Church Year Seasons
The Christian Year calendar is our guide for worship and Christian faith formation. The beginning of the Christian year is the season of Advent, approximately four weeks before Christmas Day, and continues with special days and seasons following the life of Christ and the mission of the church.
There are two major cycles in the Christian Year. One is the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle that is focused upon Christmas. The other is the Lent-Easter-Pentecost cycle that has Easter as its focus. The other periods in the year are referred to as “ordinary time.” This is not because they are “ordinary” days. Ordinary is taken from the word for “ordinal” numbers. The Sundays during this time are designated by the “first,” “second,” “third,” Sunday after Pentecost, for example. Therefore, they are designated “ordinary” time because of using ordinal numbers to mark them.
From the Latin word, adventus, Advent means “arrival” or “coming” and marks the coming of Jesus as human being into the world. Including the four Sundays prior to Christmas day, this season is used as a time of preparing for the coming of the Christ child. Advent marks the beginning of the church year and is the first season in the Christian calendar. While our calendar begins with January 1, the church year begins with Advent.
The season of Christmas is actually a period of twelve days which begins on Christmas Day and continues through January 5. We typically think of the season of Christmas as beginning after Thanksgiving and concluding on December 25. However, for the Church, December 25 is the culmination of the waiting, and marks the beginning of Christmas.
The Day of Epiphany follows the twelve days of Christmas. Epiphany, as a day and season of celebration, has been around as long as the celebration of Christmas. Epiphanies are those instances where gods reveal themselves, and make themselves known to humanity. Our January 6 celebration, as Christians, emphasizes the epiphany, or manifestation of God, and represents the revelation of God to the world in Jesus Christ.
Lent is a season of prayer, penance and self-discipline, beginning on the Wednesday of the seventh week before Easter. The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is forty days prior to Easter, not counting Sundays. The sixth Sunday in lent is Palm Sunday, which begins Holy Week. Holy Week includes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and officially ends on Holy Saturday. Easter Sunday then begins the season of Easter which lasts for seven weeks.
Easter Day commemorates the day of resurrection of Jesus following the crucifixion. Easter is more than a day of celebration in the Christian calendar; it includes a period of seven weeks, and is known as The Great Fifty Days. The full period of Easter continues from Easter Sunday to the day of Pentecost.
The day of Pentecost is the Sunday following the end of the fifty days of Easter. The Day of Pentecost commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus in the immediate days after the ascension of Jesus.