THE LITURGICAL YEAR
The Churchís Liturgical year reflects the life of Christ, and of the Church itself.
The Churchís year begins with Advent. The word Advent comes from the Latin ad-venio, which means to come to. Advent begins with the evening prayer on the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Andrew (November 30th). Advent is a time of penitential preparation. The Church and its people prepare themselves for the arrival of the Savior just as the prophets in the Old Testament awaited the Messiah. There is to be no festive music, organ solos or reading of the Gloria. The Sundays of Advent are named the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Sundays of Advent. The 3rd Sunday of Advent is also called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for "rejoice". Advent ends before evening prayer I of Christmas.
Christmas Season begins at the evening prayer I of Christmas (Christmas eve). Christmas is the season we celebrate the arrival of the light of Christ into the darkness of the world. Christmas day itself is the beginning of the Christmas Octave. An Octave is a special eight days of celebration and prayer that accompany special Holy days. The Octave of Christmas includes, and ends on January 1. January 1 is a holy day which celebrates the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Christmas Season ends on the Sunday after Epiphany (January 6th).
January 6th is Epiphany, which means manifestation, and commemorates the adoration of the Magi. While not a holy day of obligation in the U.S., it is such on the Churchís universal calendar. In this country Epiphany is celebrated on the Sunday closest to January 6th.
The Sunday following Epiphany is the Baptism of the Lord. This Sunday is both the last day of the Christmas Season and the first Sunday of Ordinary Time. Ordinary time is that time which does not include any of the other special seasons which precede or follow Christmas and Easter. There are 33 or 34 Sundays of Ordinary time depending on the year. Ordinary time is split in two by the Lent and Easter Seasons.
The Season of Lent starts on Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is 40 days before Easter Sunday (not counting Sundays). Lent is a time of penance and fasting in which the Church prepares for Christís Passion and death on the cross for our sins. There is to be no festive music or reading of the Gloria. The Sundays of Lent are called the First, Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent. The fourth Sunday of Lent is also known as Laetare Sunday. Laetare is Latin for "be glad". The sixth Sunday is called Passion Sunday or Palm Sunday because the gospel readings are always those of Christís Passion. Palms are also given out to commemorate Christís entry into Jerusalem. Lent runs up to but does not include the Mass of the Lordís Supper (Holy Thursday).
The three days immediately preceding Easter Sunday are called the Easter Triduum. The Easter Triduum consists of Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday), Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. These days celebrate Christís saving passion and death. On Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday) the priests and bishops wash the male altar serversí feet, commemorating Christís washing of the apostles' feet at the Last Supper. On the evening of Holy Thursday, the Host is taken out of the tabernacle symbolizing the time when the Christ was in the tomb and not with us. Good Friday and Holy Saturday are the only days of the year when no Mass is said. There is an anticipatory Mass on Holy Saturday evening, but it is actually for Easter, not the day of Holy Saturday itself.
Easter Sunday begins the Easter Season which runs for 50 days and celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox (March 21st). Easter Sunday is the First Sunday of Easter, followed by the Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Sundays of Easter. The first eight days of the Season are the Octave of Easter. Ascension Thursday is 40 days after Easter, which commemorates the Lordís ascension into heaven.
Nine days after Ascension Thursday is Pentecost, also known as Whitsunday, and recalls the sending of the Holy Spirit to the apostles and Mary in the upper room. Pentecost is considered the birthday of the Church. It is also the last day of the Easter Season.
The Monday after Pentecost, Ordinary Time picks up where it left off before Lent, and continues for another 23 weeks or so. During this portion of Ordinary Time, the Church waits for Christ to return as triumphal judge. On His return He will be, instead of the humble baby of His first arrival, the revealed King of the Universe. For this reason the Church year ends with Christ the King Sunday. Christ the King Sunday is always the last Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent.
In the seasons of the Churchís Liturgical year the life of Christ, and of His Church, are demonstrated visibly.
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Published by The Minnesota St. Thomas More Chapter of Catholics United for the Faith, September 1999.