The Christian church has a separate calendar to the secular one called “The liturgical year” which allows events in Jesus’ life and special occasions for the church to be commemorated. Its main celebrations are Christmas and Easter and the date of Easter in particular determines many of the other dates in the calendar as it changes every year. The readings and prayers used in church services reflect the changing church seasons through the litugical year. The colours used in churches on communion tables, hangings and vestments also change to reflect the season. Advent and Lent use purple, Christmas, Epiphany and Easter use white or gold, Pentecost and various other special days use red and ordinary time uses green.
The season of Advent marks the start of the Christian year, and is a season of expectation and preparation as the Church looks forward to celebrating the birth of Christ.
Commercial pressure makes it a hard season to observe but the Church’s preparation for the coming of Christ is a powerful reminder of the real meaning of the season.
Advent falls at the darkest time of the year, and the lighting of candles on the Advent wreath helps us to reflect on Jesus as the Light of God coming into the world.
The Advent Bible readings speak of John the Baptist and then, of Mary, as she prepares to give birth to the Saviour.
The celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas, the incarnation, is one of the two pillars of the Christian year, along with Easter.
Christmas is much more than simply re-telling the story of Jesus’ birth: it is a time when we reflect on what it means for God to born as a human being. One of the titles of Jesus is “Emmanuel” which means “God with us”.
Christians continue to reflect on this for 40 days after Christmas in stark contrast to the secular world!
The Feast of the Epiphany on the 6th January is the celebration of the visit of wise men from the East. In the season of Epiphany Christians continue to reflect on the ways in which Christ reveals himself to be the Son of God: the celebration of the baptism of Christ by John, when the voice from heaven declared Jesus to be God’s beloved Son; and Jesus’s first miracle, when he turned water into wine at a wedding in Cana.
The end of the 40 days of reflection that began at Christmas is marked by Candlemas on February 1st.
The Calendar includes two periods of Ordinary Time: an extended period after Pentecost, and a much shorter time between Candlemas and Ash Wednesday. Ordinary time allows for more uninterrupted reading of scripture in sequence and is traditionally known as the time for “growing Christians” which is why its liturgical colour is green.
Ash Wednesday marks the start of observation of Lent the most solemn time of the Christian Year. The season is traditionally marked by self-examination, fasting and preparation for Easter. Its 40 day length reflects the time Jesus spent in the wilderness being tested by Satan.
Christians often use the time for study and self-reflection.
As Holy Week approaches, the atmosphere of the season gets more solemn. Bible readings begin to anticipate the story of Christ’s suffering and death. Holy Week begins with the re-enactment of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. This is the beginning of a journey which takes us to the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, and Jesus’ betrayal, trial and crucifixion on Good Friday. Easter Eve is a day like no other, a day of desolation and despair when all seems lost.
Easter is the most important festival in the Christian year. Traditionally an Easter candle is lit and held aloft with the proclamation: ‘The light of Christ’. This passing from darkness to light offers hope to all the faithful, as the Church celebrates the risen Christ.
The season of Easter is celebrated for fifty days culminating in the feast of Pentecost. On the fortieth day there is the celebration of Christ’s ascension to heaven which marks the end of his earthly ministry. The feast of Pentecost celebrates the account of the Holy Spirit coming on the disciples empowering them for mission and is often referred to as the birthday of the church.