The Liturgical Year

Liturgical year - an overview

 

Introduction

 

The annual cycle of the Christian year allows us to commemorate the life and ministry of Christ, to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit which led to the foundation of the early Church, and to recall the ministry of the apostles and martyrs who spread the Christian faith.

"The liturgical year provides a structure for the Church's collective memory, a way of consecrating our human experience of time in the celebration of God's work - in Christ and in human beings made holy through Christ.

"This act of Christian remembering has proved, over time, to have an extraordinary depth. Through the structuring of our Christian memory, the past is able to come into our present."

Common Worship: Times and Seasons


Seasons

 

The liturgical year is divided into the following seasons:

Advent
Christmas
Epiphany
Ordinary Time (following the Presentation of Christ in the Temple)
Lent
Easter (which includes the Easter Vigil and the Easter Liturgy)
Ordinary Time (following Pentecost)

 

Advent

The season of Advent marks the start of the Christian year, and is a season of expectation and preparation as the Church looks forward to celebrating the birth of Christ.

Although it is a season of preparation, the characteristic note of Advent is expectation, rather than penitence. In this way it has a different mood from Lent. Commercial pressure has also made it harder to retain an appropriate sense of alert watchfulness in our anticipation of Christmas but, for many Christians, the Church's preparation for the coming of Christ is a powerful reminder of the real meaning of the season.

In the northern hemisphere, Advent falls at the darkest time of the year, and the natural symbols of darkness and light are powerfully at work throughout Advent and Christmas. The progressive lighting of candles on the Advent wreath, acts as a liturgical Advent calendar, and is a valuable way of involving children in the liturgy.

As Christmas draws nearer, the focus falls on John the Baptist and then, finally, on Mary, as she prepares to give birth to the Saviour.

 

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Christmas

The celebration of Christ's coming among us at Christmas, the incarnation, is one of the two poles of the Christian year, along with the narrative of his death and resurrection.

Christmas is much more than simply the celebration of Jesus' birth: it reminds us of the central truth of 'the word becoming flesh and dwelling among us' (John 1.14), fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 7.14 that the virgin will conceive and bear a Son, who will be called Emmanuel, 'God is with us'.

One of the challenges for the Church is to continue to celebrate the season of Christmas after the secular world has turned its thoughts elsewhere. Historically Christmas would have extended at least until the Epiphany (the twelve days of Christmas) or as a more extended marking of the incarnation until 2 February, a celebration of forty days.

 

 

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Epiphany

The Feast of the Epiphany on the 6th January marks the beginning of the season of Epiphany. Epiphany means manifestation and the traditional observation begins with the celebration of the visit of wise men from the East. It then explores other ways in which Christ reveals himself to be the Son of God: the celebration of the baptism of Christ by John, when the voice from heaven declared Jesus to be God's beloved Son; and Jesus's first miracle, when he turned water into wine at a wedding in Cana.

In this perspective, the season of Epiphany provides an opportunity for the Church to pray for the worldwide mission of the Church. The week of Prayer for Christian Unity falls appropriately in the Epiphany season.

The end of the season is marked the Feast of the Presentation on the 2nd February. Jesus is brought to the Temple by his parents, according to the Law of Israel. There he is recognized by Anna and Simeon, who declares him to be 'a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of God's people Israel.' The traditional service makes use of a procession of candles as part of the liturgy, and so the Feast is often known as Candlemas.

 

 

 

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Ordinary Time

The Calendar includes two periods of Ordinary Time: an extended period after Pentecost, and a much shorter time between Candlemas and Ash Wednesday. Ordinary time allows for more uninterrupted reading of scripture in sequence, for the exploration of other themes such as creation and the environment, and for creative responses to the Saints' Days that occur at this time.

 

 

 

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Lent

Ash Wednesday marks the start of observation of Lent the most solemn time of the Christian Year. Ashes are an ancient sign of penitence: from the Middle Ages it became the custom to begin Lent by marking Christians with the sign of the cross in ash on their foreheads. The season is traditionally marked by self-examination, fasting and preparation for Easter. It is a time when Christians reflect on the biblical account of Jesus in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13).

It also became a time when those who were to be baptized at Easter were instructed in the Christian faith. It became customary for the whole Christian community to join them in study and self-reflection, through a period of forty days, corresponding to the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, being tested by Satan.

As Holy Week approaches, the atmosphere of the season darkens. Bible readings begin to anticipate the story of Christ's suffering and death. Holy Week begins with the re-enactment of Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. This is the beginning of a journey of the imagination which takes us to the Upper Room for the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, through Jesus' betrayal, trial and crucifixion on Good Friday. Easter Eve, or Holy Saturday, is a day like no other, a day of desolation and despair. In the Easter Vigil, the Church gathers to call to mind the mighty works of God through reading of scripture, in preparation for the proclamation of the resurrection, which marks the beginning of the celebration of Easter.

 

 

 

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Easter

The Easter Liturgy has included baptism or the renewal of baptismal promises from the earliest times. Those who are baptized are united with Christ in his death and resurrection. Traditionally, new fire is kindled and from this the Easter candle is lit and held aloft with the proclamation: 'The light of Christ'. This Easter liturgy can provide a real experience of new life. This passing from darkness to light offers hope to all the faithful, as the Church celebrates the risen Christ.

The season of Easter is celebrated for fifty days culminating in the feast of Pentecost. Since the late fourth century, on the fortieth day there has been a kind of staging-post celebrating Christ's ascension to heaven. This marks the end of his earthly ministry and it is therefore closely connected with the theme of mission. Matthew's Gospel ends with Jesus's final words to his disciples, that they should go to all nations and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28.19-20). In John's Gospel, Jesus instructed his followers to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 14.15-17). The feast of Pentecost celebrates the account of the Holy Spirit coming on the disciples empowering them for mission (Acts 2:1-47). Ascension and Pentecost are closely linked. The Church is now to be the new body of Christ, filled with his life through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

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