Anglican, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and
Lutheran churches follow the Christian Church Year, with each making
its own distinctive additions. A new emphasis on tradition is
bringing the Christian Year into even wider use among all Christian
faiths. The Christian Year is as old as the Resurrection of
our Lord and as new as the last church which adopts it. After the resurrection, the disciples of Jesus began a weekly celebration
on the first day of the week, Sunday. The disciples, like our
Lord, had observed the Jewish ritual year. Eventually they substituted
Sunday for Saturday, Easter for Passover, and the Baptism of the Holy
Spirit for the giving of the Law from Sinai. Adding certain
preparatory and penitential seasons, they had by the sixth century
developed a Christian Year, substantially as we know it today.
The Church Year begins on the Sunday
closest to November 30. The four weeks of Advent
are devoted to preparation for the birth of Jesus, celebrated in the
Feast of the Nativity (Christmas). The season of Christmas lasts
twelve days, from the traditional Christmas Eve services to the feast
of the Epiphany (January 6), sometimes called 12th night.
the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles (non-Jews), symbolized
by the coming of the wise men. We also mark Christ’s baptism
by John on the first Sunday after the Epiphany. Epiphany is
followed by a stretch of “ordinary time” that lasts until
Ash Wednesday, that great day of penitence that marks the beginning
Lent, the forty days
of preparation for Easter, is symbolic of the forty days spent by
Moses in the wilderness, the forty years spent by the Jews traveling
to the Promised Land, and Jesus’ forty days of fasting and temptation
in the wilderness. For Christians, Lent is a time of fasting
from food and from festivities, of prayer and self-examination that
culminates in Holy Week.
The sixth and last Sunday
of Lent is the beginning of Holy Week and is known as Passion
or Palm Sunday. It commemorates the day that Jesus entered
Jerusalem with his disciples to celebrate the Passover. Entering
not on a war horse, but on a donkey, Jesus demonstrated that he would
not accomplish his mission through violence, but through sacrifice
Maundy Thursday is the day of the “Last Supper”
shared by Jesus with his disciples, during which he gave a “New
Commandment” that the disciples “love one another”
as Jesus loved them. Good Friday is the day
that Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. Holy
Saturday is often marked by the first celebration of Jesus’
resurrection during the Great Vigil of Easter, either held on Saturday
night or early on Sunday morning. These three days of Holy Week
are sometimes called the Triduum of Great Three Days.
Holy Week and the season of Lent
ends with the joy of Jesus’ resurrection, celebrated at the
Feast of the Resurrection, commonly called Easter Day.
It is the greatest of all festivals in the Church Year.
Easter falls on the Sunday after the 14th Paschal moon- that is-
the calendar moon whose 14th day falls on or after the vernal equinox,
March 21st. The Book of Common Prayer contains a chart
to determine when Easter will fall. (BCP pg. 882-83) The celebration of Easter
continues through Great 50 Days that follow.
They culminate in the
Feast of Pentecost, celebrating
the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. It is often said
that this day is the Church’s birthday. Pentecost is followed
by Trinity Sunday and then a long stretch of "ordinary time"
leading to the next Advent, when the Church Year begins again.
Episcopal churches employ a
color system that identifies festivals of the Church Year and special
days. Altar hangings and vestments worn by clergy are changed
to identify the season of the Church Year or the particular feast
day that is being celebrated.
Purple, the color of penitence
and expectation, is used in the seasons of Lent and Advent.
White, a symbol of purity and joy, is used to celebrate
the most important days of the year relating to Christ—Christmas,
Easter, the Ascension, Trinity Sunday, the Transfiguration, and the
Epiphany, as well as marriages, baptisms, and burial.
Red, a symbol of the Holy Spirit, is used at Pentecost,
Holy Week, Confirmation and Ordination. It is also used for
martyred saint’s days.
Green, a symbol of hope, life, and nature, is used
for the two longest seasons, Epiphany and Pentecost, which make up
most of the Church Year.
Black, a symbol of mourning,
is the color for Good Friday. The altar and processional crosses
are shrouded in black at the end of the Maundy Thursday liturgy.