The Liturgical Seasons of the Church Year

The Episcopal Church observes the season of the church year through a narrative of God working through Jesus and His Holy Spirit.  These seasons and their meaning are a very important part of our spiritual life.  It is also one of the many reasons that complete faith requires regular attendance all year.

The church season celebrates God’s partaking the time and introduces us again and again in the stories of faith so that we may better understand God’s place in our future.

ADVENT

The word Advent is from the Latin adventus for "coming" and is associated with the four weeks of preparation for Christmas. Advent always contains four Sundays, beginning on the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, (November 30) and continuing until December 24. It blends together a penitential spirit, very similar to Lent, a liturgical theme of preparation for the Second and Final Coming of the Lord, called the Parousia, and a joyful theme of getting ready for the Bethlehem event.

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Advent speaks of preparation, readiness, expectant waiting, and hope. It can be said that Advent is the best mirror of what a life of faith entails on a day-to-day basis. For we are called to live our lives firmly on the ground of human experience but in the trusting context that God's promised new life emerges whenever God is kept at the center. We are called to live our lives in the world but not be of the world.

The traditional color of Advent is purple or violet which symbolizes the penitential spirit. Religious traditions associated with Advent express all these themes.

CHRISTMAS    

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Christmas is the season where we rejoice in God's unique nature.  The first liturgy of this season is Christ Mass and is a highlight of the year.  We rejoice in God for sending His only son to live among us.  The Christmas season lasts for 12 days beginning on December 25 and ending on January 5. We use the color of white in the liturgies, which represents purity, joy and hope. The season's color is red.

EPIPHANY

The next season of our church year is Epiphany.  This word means shining forth or making God manifest.  It is our (the church’s) response to God's Christmas.  It begins with the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, then remembering that the Three Kings followed the Star, His light, coming into the world.  Often a Three Kings dinner is held after in honor of the magi who traveled far to worship Jesus at Bethlehem.   The emphasis in the present day celebration is on the appearance of Jesus as the human Messiah of Israel and the divine Son of God, One of the Holy Trinity with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

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In the baptism by John in the Jordan, Jesus identifies himself with sinners as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29), the “Beloved” of the Father whose messianic task it is to redeem men from their sins (Lk 3:21, Mk 1:35). And he is revealed as well as One of the Divine Trinity, testified to by the voice of the Father, and by the Spirit in the form of a dove. This is the central epiphany glorified in the main hymns of the feast:

The season begins on the Day of Epiphany and ends on Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent.  The color green is used representing the green things that God made on Earth and also the spiritual growth of God within us of His coming at Christmastide.

LENT     

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As Jesus began to teach, people began to feel threatened.  He tested their beliefs and the way of their lives.  In the end they killed him on a cross. The reality is that we too suffer then die and faith shows that God makes that journey with us.  The seasonal observance of this is Lent.  It begins with Ash Wednesday in the dark of winter.  It is a time of recognizing our need for God in our lives so that we may face life and have Him journey through it with us.  God relates to our suffering because He too knows of pain and tears.

Lent (which mean springtime) is 40 days long symbolizing the 40 days of rain for Noah, the 40 years of teaching the Israel people, and the 40 days of testing Jesus in the wilderness.  The liturgies of Lent are subdued with the penitential order used.  Beginning and ending in silence.  The color of deep purple is used to represent penitence and the deep mood of Lent.

PASSION TIDE OR HOLY WEEK

The last week of Lent is called Passion tide or Holy Week.  It begins with Palm Sunday and ends with the first alleluia of Easter in the Easter Vigil on Saturday night. 

The purpose of Holy Week is to reenact, relive, and participate in the passion of Jesus Christ.

Holy Week is the same in the eastern and western Church, but because eastern Christians use the Julian Calendar to calculate Easter, the celebrations occur at different times. However, the following events in the week before Easter are the same, east and west, relative to the date of Easter.

EASTER

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 Easter is a festival season of fifty days whose first day is Easter Day, the Sunday of the Resurrection, and whose last day is the Day of Pentecost. Easter begins after sundown on Holy Saturday. The celebration of Easter is initiated with the Easter Vigil, which can be observed after sundown but ideally is kept just before sunrise, so that the proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection comes with the dawn of the new day.  Easter Day is the principal feast of the church year. The word "Easter" comes from Easter, a Teutonic goddess whose name is associated with springtime, growth, and fertility. In most languages the name of the day is Pascha, which means "Passover."

Eastertide begins with that first alleluia at the Great Vigil and continues through till the Day of Pentecost 50 days later.  The color this season is white and all liturgies are jubilant and inspiring.

PENTECOST

THE DAY OF PENTECOST

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The disciples huddled together in the Upper Room for 50 days pondering the grace of which God has shown us till the Day of Pentecost.  This was the day the Holy Spirit of God came upon them and they became great soldiers of faith.  The color of this season is red.

The SEASON AFTER PENTECOST

The season called the Season after Pentecost is that time in the church year when we react to the story of salvation proclaimed in the previous seasons.  The color for this season is green symbolizing the growth of all things.  The last Sunday of this season is called Christ the King Sunday.  It is the day that the Lord has his triumph over the community and won its heart.  Then since we are still imperfect we begin this cycle all over again with Advent.  We wait for God to work His miracles in our hearts and lives.

http://www.graceepiscopalchurch.org/article/64/the-liturgical-seasons-of-the-church-year