Etymology: Quinquagesima

“Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.”

Anthony J. D’Angelo

It always amazes me the things that I don’t know. I hope that amazement and discovery never ends. I recently became aware of a rather old word: Quinquagesima. I am actually surprised that I hadn’t heard of it before as 1) I grew up learning Latin, and 2) I grew up in something of a traditional Lutheran household. But clearly, my learning was limited in both respects, for I have no memory of learning this word in either of those two contexts. But I was listening to a podcast that addressed this word, and I thought I would share its history with you!

For those who don’t know Latin, Quinquagesima comes from the Latin word quinquagesimus, which means fiftieth. But fifty what? Well, Quinquagesima Sunday marks fifty days, specifically, fifty days until Easter! Normally we speak of the forty days of Lent, and I suppose I’ll talk about that at some point as well, but here we have fifty days from Sunday to Sunday, which are not included in the forty-day count of Lent. As may be evident, this term is largely out of use. Most people probably call this day the last Sunday before Lent, if for no other reason, most people don’t speak Latin anymore. Also, most people and churches focus on the start of the Lenten season (which, by the way, is called Quadragesima). This time is also overshadowed by religious and secular festivities, such as carnival, fat Tuesday, mardi gras, shrove Tuesday, fastelavn, Tłusty Czwartek, and whatever other name is used for this time leading up to the Lenten season. But for today, it is Quinquagesima Sunday.

What I find particularly symbolic and intriguing about these fifty days is that there is another count of fifty just after it: the days leading to Pentecost. This Greek word refers to the fifty days after Passover, or for the Christian calendar, the fiftieth day after Easter. So we have ourselves 100 days. Fifty of these days are in “penitential reflection” and fasting; we mourn our sin and reflect. Then we have fifty days of rejoicing! These fifty days follow the Resurrection of our Lord, and so we Easter Christians rejoice in our salvation in Christ! I like the reflection of these two sets of fifty. But while I knew of the latter, I never knew of the former, and I think this symmetry is beautiful and necessary.

At the start of these fifty days, we reflect on the previous Palm Sunday and Easter, for we burn the palm branches that we celebrated with last year. These are fifty days of reflection. But as we head into this season, these next fifty (or forty) days, let us also look forward to Resurrection Day and the fifty days that follow until we get to Pentecost, when we remember how the disciples were first sent out to share the good news with everyone.

Blessings to you and yours,

~Madelyn Rose Craig


Works Referenced

“Church Year.” Edited by Lueker, Poellot, and Jackson. Christian Cyclopedia. Concordia Publishing House. 2000.

“Quinquagesima.”

“What is Quinquagesima Sunday?” Catholic Answers.

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