The Church Year is a precious blessing bestowed upon us by the Christians who came before us. It is important to remember that the Church calendar is distinct from the Gregorian calendar we use daily. The Church Year begins in November or December and centers upon events in the life of our Lord Jesus and His Church.
The Church Year Is Divided Into Two Parts:
We dedicate the first half of the Church Year to the life of Jesus. We relive the most important events of Jesus' life when we pray during this season of the Church Year. Since most popular holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, occur in this period, it is called the Festival Half of the Church Year.
The second half of the Church Year is called the Non-Festival Half or the Church Half Year. It starts in May or June and reflects on our Lord's preaching, which He entrusted to His Church to spread around the world. In this section, we see what Jesus' creation, death, and resurrection mean to us in our lives.
Each season has its mood, and we use various colors on the altar to help bring out the mood. Certain customs represent the mood of the season as well. Many of these factors contribute to emphasizing a season's unique message.
The following is a short overview of the Church Year's various seasons, what they are all about, and how we experience them in our lives.
The word "Advent" is a derived from the Latin Adventus, which means going. Adventus denotes the approach of a person of honor, strength, and glory, someone with the authority to bestow favor or inflict punishment. For Christians, Advent is a time of preparing for Christmas, vigilant anticipation for Christ's reappearance and cultivating the gift of patience for everyday life.
Advent starts on the last Sunday of November or the first Sunday of December, depending on the year.
Purple or blue are the colors of the season.
Light Advent candles both at church and at home (four natural beeswax candles or red candles). Begin singing O Antiphons (which form the base of the hymn, Oh, Come, Oh, Come Emmanuel) on December 17th, which reflects Israel's longing for the Messiah. Set up a crèche or nativity scene in church (or at home) during Advent.
A few days before Christmas, add figures of Mary and Joseph to the nativity scene. Following the final Advent ceremony, display a Christmas tree in church or home. The Gospel readings are focused on the life of Jesus from Advent to Easter. Every day, read Bible stories to your children.
Christmas starts on December 25th. It refers to the liturgy commemorating the day that Christ became one of us. Rather than the birthday itself, the Church honors the mystery of heaven found in Christ's creation. We rejoice in the miracle of God becoming man in Christ, our King, and Servant.
The Christmas season also puts a special emphasis on the name of the Lord our God, since Jesus must have received His name eight days after His birth when He was circumcised. When the Lord's angel came to Joseph and informed him that Mary was with child by the Holy Spirit, the angel also told Joseph what to call the child: Jesus, which means the LORD saves (Matthew. 1:20-21). When He was circumcised eight days after his birth, Joseph and Mary called Him Jesus, as the angel had told him to do.
The 12 Days of Christmas take place between December 25 and January 5 every year.
The color white represents joy and the motif of light, which is prominent in the biblical texts synonymous with the season.
Christmas carols convey the excitement and awe of Christ's birth. Display figures of Jesus, the angel, and the shepherds on the crèche or nativity scene at church or home on Christmas Day. On the Feast of the Three Kings, be sure to include the Magi (January 6). The Christmas tree should be left up for the whole 12 days of Christmas and then taken down on the Feast of the Three Kings. Read about the birth of Jesus with your family as told in Luke Chapter 2.
The presence of a deity among mortals is called epiphaneia in Greek. The same term was used to denote a king's visit to a favorite city. He was greeted with pomp and circumstance. Days were spent feasting and reveling, all at the detriment of the king.
The Lord's generous presence to His subjects with signs and miracles and gifts was offered at His own cost. That is known as the Epiphany of Jesus. The magi, or the assembly of the gentiles as God's creatures, are the focus of Epiphany. It is all for our Lord's Baptism, who prepares the waters of Baptism for us. Epiphany commemorates Jesus' first sign or miracle, which occurred at Cana to bless a marriage.
Epiphany begins on January 6. The season's duration is dependent on the date of Easter. Transfiguration Sunday is celebrated on the last Sunday of Epiphany.
The color white reflects joy and innocence on Epiphany Day and the first Sunday after Epiphany Day. For the remainder of the Epiphany season [until our Lord's Transfiguration], the color is green, the color of life and development.
On the Feast of the Three Kings, burn Christmas trees in a bonfire. Sing Christmas carols or hymns.
Pre-Lent is three weeks before the 40-day season of Lent, which is a time of self-examination and penitence. The weeks leading up to Easter act as a countdown. The titles of these Sundays reflect this.
The first Sunday is known as Septuagesima. That is a Latin term that means there are approximately 70 days before Easter. On this Sunday, we read about God's grace, lest we be afraid to examine our hearts and lives during Lent. Whatever faults we admit to ourselves, they cannot distinguish us from God's love for us in Christ Jesus.
Sexagesima is the name given to the second Sunday of the month. This Latin name denotes that there are about 60 days before Easter. On this Sunday, the focus is on God's Word.
The third Sunday is known as Quinquagesima. That is a Latin term that means 50 days before Easter. It is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent.
Pre-lent starts 70 days before Easter.
The altar colors are green during this season because we focus on faith development before entering Lent's deep penitence.
During this Pre-Lent season, we aim to reinforce our faith by anticipating the joy of Easter. God's unfailing love for us in Christ gives us the courage to sincerely examine ourselves. Any mistakes we see in ourselves have been paid for and forgiven by Christ. That is the Easter proclamation and will no longer exclude us from God's love for us in Jesus.
The term "Lent" derives from the same source as one of the German words "Lenz", which means spring. When nature awakens from the end of winter, the Christian discovers newness of life in Christ, emerging from the death of sin. Over the 40 days of Lent, God's baptized people cleanse their souls by the discipline of repentance, prayer, and fasting. Lent is a season when God's people joyfully prepare for the Paschal feast (Easter). It is a time when God renews His people's zeal in faith and life. Grant us the fullness of grace that belongs to God's children.
Ash Wednesday could arrive as early as February 6 or as late as March 10. The timing of Lent correlates with the date of Easter. Every year, Ash Wednesday occurs 46 days before Easter.
Lent colors are typically black or purple.
Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, as ashes are applied to the forehead to represent repentance. Lent hymns and services do not contain the joyful expression, "Alleluia." Consider fasting throughout the day. Spend your daily mealtimes praying and reading the Bible. If you cannot compromise diet for health reasons, give up something else (television, hobbies, etc.) Sundays (which are not part of the 40 days of Lent) are not fast days.
There is no other week in the Church Year with such a powerful atmosphere of special commitment. From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, we become immersed in the central mystery of God's mission of redemption through the death and resurrection of the Lord. Holy Week encompasses not only the final days of Lent but also the commemoration of Christ's Passion. Holy Week consists of Palm Sunday, Holy Monday - Wednesday, as well as the daylight hours of Maundy Thursday. These days round out our preparing time.
Maundy Thursday's Holy Communion starts the Three Holy Days, or Triduum, beginning on Thursday and ending with Evening Prayer (Vespers) on Easter Day. These services combine to form a unified celebration of Christ's death and resurrection. Thus, the week looks back to the beginning of Lent. We also look ahead to the 50-day anniversary of Christ's resurrection, which culminates on Pentecost.
Holy week is always one week before Easter.
Get a group of children waving palms and singing on Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is the day of confirmation for many congregations. Congregations or individuals may renew their confirmation vows via questions and answers during church. Read the entire account of Jesus' crucifixion as told in the Gospels. Spend Good Friday in silence and reflection.
Easter is the primary feast of the Christian year, even though Christmas may seem to overwhelm it in many cultures and even in many churches. The world finds plenty to rejoice in Christmas, but it is perplexed by the day of our Lord's Resurrection. Lent is our season of preparing. The Triduum is a time of engagement in Pasch [Passover]. Easter is a 50-day celebration of the fresh life offered by Christ. It starts with the Easter Vigil and concludes on the Day of Pentecost.
We celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs on, or after March 21. Easter may occur as early as March 22 or as late as April 25.
For Easter, the color white represents joy.
Sing joyful hymns that contain the word Alleluia. Display Easter lilies in church and home. For youngsters, explain that the emergence of a butterfly from its cocoon and chicks from their eggs signify rebirth and new life. Present the baptismal font prominently and describe its function to children. On the 40th day, observe Jesus' ascension to heaven.
Pentecost is a Greek word that means "50", regarding the Old Testament feast celebrated 50 days after Passover. Pentecost is celebrated by Christians 50 days after Easter. The Lord poured out His Spirit on His Church during Pentecost. God's blessing, which was once exclusive to a select few, has now been extended to everyone. We have access to the love of the Father and Son. We are accepted into the most loving communion with the Father since we are united in Christ. The world will be called to repentance as a result of the Spirit's witness by us.
Pentecost starts in May or June.
The color red symbolizes Pentecost. Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost, is colored white. Green is the color of fresh life and development for the remainder of the season.
During the season of Pentecost, the Gospel readings focus on Jesus' teachings. Recite the Athanasian Creed in unison or sections on Trinity Sunday.
The final three Sundays of the Church Year reflect on death, misery in a violent environment. Most important is our hope that Christ will one day come to deliver us.
The very last Sunday of the Church Year is always seven Sundays before Christmas.
Christians should keep the hope of Christ's return in mind and pray fervently for His return. Live in anticipation of His reappearance, avoiding all appearances of evil. Proclaim to others with confidence that Christ is returning as Savior and Judge. Every day, read the Scriptures with your family.
In addition to the Church Year seasons, there are single days and dates that we celebrate throughout the year. They are known as the Saints' Days. Those days are set aside to commemorate the life and blessings of certain great Christians from the past. That also serves as a lesson to us that Christians on Earth and in Heaven form one Church.
The color on Saint Day is red, symbolizing the color of blood. Most saints were martyred for their faith in Christ. As Lutherans, we do not worship or pray to the saints. Instead, we honor and respect their service to the Lord.
According to our Lutheran Confessions, honoring the saints is permissible. And this is a three-fold honor:
1.) The first is a holiday of thanksgiving. For we should offer thanks to God for showing mercy, for demonstrating His desire to save men, and for providing teachers or other gifts to the Church.
1.) The second service is the strengthening of our faith, as we see Peter's rejection. It inspires us to believe evermore that goodness triumphs over sin, according to Romans. 5.20).
3.) The third service is imitation, first by faith, then of the other virtues, which each can emulate in accordance with his or her calling.