The Quinquagesima dureth from the Sunday in which is sung in the Church in the office of the mass, Esto mihi, etc. And that endeth on Easter day, and is instituted for supplication and fulfilling, for signification, and for representation. For fulfilling and accomplishing because that we should fast forty days after the form of Jesu Christ.
And there be but thirty-six days to fast, but men fast not the Sundays, for the gladness and the reverence of the Resurrection, and also for the ensample of Jesu Christ, which ate two times with his disciples on the day of his Resurrection, when he entered in where his disciples were, and the doors or gates shut, and they brought him part of a roasted fish and of a honey-comb. And after that, with his two disciples which went to Emmaus, he ate also, as some say. And therefore be four days put to, for accomplishing of the Sundays which be not fasted.
And after because the clergy go before the common people, so should they go in devotion and holiness, therefore they begin to fast two days before, and abstain them from eating flesh. And thus is one week put, which is called the Quinquagesima, after this that S. Ambrose saith.
That other reason is for the signification, for the Quinquagesima signifieth the time of remission and of penance, in which the sins be pardoned and forgiven. The fiftieth year was the year of remission, for then the debts were quitted, and the bondmen were franchised and let go free, and every one came again to his heritage. By which is understood that by penance our sins be forgiven, and from the servitude and bondage of our enemy we be delivered, and so we be returned to the mansion of our heritage of heaven.
The third reason is for representation. For the Quinquagesima representeth not to us only the time of remission, but also the state of the beatitude of heaven which is to us represented. For in the fiftieth year servants were made free, and in the fiftieth day that the lamb was sacrificed the law of Moses was given. And the fiftieth day after Paske the Holy Ghost was given. And therefore this name fifty, representeth the beatitude of heaven, whereas was taken the possession of liberty, the knowledge of verity, and perfection of charity.
Now it is to wit that three things be necessary which be contained and set in the Epistle and in the Gospel, that is that penance, that is to say the works of penance be perfect. That is to wit charity, which is purposed in the Epistle; and the memory of the passion of Jesu Christ; and faith which is understood by the sight given to the blind man which be contained in the gospel.
For faith maketh the works acceptable to God. For without faith no man may please God, and the mind of the passion of God maketh the works light. Whereof saith S. Gregory: If the passion of Jesu Christ be well had in mind, there is nothing but it may be borne and suffered easily, for the love of God may not be idle. This saith S. Gregory: If it work, it is great, and if it refuse, it is no love.
And thus as the Church at the beginning, as despaired, had cried: Circumderunt me gemitus mortis, and after returning to him demanded to be holpen, thus now when she hath taken affiance and hope of pardon, for hope of penance she prayeth and saith: Esto mihi in Deum protectorem.
Or she demandeth four things, that it is to wit protection, confirmation, refuge and conduct. All the children of the Church or they be in grace or they be in sin, or in adversity, or in prosperity. They that be in grace demand for to be confirmed, they that be in sin demand refuge, they in adversity demand protection, that they from their tribulations may be defended, and they in prosperity demand conduct that they may be of God led and conducted. And thus as it is said Quinquagesima termineth and endeth at Easter, because that penance maketh them to rise to new life. And in signification hereof the psalm of Miserere mei Deus, which is the fiftieth psalm and the psalm of penance, is in the time of Lent oft used and said.