UNDERSTANDING YOUR FAITH: LITURGICAL YEAR
By Vic Scaravilli
The Catholic Church follows a calendar based on the life of Christ. Why does our church follow this cycle? When did it start? Who established it? These are questions that are often asked.
As people from the earliest of times have used a calendar to mark the times of the year showing seasons, holidays, and special events, so too does the Catholic Church. Instead of marking the times of the year, the Church marks the major events in Christís life here on earth as He fulfilled Godís plan of salvation.
All events of the liturgical year that are recorded in the Gospels actually happened in history. The early church divided the year into different times of Jesusí ministry on earth to be celebrated yearly to remind us of the major events of salvation history. This yearly cycle developed over time as the church defined the essentials of the faith.
It was the Catholic Church that defined and started celebrating the liturgical year. The early church, as it began to develop in the first several centuries, created different seasons to celebrate the life of Christ on earth.
The following are several examples of when some of the churchís special days were originated. The church celebrates the day of Christís resurrection or the ďLordís DayĒ as the Sabbath or Sunday. This was changed in the first century when Sunday became the 1st day of the week instead of the Sabbath being Saturday or the 7th day. Easter was celebrated by the second century and Christmas was not celebrated until the 4th century.
In each liturgical year, the Church celebrates Jesusí birth, life, death, and resurrection. This cycle is repeated every year and we celebrate them each Sunday in mass. Every Sundayís mass contains readings from the Bible that reflect on the specific day that is celebrated. In the course of three full liturgical or church years, the entire Bible is read.
There are also liturgical colors that are used during the different times of the church year. The most obvious are the colors of the robes worn by the priest and deacon as the mass is being celebrated. The colors worn by the celebrants reflect the specific day that is observed. White: symbolizes triumph and joy and is worn on most important solemnities and feast days; Green: color of hope, life, and growth and is worn during Ordinary Time; Violet or purple: symbolizes a time of expectation, purification, and penance and is worn during Advent and Lent; Red: symbolizes the sacrificial love of God and is worn on feast days of apostles, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Pentecost.
The church year begins with the birth of Jesus and ends after His Resurrection.
ADVENT begins the start to the liturgical year and is the period of 4 weeks that looks forward to birth of Christ.
CHRISTMAS SEASON is 40 days long and celebrates the birth of Jesus and also includes Epiphany that commemorates the manifestation of Jesus to the whole world.
WINTER ORDINARY TIME is a period of many weeks where the church focuses of the life of Christ as he matures, ministers, and teaches up to the time of His death and Resurrection.
LENT starts with Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days where we reflect on what Christ did for us in His victory over sin. We enter into a season of repentance and reconciliation.
HOLY WEEK is the most solemn week in the church year that commemorates the events of Jesusí life from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem until His Resurrection on Easter morning. It starts with Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday.
FIFTY DAYS OF EASTER celebrates the Resurrection of Christ and is culminated on Pentecost when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit given to the people and is called the birthday of the church.
SUMMER ORDINARY TIME is a period of many weeks where we learn of Jesusí teachings and ministry where we celebrate his life among us.
So as we observe the different times of the Church year, know that we are continuing to celebrate the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ as has been done by his Church for centuries in following the liturgical year.