Liturgical Seasons

Season of Advent

The Christian year begins with Advent. The word Advent comes from the Latin advenire, which means “coming.” The season focuses on the coming of Jesus Christ in the past (as incarnate Son), in the present (as risen Lord), and in the future (as heavenly King). Thus we can say: “Christ has come, Christ is coming, Christ will come again.” Advent is a season of joyous and solemn expectation. The liturgical color is purple, symbolic of a spirit of penitence and preparation. One of the ways Advent is celebrated is with the Advent wreath. The Advent wreath is a circle of evergreens with four-colored candles, one each for each Sunday in Advent. There is a fifth, white candle in the center of the wreath, the Christ Candle. One of the purple candles is lit on the first Sunday of Advent. An additional candle is lit on each following Sunday. On the third Sunday, a pink color is substituted for the purple to remind us that even in this time of penitence and preparation, there is joy.  The white candle is lit on Christmas Eve.

Christmastide

Christmastide (also Christmas or the Christmas season) is one of the seasons of the liturgical year. This period is also commonly known as the Twelve Days of Christmas, as referred to in the Christmas carol of the same name, or Yuletide, as in “Deck the Halls.” It tends to be defined (with slight variations) as the period from Christmas Eve to the evening of January 5, the day before Epiphany. Epiphany, from the Greek word that means “appearance” or “to make known,” is a season that follows Christmas and focuses on God’s presence made known to all the world as revealed in Jesus Christ. The Feast of Epiphany is celebrated on January 6 when the church celebrates the visit of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12).

Epiphany

The Season of Epiphany, from the Greek word, epiphaneia, meaning an appearance or manifestation, stresses the various ways in which Jesus Christ has made God manifest through his mighty deeds and words. The season begins on January 6, the Epiphany of the Lord, which completes the twelve days of Christmas, and commemorates the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus. The season continues with a recital of the signs and teachings of Jesus, ending with the Transfiguration of the Lord, in which Christ’s sonship is reaffirmed. The liturgical color for the season is green, suggesting the renewal which comes through Christ’s ministry.

Season of Lent

Lent is the season in which we anticipate Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem and the self-giving nature of love shown in his passion and death. The season begins with Ash Wednesday and extends for forty weekdays through Saturday of Holy Week. Sundays are excluded from Lent, being regarded as feast days in the midst of the forty-day fast. Because Lent is the most strongly penitential season of the year, the liturgical color purple is again used. The symbol of the crown of thorns represents the suffering of Christ, which reaches its apex during Holy Week.

Holy Week

These are some of the most intense days in the church’s year of grace, culminating in the Easter Triduum (Thursday sunset to Sunday sunset). Monday through Thursday afternoon comprise the minor days in Holy Week, occasions for pondering the meaning of Scripture in the context of prayer and meditation, particularly the portrayal of the final events. On the night of Holy Thursday, sometimes called “Maundy Thursday,” a term derived through the Old French mande from the Latin mandatum novum, “a new commandment,” we remember and celebrate the final supper Jesus shared with his disciples. This evening also marks the beginning of the most solemn and joyful celebration of the entire Christian Year. We enter what Augustine referred to as “the triduum during which the Lord died, was buried, and rose again.”

Season of Easter

The burst of resurrection joy of Easter permeates the entire period from Easter through Pentecost. This Season of Easter is also known as the Great Fifty Days, the time between the resurrection and the receiving of the Holy Spirit by the whole church in Jerusalem. While Easter is the Sunday of all Sundays, gathering up and transfiguring the narrative of Holy Week, and indeed the whole history of God’s mighty works, the resurrection courses through the days and weeks of the Season of Easter as one great extended Lord’s Day. It lifts up the facets of the redeeming work of God in Christ, commemorating Christ’s triumph over death, his post-resurrection appearances, his ascension, and his promise of the Spirit’s companionship. The liturgical color of the season is white, which is used on occasions with a strong Christological emphasis.

Day of Pentecost

This Sunday is the Day of Pentecost in the Christian Year. This day is the great climax of the Easter-Pentecost Season, known as the Great Fifty Days. On this day we remember and celebrate the fullness of God’s promises in Jesus Christ. Before us this day is the whole sweep of Christ’s death and resurrection, his ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit with all God’s gifts and commissioning power for the church. Pentecost has Jewish roots, however. It was first associated with a grain offering and later became a feast to commemorate the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. But for Christians through the centuries, Pentecost marks the birthday of the church. The liturgical color is red, which is used for occasions which highlight the Holy Spirit.

Trinity Sunday & The Season of Pentecost

This Sunday in the calendar of the Christian Year is Trinity Sunday. Having celebrated the “birthday of the church” through the giving of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, we enter the long Season after Pentecost which celebrates the existence of the church and recalls her mission in the world. This season begins on Trinity Sunday as the church’s belief in a triune God—Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer—is fully affirmed. It is a day in which we praise and worship the infinitely complex and unfathomable mystery of God’s being as Holy Trinity. Although the basic liturgical color for this half of the Christian Year is green, for Trinity Sunday the liturgical color is white, symbolizing God’s purity and perfection.

All Saints Day

All Saints Day is November 1 but may be celebrated on the first Sunday in November in the Christian year. Originally, the feast day was closely associated in the calendar with the resurrection; and in Eastern Orthodoxy it is observed in the Octave of Pentecost. But in the West, the date was moved to November 1 in 835. In contemporary understanding, it celebrates the saintly status of all Christian people of every time and place. The service of worship and holy communion reminds us of those for whom the battle is over, the victory won, and also of our continuing pilgrimage toward God and the heavenly banquet. To render thanks to God for the lives and deaths of the saints is to recognize the common bond between the church on earth and the church triumphant in God’s love. The liturgical color is white, signifying that it is Christ who lives in the saints.

Christ the King Sunday

Christ the King is both the Last Sunday after Pentecost and the last Sunday of the Christian year, a transitional Sunday leading directly to Advent and the new Christian year. On Christ the King Sunday, worship stresses the continuity between the celebration of Christ’s sovereignty (kingship) and the expectation of Christ’s coming again in glory, which is anticipated in the Season of Advent. The day occurs between November 20 and 26 inclusive. Although most would assume that the universal feast day dates from the Middle Ages, Pope Pius XI added it in 1925. He intended it as a day to celebrate and remember Christ’s kingship over all creation, as well as remind us that all humanity must submit to Christ’s rule. The customary liturgical color for the day is white, which is reserved for all occasions where there is a strong Christological emphasis.