Liturgical year

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For Dom Guéranger's series of books, see The Liturgical Year.
"Christian year" redirects here. For John Keble's series of poems, see The Christian Year.

The liturgical year, also known as the church year or Christian year, consists of the cycle of liturgical seasons in Christian churches that determines when feast days, including celebrations of saints, are to be observed, and which portions of Scripture are to be read either in an annual cycle or in a cycle of several years.

Distinct liturgical colours may appear in connection with different seasons of the liturgical year. The dates of the festivals vary somewhat between the different churches, though the sequence and logic is largely the same.

Liturgical cycle[edit]

Liturgical year
Western
Eastern

The liturgical year of some western churches other than the Catholic Church, indicating the liturgical colours.

The liturgical cycle divides the year into a series of seasons, each with their own mood, theological emphases, and modes of prayer, which can be signified by different ways of decorating churches, colours of paraments and vestments for clergy, scriptural readings, themes for preaching and even different traditions and practices often observed personally or in the home. In churches that follow the liturgical year, the scripture passages for each Sunday (and even each day of the year in some traditions) are specified in a lectionary.

After the Protestant Reformation, Anglicans and Lutherans continued to follow the lectionary of the Roman Rite. Following a decision of the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church revised that lectionary in 1969, adopting a three-year cycle of readings for Sundays and a two-year cycle for weekdays.

Adaptations of the revised Roman Rite lectionary were adopted by Protestants, leading to the publication in 1994 of the Revised Common Lectionary for Sundays and major feasts, which is now used by many Protestant denominations, including also Methodists, Reformed, United, etc. This has led to a greater awareness of the traditional Christian year among Protestants, especially among mainline denominations.

Biblical calendars[edit]

Scholars are not in agreement about whether the calendars used by the Jews before the Babylonian captivity were solar (based on the return of the same relative position between the sun and the earth) or lunisolar (based on months that corresponded to the cycle of the moon, with periodic additional months to bring the calendar back into agreement with the solar cycle) like the present-day Hebrew calendar.[1] ` The first month of the year was called אביב (Aviv),[2] meaning the month of green ears of grain.[3] It thus occurred in the spring.

At about the time of the Babylonian captivity, the Jews adopted as the name for the month the term ניסן (Nisan),[4] based on the Babylonian name Nisanu.[5] Thomas J Talley says that the adoption of the Babylonian term occurred even before the captivity.[6]

In the earlier calendar, most of the months were simply called by a number (such as "the fifth month"). The Babylonian-derived names of the months currently used by Jews are:

  1. Nisan (March–April)
  2. Iyar (April–May)
  3. Sivan (May–June)
  4. Tammuz (June–July)
  5. Av (July–August)
  6. Elul (August–September)
  7. Tishrei (September–October)
  8. Cheshvan (October–November)
  9. Kislev (November–December)
  10. Tevet (December–January)
  11. Shevat (January–February)
  12. Adar (February–March)

In Biblical times, the following Jewish religious feasts were celebrated :

  • Hanukkah (Dedication or Lights) – 25 Kislev (instituted in 164 BC)
  • Purim (Lots) – 14 Adar (instituted c. 400 BC)

Western liturgical calendar[edit]

The month of October from a liturgical calendar for Abbotsbury Abbey. 13th-century manuscript (British Library, Cotton MS Cleopatra B IX, folio 59r).

Western Christian liturgical calendars are based on the cycle of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, including Lutheran, Anglican, and other Protestant calendars since this cycle pre-dates the Reformation. Generally, the liturgical seasons in western Christianity are Advent, Christmas, Ordinary Time (Time after Epiphany), Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time (Time after Pentecost).

Catholic Church liturgical year[edit]

The Catholic Church sets aside certain days and seasons of each year to recall and celebrate various events in the life of Christ. In its Roman Rite the liturgical year begins with Advent, the time of preparation for both the celebration of Jesus' birth, and his expected second coming at the end of time. This season lasts until 24 December (Christmas Eve).[7] Christmastide follows, beginning with First Vespers of Christmas on the evening of 24 December and ending with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

Lent is the period of purification and penance that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday. The Holy Thursday evening Mass of the Lord's Supper marks the beginning of the Easter Triduum, which includes Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.[7] The days of the Easter Triduum recall Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples, death on the cross, burial, and resurrection. The seven-week liturgical season of Easter immediately follows the Triduum, climaxing at Pentecost. This last feast recalls the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus' disciples after the Ascension of Jesus. The rest of the liturgical year is commonly known as Ordinary Time.[7]

There are many forms of liturgy in the Catholic Church. Even putting aside the many Eastern rites in use, the Latin liturgical rites alone include the Ambrosian Rite, the Mozarabic Rite, and the Cistercian Rite, as well as other forms that have been largely abandoned in favour of adopting the Roman Rite.

Of this rite, what is now the "ordinary" or, to use a word employed in the Letter of Pope Benedict XVI accompanying the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, the "normal" form is that which developed from the Second Vatican Council to the present day, while the form in force in 1962 is authorized as an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite without restriction in private celebrations, and under the conditions indicated in article 5 of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum in public celebrations.[8]

The liturgical calendar in that form of the Roman Rite (see General Roman Calendar of 1960) differs in some respects from that of the present ordinary form, as will be noted below, and also from the earlier General Roman Calendar of Pope Pius XII, the still earlier General Roman Calendar of 1954 and the original Tridentine Calendar. These articles can be consulted with regard to the Roman-Rite liturgical year before 1960.

Advent[edit]

Roman Rite liturgical year
Main article: Advent

Advent (from the Latin word adventus, which means "arrival" or "coming") is the first season of the liturgical year. It begins four Sundays before Christmas, the Sunday falling on or nearest to 30 November, and ends on Christmas Eve. Traditionally observed as a "fast", it focuses on preparation for the coming of Christ, not only the coming of the Christ-child at Christmas, but also, in the first weeks, on the eschatological final coming of Christ, making Advent "a period for devout and joyful expectation".[9]

This season is often marked by the Advent Wreath, a garland of evergreens with four candles. Although the main symbolism of the advent wreath is simply marking the progression of time, many churches attach themes to each candle, most often 'hope', 'faith', 'joy', and 'love'.

Liturgical colour: violet or purple;[10] blue in some traditions[which?][citation needed]

Christmas[edit]

A white coloured parament hangs from the pulpit, indicating that the current liturgical season is Christmastide. The fact that the Christ Candle in the centre of the Advent wreath is lit also indicates that Christmas has arrived.
Main article: Christmastide

The Christmas season immediately follows Advent. The traditional Twelve Days of Christmas begin with Christmas Eve on the evening of December 24 and continue until the feast of Epiphany. The actual Christmas season continues until the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, which in the present form of the Roman Rite is celebrated on the Sunday after 6 January, or the following Monday if that Sunday is Epiphany.[11]

In the pre-1970 form, this feast is celebrated on 13 January, unless 13 January is a Sunday, in which case the feast of the Holy Family is celebrated instead.[11] Until the suppression of the Octave of the Epiphany in the 1960 reforms, 13 January was the Octave day of the Epiphany, providing the date for the end of the season.

Liturgical colour: white

Ordinary Time or Time after Epiphany[edit]

Main article: Ordinary Time

"Ordinary" comes from the same root as our word "ordinal", and in this sense means "the counted weeks". In the Roman Catholic Church and in some Protestant traditions, these are the common weeks which do not belong to a proper season. In Latin, these seasons are called the weeks per annum, or "through the year".

In the current form of the Roman Rite adopted following the Second Vatican Council, Ordinary Time consists of 33 or 34 Sundays and is divided into two sections. The first portion extends from the day following the Feast of the Baptism of Christ until the day before Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent). It contains anywhere from three to eight Sundays, depending on how early or late Easter falls.

The main focus in the readings of the Mass is Christ's earthly ministry, rather than any one particular event. The counting of the Sundays resumes following Eastertide, however, two Sundays are replaced by Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, and depending on whether the year has 52 or 53 weeks, one may be omitted.

In the pre-1970 form of the Roman Rite, the Time after Epiphany has anywhere from one to six Sundays. As in the current form of the rite, the season mainly concerns Christ's preaching and ministry, with many of his parables read as the Gospel readings. The season begins on 14 January[12] and ends on the Saturday before Septuagesima Sunday. Omitted Sundays after Epiphany are transferred to Time after Pentecost and celebrated between the Twenty-Third and the Last Sunday after Pentecost according to an order indicated in the Code of Rubrics, 18, with complete omission of any for which there is no Sunday available in the current year.[13] Before the 1960 revisions, the omitted Sunday would be celebrated on the Saturday before Septuagesima Sunday,[14] or, in the case of the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost, on the Saturday before the Last Sunday after Pentecost.[15]

Liturgical colour: green

Septuagesima/Pre-Lenten Season[edit]

Main articles: Septuagesima and Pre-Lenten Season

Septuagesima (from the Latin word for "seventieth") is a two-and-a-half-week period before Lent. This pre-Lent season is present in the pre-1970 form of the Roman Rite and in some Protestant calendars. It is a transition from the first part of the season per annum[16] to the season of Lent, and a preparation for the fasting and penance which begin on Ash Wednesday. Although most of the Divine Office remains the same as during the season per annum, certain customs of Lent are adopted, including the suppression of the "Alleluia", the replacement of the Alleluia at Mass with the Tract and the Gloria is no longer said on Sundays.

In the 1969 reform of the Roman Rite, this intermediate season was removed, with these weeks becoming part of Ordinary Time.

Liturgical colour (where observed): violet or purple

Lent and Passiontide[edit]

Main articles: Lent, Passiontide and Holy Week

Lent is a major penitential season of preparation for Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday and, if the penitential days of Good Friday and Holy Saturday are included, lasts for forty days, since the six Sundays within the season are not counted.

In the Roman Rite, the Gloria in Excelsis Deo and the Te Deum are not used in the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours respectively, except on Solemnities and Feasts, and the Alleluia and verse that usually precede the reading of the Gospel is either omitted or replaced with another acclamation.

Lutheran churches make these same omissions.

As in Advent, the deacon and subdeacon of the pre-1970 form of the Roman Rite do not wear their habitual dalmatic and tunicle (signs of joy) in Masses of the season during Lent; instead they wear "folded chasubles", in accordance with the ancient custom.

In the pre-1970 form of the Roman Rite, the two weeks before Easter form the season of Passiontide, a subsection of the Lenten season that begins with Matins of Ash Wednesday and ends immediately before the Mass of the Easter Vigil.[17] In this form, what previously was officially called Passion Sunday,[18] has the official name of the First Sunday in Passiontide,[19] and Palm Sunday has the additional name of the Second Sunday in Passiontide.[20] In Sunday and ferial Masses (but not on feasts celebrated in the first of these two weeks) the Gloria Patri is omitted at the Entrance Antiphon[21] and at the Lavabo,[22] as well as in the responds in the Divine Office.

In the post-1969 form of the Roman Rite, "Passion Sunday" and "Palm Sunday" are both names for the Sunday before Easter, officially called "Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion". The former Passion Sunday became a fifth Sunday of Lent. The earlier form reads Matthew's account on Sunday, Mark's on Tuesday, and Luke's on Wednesday, while the post-1969 form reads the Passion only on Palm Sunday (with the three Synoptic Gospels arranged in a three-year cycle) and on Good Friday, when it reads the Passion according to John, as also do earlier forms of the Roman Rite.

The veiling of crucifixes and images of the saints with violet cloth, which was obligatory before 1970, is left to the decision of the national bishops' conferences. In the United States, it is permitted but not required, at the discretion of the pastor.[23] In all forms, the readings concern the events leading up to the Last Supper and the betrayal, Passion, and death of Christ.

The week before Easter is called Holy Week.

In the Roman Rite, feasts that fall within that week are simply omitted, unless they have the rank of Solemnity, in which case they are transferred to another date. The only solemnities inscribed in the General Calendar that can fall within that week are those of St. Joseph and the Annunciation.

Liturgical colour: violet or purple. The colour rose may be used, where it is the practice, on Laetare Sunday (4th Sunday of Lent). On Palm Sunday the colour since 1970 is red, by earlier rules violet or purple, with red being used after 1955 for the blessing of the palms.

Easter Triduum[edit]

Main article: Easter Triduum

The Easter Triduum consists of Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.[24] Each of these days begins liturgically not with the morning but with the preceding evening.

The triduum begins on the evening before Good Friday with Mass of the Lord's Supper, celebrated with white vestments,[25] and often includes a ritual of ceremonial footwashing. It is customary on this night for a vigil involving private prayer to take place, beginning after the evening service and continuing until midnight. This vigil is occasionally renewed at dawn, continuing until the Good Friday liturgy.

During the day of Good Friday Mass is not celebrated in the Catholic Church. Instead a Celebration of the Passion of the Lord is held in the afternoon or evening. It consists of three parts: a Liturgy of the Word that includes the reading of the account of the Passion by John the Evangelist and concludes with a solemn Universal Prayer. Other churches also have their Good Friday commemoration of the Passion.

The colour of vestments varies: no colour, red, or black are used in different traditions. Coloured hangings may be removed. Lutheran churches often either remove colourful adornments and icons, or veil them with drab cloth. The service is usually plain with somber music, ending with the congregation leaving in silence. In the Roman Catholic, some Lutheran, and High Anglican rites, a crucifix (not necessarily the one which stands on or near the altar on other days of the year) is ceremoniously unveiled. Other crucifixes are unveiled, without ceremony, after the service.

Holy Saturday commemorates the day during which Christ lay in the tomb. In the Roman Catholic Church, there is no Mass on this day; the Easter Vigil Mass, which, though celebrated properly at the following midnight, is often celebrated in the evening, is an Easter Mass. With no liturgical celebration, there is no question of a liturgical colour.

The Easter Vigil is held in the night between Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. See also Paschal candle. The liturgical colour is white, often together with gold. In the Roman Rite, during the "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" the organ and bells are used in the liturgy for the first time in 2 days, and the statues, which have been veiled during Passiontide (at least in the Roman Rite through the 1962 version), are unveiled. In Lutheran churches, colours and icons are re-displayed as well.

Easter season[edit]

Main article: Easter

Easter is the celebration of Jesus' resurrection. The date of Easter varies from year to year, according to a lunar-calendar dating system (see computus for details). In the Roman Rite, the Easter season extends from the Easter Vigil through Pentecost Sunday. In the pre-1970 form of the rite, this season includes also the Octave of Pentecost, so Eastertide lasts until None of the following Saturday.

In the Roman Rite, the Easter octave allows no other feasts to be celebrated or commemorated during it; a solemnity, such as the Annunciation, falling within it is transferred to the following Monday. If Easter Sunday or Easter Monday falls on 25 April, the Greater Litanies, which in the pre-1970 form of the Roman Rite are on that day, are transferred to the following Tuesday.[26]

By a decree of 5 May 2000, the Second Sunday of Easter (the Sunday after Easter Day itself), is known also in the Roman Rite as Divine Mercy Sunday.[27]

Ascension Thursday, which celebrates the return of Jesus to heaven following his resurrection, is the fortieth day of Easter, but, in places where it is not observed as a Holy Day of Obligation, the post-1969 form of the Roman rite transfers it to the following Sunday.[28]

Pentecost is the fiftieth and last day of the Easter season. It celebrates the sending of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, which traditionally marks the birth of the Church, see also Apostolic Age.

Liturgical colour: white, but red on the feast of Pentecost.

Ordinary Time, Time after Pentecost, Time after Trinity, or Kingdomtide[edit]

Main articles: Ordinary Time and Kingdomtide

This season, under various names, follows the Easter season and the feasts of Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost. In the post-1969 form of the Roman rite, Ordinary Time resumes on Pentecost Monday, omitting the Sunday which would have fallen on Pentecost. In the earlier form, where Pentecost is celebrated with an octave, the Time after Pentecost begins at Vespers on the Saturday after Pentecost. The Sundays resume their numbering at the point that will make the Sunday before Advent the thirty-fourth, omitting any weeks for which there is no room (present-day form of the Roman Rite) or are numbered as "Sundays after Pentecost" (pre-1970 Roman Rite, Eastern Orthodoxy and some Protestants) or as "Sundays after Trinity" (some Protestants). This season ends on the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent.

Feasts during this season include:

  • Corpus Christi (Roman Rite and some Anglican and Lutheran traditions), Thursday of the second week after Pentecost, often celebrated on the following Sunday.
  • Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Roman Rite), Friday in the third week after Pentecost.
  • Feast of Christ the King, last Sunday before Advent (Roman Rite, Lutherans, Anglicans) or last Sunday in October (1925-1969 form of the Roman Rite).

In the final few weeks of Ordinary Time, many churches direct attention to the coming of the Kingdom of God, thus ending the liturgical year with an eschatological theme that is one of the predominant themes of the season of Advent that began the liturgical year. For instance, in the pre-1970 form of the Roman Rite, the Gospel of the Last Sunday is Matthew 24:15-35 and in the later form of that rite all the last three Sundays have similar themes.

While the Roman Rite adopts no special designation for this final part of Ordinary Time, some denominations do, and may also change the liturgical colour. The Church of England uses the term "Sundays before Advent" for the final four Sundays and permits red vestments as an alternative. Other denominations, including the United Methodist Church and the Christian Church - Synod of Saint Timothy, speak of "Kingdomtide". The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) uses the terms "Third-Last, Second-Last and Last Sunday in the Church Year" and does not change from green. The LCMS does not officially celebrate a "Feast of Christ the King." The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) uses the term "Period of End Times" and assigns red vestments to the first and second Sundays.

Calendar of saints[edit]

Main article: Calendar of saints
  • In some Protestant traditions, especially those with closer ties to the Lutheran tradition, Reformation Sunday is celebrated on the Sunday preceding October 31, commemorating the purported day Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. The liturgical colour is red, celebrating the Holy Spirit's continuing work in renewing the Church.
  • Most Western traditions celebrate All Saints' Day on November 1 or the Sunday following. The liturgical colour is white. The following day, November 2, is All Souls' Day.

Hierarchy of feast days[edit]

There are degrees of solemnity of the office of the feast days of saints. In the 13th century, the Roman Rite distinguished three ranks: simple, semidouble and double, with consequent differences in the recitation of the Divine Office or Breviary. The simple feast commenced with the chapter (capitulum) of First Vespers, and ended with None. It had three lessons and took the psalms of Matins from the ferial office; the rest of the office was like the semidouble. The semidouble feast had two Vespers, nine lessons in Matins, and ended with Compline. The antiphons before the psalms were only intoned. In the Mass, the semidouble had always at least three "orationes" or collects. On a double feast the antiphons were sung in their entirety, before and after the psalms, while in Lauds and Vespers there were no suffragia of the saints, and the Mass had only one "oratio" (if no commemoration was prescribed). If ordinary double feasts (referred to also as lesser doubles) occurred with feasts of a higher rank, they could be simplified, except the octave days of some feasts and the feasts of the Doctors of the Church, which were transferred.

To the existing distinction between major and ordinary or minor doubles, Pope Clement VIII added two more ranks, those of first-class or second-class doubles. Some of these two classes were kept with octaves. This was still the situation when the 1907 article Ecclesiastical Feasts in the Catholic Encyclopedia was written. In accordance with the rules then in force, feast days of any form of double, if impeded by "occurrence" (falling on the same day)[29] with a feast day of higher class, were transferred to another day.

Pope Pius X simplified matters considerably in his 1911 reform of the Roman Breviary. In the case of occurrence the lower-ranking feast day could become a commemoration within the celebration of the higher-ranking one. Until then, ordinary doubles took precedence over most of the semidouble Sundays, resulting in many of the Sunday Masses rarely being said. While retaining the semidouble rite for Sundays, Pius X's reform permitted only the most important feast days to be celebrated on Sunday, although commemorations were still made until Pope John XXIII's reform of 1960.

The division into doubles (of various kinds) semidoubles and simples continued until 1955, when Pope Pius XII abolished the rank of semidouble, making all the previous semidoubles simples, and reducing the previous simples to a mere commemoration in the Mass of another feast day or of the feria on which they fell (see General Roman Calendar of Pope Pius XII).

Then, in 1960, Pope John XXIII issued the Code of Rubrics, completely ending the ranking of feast days by doubles etc., and replacing it by a ranking, applied not only to feast days but to all liturgical days, as I, II, III, and IV class days.

The 1969 revision by Pope Paul VI divided feast days into "solemnities", "feasts" and "memorials", corresponding approximately to Pope John XXIII's I, II and III class feast days. Commemorations were abolished. While some of the memorials are considered obligatory, others are optional, permitting a choice on some days between two or three memorials, or between one or more memorials and the celebration of the feria. On a day to which no obligatory celebration is assigned, the Mass may be of any saint mentioned in the Roman Martyrology for that day.[30]

Assumption of Mary[edit]

Observed by Roman Catholics and some Anglicans on August 15, which is the same as the Eastern and Orthodox feast of the Dormition, the end of the earthly life of the Virgin Mary and, for some, her bodily Assumption into heaven, is celebrated. The Roman Catholic teaching on this feast was defined as dogma on November 1, 1950 by Pope Pius XII in the Papal Bull, Munificentissimus Deus.

In other Anglican and Lutheran traditions, as well as a few others, August 15 is celebrated as St. Mary, Mother of the Lord.

Liturgical colour: white

Anglican Church[edit]

The Church of England uses a liturgical year that is in most respects identical to that of the Roman Church. While this is less true of the calendars contained within the Book of Common Prayer and the Alternative Service Book (1980), it is particularly true since the Anglican Church adopted its new pattern of services and liturgies contained within Common Worship, in 2000. Certainly, the broad division of the year into the Christmas and Easter seasons, interspersed with periods of Ordinary Time, is identical, and the majority of the Festivals and Commemorations are also celebrated, with a few exceptions.

In some Anglican traditions (including the Church of England) the Christmas season is followed by an Epiphany season, which begins on the Eve of the Epiphany (on 6 January or the nearest Sunday) and ends on the Feast of the Presentation (on 2 February or the nearest Sunday). Ordinary Time then begins after this period.

The Book of Common Prayer contains within it the traditional Western Eucharistic lectionary which traces its roots to the Comes of St. Jerome in the 5th century.[31] Its similarity to the ancient lectionary is particularly obvious during Trinity season (Sundays after the Sunday after Pentecost), reflecting that understanding of sanctification.[32]

Protestantism[edit]

Protestant churches generally observe far fewer feasts than Catholic and Orthodox, in particular with regard to feasts of saints. Reformed Christians emphasize weekly celebration of the Lord's day and, while some of them celebrate also what they call the five evangelical feasts, others celebrate no holy days.[33]

Eastern Orthodox Church[edit]

The Liturgical year in the Eastern Orthodox Church is characterized by alternating fasts and feasts, and is in many ways similar to the Roman Catholic year described above. However, Church New Year (Indiction) traditionally begins on September 1 (Old Style or New Style), rather than the first Sunday of Advent. It includes both feasts on the Fixed Cycle and the Paschal Cycle (or Moveable Cycle). The most important feast day by far is the Feast of Pascha (Easter)—the Feast of Feasts. Then the Twelve Great Feasts, which commemorate various significant events in the lives of Jesus Christ and of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary).

The majority of Orthodox Christians (Russians, in particular) follow the Julian Calendar in calculating their ecclesiastical feasts, but many (including the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Church of Greece), while preserving the Julian calculation for feasts on the Paschal Cycle, have adopted the Revised Julian Calendar (at present coinciding with the Gregorian Calendar) to calculate those feasts which are fixed according to the calendar date.

Between 1900 and 2100, there is a thirteen-day difference between the dates of the Julian and the Revised Julian and Gregorian calendars. Thus, for example, where Christmas is celebrated on December 25 O.S. (Old Style), the celebration coincides with January 7 in the Revised Calendar. The computation of the day of Pascha (Easter) is, however, always computed according to a lunar calendar based on the Julian Calendar, even by those churches which observe the Revised Calendar.

There are four fasting seasons during the year: The most important fast is Great Lent which is an intense time of fasting, almsgiving and prayer, extending for forty days prior to Palm Sunday and Holy Week, as a preparation for Pascha. The Nativity Fast (Winter Lent) is a time of preparation for the Feast of the Nativity of Christ (Christmas), but whereas Advent in the West lasts only four weeks, Nativity Fast lasts a full forty days. The Apostles' Fast is variable in length, lasting anywhere from eight days to six weeks, in preparation for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (June 29). The Dormition Fast lasts for two weeks from August 1 to August 14 in preparation for the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (August 15). The liturgical year is so constructed that during each of these fasting seasons, one of the Great Feasts occurs, so that fasting may be tempered with joy.

In addition to these fasting seasons, Orthodox Christians fast on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year (and some Orthodox monasteries also observe Monday as a fast day). Certain fixed days are always fast days, even if they fall on a Saturday or Sunday (in which case the fast is lessened somewhat, but not abrogated altogether); these are: The Decollation of St. John the Baptist, the Exaltation of the Cross and the day before the Epiphany (January 5). There are several fast-free periods, when it is forbidden to fast, even on Wednesday and Friday. These are: the week following Pascha, the week following Pentecost, the period from the Nativity of Christ until January the 5th and the first week of the Triodion (the week following the 17th Sunday before Pentecost).

Pascha[edit]

Main article: Pascha

The greatest feast is Pascha, which for the Orthodox is calculated differently from in the West. Easter for both East and West is calculated as the first Sunday after the full moon that falls on or after March 21 (nominally the day of the vernal equinox), but the Orthodox calculations are based on the Julian calendar, whose March 21 corresponds at present with April 3 of the Gregorian calendar, and on calculations of the date of full moon different from those used in the West (see computus for further details).

The date of Pascha is central to the entire ecclesiastical year, determining not only the date for the beginning of Great Lent and Pentecost, but affecting the cycle of moveable feasts, of scriptural readings and the Octoechos (texts chanted according to the eight ecclesiastical modes) throughout the year. There are also a number of lesser feasts throughout the year that are based upon the date of Pascha. The moveable cycle begins on the Zacchaeus Sunday (the first Sunday in preparation for Great Lent or the 33rd Sunday after Pentecost as it is known), though the cycle of the Octoechos continues until Palm Sunday.

The date of Pascha affects the following liturgical seasons:

  • The period of the Pentecostarion (Sunday of Pascha through the Sunday After Pentecost which is also called the Sunday of all saints)

The twelve Great Feasts[edit]

Main article: Great Feasts

Some of these feasts follow the Fixed Cycle, and some follow the Moveable (Paschal) Cycle. Most of those on the Fixed Cycle have a period of preparation called a Forefeast, and a period of celebration afterward, similar to the Western Octave, called an Afterfeast. Great Feasts on the Paschal Cycle do not have Forefeasts. The lengths of Forefeasts and Afterfeasts vary, according to the feast.

Note: In Eastern practice, should this feast fall during Holy Week or on Pascha itself, the feast of the Annunciation is not transferred to another day. In fact, the conjunction of the feasts of the Annunciation and Pascha (known as διπλή Πασχαλιά, dipli Paschalia in Modern Greek) is considered an extremely festive event.

Other feasts[edit]

Some additional feasts are observed with as though they were Great Feasts:

  • The Feast of the Conception of Mary by Saints Joachim and Anne (December 9)
  • Beginning of the Indiction-Ecclesiastical Year (September 1)

Every day throughout the year commemorates some saint or some event in the lives of Christ or the Theotokos. When a feast on the moveable cycle occurs, the feast on the fixed cycle that was set for that calendar day is transferred, with the propers of the feast often being chanted at Compline on the nearest convenient day.

Cycles[edit]

See also: Paschal Cycle

In addition to the Fixed and Moveable Cycles, there are a number of other liturgical cycles in the ecclesiastical year that affect the celebration of the divine services. These include, the Daily Cycle, the Weekly Cycle, the Cycle of Matins Gospels, and the Octoechos..

Secular observance[edit]

Because of the dominance of Christianity in Europe throughout the Middle Ages, many features of the Christian year became incorporated into the secular calendar. Many of its feasts (e.g., Christmas, Mardi Gras, Saint Patrick's Day) remain holidays, and are now celebrated by people of all faiths and none — in some cases worldwide. The secular celebrations bear varying degrees of likeness to the religious feasts from which they derived, often also including elements of ritual from pagan festivals of similar date.

See also[edit]

Non Judeo-Christian:

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sacha Stern, Calendar and Community - A History of the Jewish Calendar (Oxford University Press 2001 ISBN 0-19-827034-8), pp. 2-3
  2. ^ "This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you" (Exodus 12:2). "This day came ye out in the month Aviv" (Exodus 13:4)
  3. ^ Gesenius's Lexicon
  4. ^ "In the first month, that is, the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of king Ahasuerus, they cast Pur, that is, the lot, before Haman from day to day, and from month to month, to the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar" (Esther 3:7),
  5. ^ Months of the Jewish Calendar
  6. ^ Thomas J. Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year (Pueblo Publishing Company 1991 ISBN 978-0-8146-6075-1), pp. 82-83
  7. ^ a b c Barry, One Faith, One Lord (2001), p. 116
  8. ^ Pope Benedict XVI, Summorum Pontificum
  9. ^ General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, 39
  10. ^ General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 346
  11. ^ a b Code of Rubrics included in the 1962 Roman Missal, 72
  12. ^ 1960 Code of Rubrics incorporated in the 1962 Roman Missal, 77
  13. ^ "The Sunday which is set down as XXIV after Pentecost is always put in the last place, omitting, if need be, any others for which there happens to be no place" (1960 Code of Rubrics, 18).
  14. ^ "If this II Sunday, or another after Epiphany, be impeded by Septuagesima supervening, and there be no place for it after Pentecost, according to the Rubrics, it is anticipated on Saturday with all privileges proper to an occurring Sunday." (Missale Romanum, 1939, Dominica II post Epiphaniam)
  15. ^ "If this Sunday be impeded by the last Sunday after Pentecost supervening, it is anticipated on Saturday with all privileges proper to an occurring Sunday, and in it is said Glória in excélsis, Credo, Preface of the Trinity and Ite, Missa est." (Missale Romanum, 1939, Dominica XXIII post Pentecosten)
  16. ^ "The season per annum runs from 14 January to none of Saturday before Septuagesima Sunday" (Code of Rubrics, 77
  17. ^ Code of Rubrics, 74
  18. ^ Missale Romanum, 1920 typical edition, p. 156
  19. ^ Missale Romanum 1962, p. 118
  20. ^ Missale Romanum 1962, p. 130
  21. ^ Code of Rubrics, 428
  22. ^ Ritus servandus in celebratione Missae, VII, 6, in Missale Romanum 1962, p. LIX; cf. {http://www.sanctamissa.org/en/resources/books-1962/missale-romanum-1962.pdf Missale Romanum 1962,] p. 118
  23. ^ http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/innews/0306.pdf
  24. ^ General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, 19
  25. ^ Holy Thursday Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper, 44
  26. ^ 1960 Code of Rubrics, 80
  27. ^ Our Sunday Visitor: Divine Mercy Sunday
  28. ^ General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, 7 and 25
  29. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. Occurrence (in liturgy)
  30. ^ General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 355 c
  31. ^ The Annotated Book of Common Prayer p. 242
  32. ^ Sparrow, Anthony and John Henry Cardinal Newman. A Rationale upon the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, Oxford, UK
  33. ^ Gregg Strawbridge, "Why the Church Calendar Is Important"
  34. ^ St. Patrick's Day

Resources[edit]

  • Stookey, L.H. Calendar: Christ's Time for the Church, 1996. ISBN 0-687-01136-1
  • Hickman, Hoyt L., et al. Handbook of the Christian Year, 1986. ISBN 0-687-16575-X
  • Webber, Robert E. Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year, 2004. ISBN 0-8010-9175-6
  • Schmemann, Fr. Alexander. The Church Year (Celebration of Faith Series, Sermons Vol. 2), 1994. ISBN 0-88141-138-8
  • Talley, Thomas J. The Origins of the Liturgical Year, Ed. 2. 1991. ISBN 0-8146-6075-4

External links[edit]