time for preparation for Lent. Lent is the forty-day journey to the Paschal Mystery. But we are much better prepared for this journey if we pack what we need for the journey.
Pre-Lent bridges the gap between the Time of Christmas and the Time of Easter. The Time of Christmas ends with the Transfiguration, the last of Jesus' Epiphanies Jesus to His disciples before His death. The Time of Easter begins with Ash Wednesday. Pre-Lent offers us the ability to transition from the joy and glory of Christmastide into the sorrow and solemnity of Lent. We can prepare for the journey ahead. The Gospel readings of pre-Lent reflect this preparation through the three solas of the Reformation: sola gratia (grace alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), sola fide (faith alone).
On Septuagesima (70 days), we see sola gratia as we look at the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). Every worker that the vineyard owner hired received the same wage, whether they had worked one hour or twelve. Their payment was not based on how long they worked. Their payment was based on the vineyard owner's generosity.
On Sexagesima (60 days), we see solus Christus in the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-15). The seed is the Word of God. Jesus is the Word incarnate. The power for growth is not in the soil. The power for growth is in the seed. You cannot grow in grace and favor with God without Jesus.
On Quinquagesima (50 days), we see sola fide in the life of the blind beggar (Luke 18:31-43). When he requests to recover his sight, Jesus says those wonderful words, "Your faith has made you well." The only way you can come and boldly make your requests known to God is by faith in Jesus (Philippians 4:6).
The pre-Lent season strips away everything that we might want to try to contribute to our salvation, leaving it with just our dependence on Jesus. The Collects for these Sundays say the same thing:
- May we mercifully be delivered by Your goodness (Sept.) ... by Your power may we be defended against all adversities (Sex.) ... having set us free from the bonds of our sins, deliver us from every evil (Quin.).
Going through pre-Lent, we are truly prepared to begin the Lenten journey. The themes from Quinquagesima give a much smoother transition into Lent than Transfiguration. In pre-Lent, even though the paraments are still green, we omit the Alleluias and the Hymn of Praise in the Divine Service and substitute another hymn ("On My Heart Imprint Your Image," LSB #422) in the place of the New Testament Canticle in the Service of Prayer & Preaching.
Unfortunately, the Western Church eliminated the pre-Lent season through the canons of the Second Vatican Council. Following the Roman Catholics, Lutherans (and most other liturgical churches) got rid of this "extra" season, adding on Sundays after the Epiphany (or Ordinary Time in the Roman Catholic calendar). With this shift from the historic one-year lectionary to a revision of Vatican II's three-year lectionary, the LCMS also removed this time of preparation after the publication of the Lutheran Worship hymnal in 1982. Even the congregations that kept The Lutheran Hymnal of 1941 as their hymnal changed the Church Year to reflect the changes by Vatican II. The move back to the one-year lectionary has given us this treasure of pre-Lent back.