Three weeks prior to Ash Wednesday, on the day before Septuagesima Sunday, a touching ceremony is held. A choir assembles, chants the divine office and, afterwards, sings a bittersweet hymn bidding farewell to the word "Alleluia"
That ceremony, known as the Depositio of the Alleluia, ushers in the season of Septuagesima, the roughly seventy days prior to Easter that help us make the transition from the joy of Epiphany to the penitence of Lent.
So important was Lent to both Eastern and Western Christians that they actually had a separate season to prepare for it. Thus, the day after Septuagesima Sunday, they would begin a period of voluntary fasting that would grow more severe as it approached the full and obligatory fast of Lent. The amount of food would be reduced, and the consumption of certain items, such as butter, milk, eggs, and cheese, would gradually be abandoned. Starting on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, this self-imposed asceticism would culminate in abstinence from meat. Thus the name for this seven-day period before Ash Wednesday, is "Carnival," from the Latin carne levarium, meaning "removal of meat." Finally, within the week of Carnival, the last three days (the three days prior to Lent) would be reserved for going to confession This period was known as "Shrovetide," from the old English word "to shrive," or to have one's sins forgiven through absolution.