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What Are the Liturgical Seasons of the Catholic Church?

by Scott P. Richert

 

The liturgy, or public worship, of all Christian churches is governed by a yearly calendar that commemorates the main events in salvation history. In the Catholic Church, this cycle of public celebrations, prayers, and readings is divided into six seasons, each emphasizing a portion of the life of Jesus Christ. These six seasons are described in the "General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar," published by the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship in 1969 (after the revision of the liturgical calendar at the time of the promulgation of the Novus Ordo). As the General Norms note, "By means of the yearly cycle the Church celebrates the whole mystery of Christ, from his incarnation until the day of Pentecost and the expectation of his coming again."

 

  1. Advent: Prepare the Way of the Lord

The liturgical year begins on the First Sunday of Advent, the season of preparation for Christ's Birth. The emphasis in the Mass and the daily prayers of this season is on the threefold coming of Christ —the prophecies of His Incarnation and Birth; His coming into our lives through grace and the sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Holy Communion; and His Second Coming at the end of time. Sometimes called a "little Lent," Advent is a period of joyful expectation but also of penance, as the liturgical color of the season—purple, as in Lent—indicates.

 

  1. Christmas: Christ Is Born!

The joyful expectation of Advent finds its culmination in the second season of the liturgical year: Christmas. Traditionally, the Christmas season extended from First Vespers (or evening prayer) of Christmas (before Midnight Mass) through Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (February 2)—a period of 40 days. With the revision of the calendar in 1969, "The Christmas season runs," notes the General Norms, "from evening prayer I of Christmas until the Sunday after Epiphany or after 6 January, inclusive"— that is, until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Contrary to popular celebration, the Christmas season does not encompass Advent, nor end with Christmas Day, but begins after Advent ends and extends into the New Year. The season is celebrated with a special joy throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas, ending with the Epiphany of Our Lord (January 6).

 

  1. Ordinary Time: Walking with Christ

On the Monday after the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the longest season of the liturgical year—Ordinary Time—begins. Depending on the year, it encompasses either 33 or 34 weeks, broken into two distinct portions of the calendar, the first ending on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, and the second beginning on the Monday after Pentecost and running until evening prayer I of the First Sunday of Advent. (Before the revision of the calendar in 1969, these two periods were known as the the Sundays After Epiphany and the Sundays After Pentecost.) Ordinary Time takes its name from the fact that the weeks are numbered (ordinal numbers are numbers indicating positions in a series, such as fifth, sixth, and seventh). During both periods of Ordinary Time, the emphasis in the Mass and the Church's daily prayer is on Christ's teaching and His life among His disciples.

 

  1. Lent: Dying to Self

The season of Ordinary Time is interrupted by three seasons, the first being Lent, the 40-day period of preparation for Easter. In any given year, the length of the first period of Ordinary Time depends on the date of Ash Wednesday, which itself depends on the date of Easter. Lent is a period of fasting, abstinence, prayer, and almsgiving —all to prepare ourselves, body and soul, to die with Christ on Good Friday so that we may rise again with Him on Easter Sunday. During Lent, the emphasis in the Mass readings and daily prayers of the Church is on the prophecies and foreshadowings of Christ in the Old Testament, and the increasing revelation of the nature of Christ and His mission.

 

What is Holy Week?

Holy Week is the week preceding Easter and the final week of LentHoly Week begins with Palm Sunday and ends with Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. Holy Week includes Holy Thursday (also known as Maundy Thursday) and Good Friday, which, together with Holy Saturday, are known as the Triduum. Before the revision of the liturgical calendar in 1969, Holy Week was the second week of Passiontide; in the current calendar, Passiontide is synonymous with Holy Week.

During Holy Week, Christians commemorate the Passion of Christ, who died on Good Friday in reparation for the sins of mankind, and rose on Easter Sunday to give new life to all who believe. Thus, while Holy Week is solemn and sorrowful, it also anticipates the joy of Easter through the recognition of God's goodness in sending His Son to die for our salvation.  The Holy Week commences on Palm Sunday and ends on Holy Saturday.

 

 

The Easter Triduum: From Death into Life

Like Ordinary Time, the Easter Triduum is a new liturgical season created with the revision of the liturgical calendar in 1969. It has its roots, though, in the reform of the ceremonies of Holy Week in 1956. While Ordinary Time is the longest of the Church's liturgical seasons, the Easter Triduum is the shortest; as the General Norms note, "The Easter triduum begins with the evening Mass of the Lord's Supper [on Holy Thursday], reaches its high point in the Easter Vigil, and closes with evening prayer on Easter Sunday." While the Easter Triduum is liturgically a separate season from Lent, it remains a part of the 40-day Lenten fast, which extends from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, excluding the six Sundays in Lent, which are never days of fasting.

 

  1. Easter: Christ Is Risen!

After Lent and the Easter Triduum, the third season to interrupt Ordinary Time is the Easter season itself. Beginning on Easter Sunday and running to Pentecost Sunday, a period of 50 days (inclusive), the Easter season is second only to Ordinary Time in length. Easter is the greatest feast in the Christian calendar, for "if Christ is not risen, our faith is in vain." The Resurrection of Christ culminates in His Ascension into Heaven and the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, which inaugurates the mission of the Church to spread the Good News of salvation to all the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

LITURGICAL COLORS AND SEASONS

The color of the liturgical vestments changes from time to time.

This is because the Church uses different colors to indicate

the season or feast that is being celebrated. 

The different colors are drawn from creation to remind those participating in a liturgy of the different blessings of God.  The colors used are white (or gold), purple (or violet), green, red and rose pink.

WHITE

White (or gold), since it is a festive, joyful color, is used during the Christmas and Easter seasons, and on major feast days, such as, on the celebrations of the Lord other than of his Passion, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of the Holy Angels, and of Saints who were not martyrs, and on the Solemnities of All Saints. Because white symbolizes the Resurrection, it is also the color often used for funerals.

 

PURPLE

Purple (or violet) symbolizes repentance and penance. Vestments of purple or violet are used during the seasons of Advent and Lent.

The color reminds us of the violet flower that bows its head and is a symbol of humility. Lent is the season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is a quiet season of reflection. The color of Advent is more of a rose-purple, like the sky just before sunrise. This is the time of year when the Church waits in joyful hope to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

Purple or violet dye was very expensive. An early Christian, Lydia from Thyatira, made her living from the purple dye trade and was able to support St Paul in his missionary work (Acts 16: 14-15).

 

GREEN

Green is a sign of life in nature and as such it represents growth, life and hope. Green is the color worn most often during liturgies in Ordinary Time. It symbolizes the graces that draw people into the life of God. Most of the Church's year is Ordinary Time.

 

RED

Red symbolizes both blood and fire. It is the color that is used on Passion (Palm) Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, and for celebrations of the Sacrament of Confirmation. It is also the color that has traditionally been associated with martyrs – those who have shed their blood for their faith – and so it is worn on the feast days of martyrs.

 

 

ROSE PINK

Rose pink is an optional color that may be used on the Third Sunday of Advent and the Fourth Sunday of Lent. On both of these days, the Entrance Antiphon calls us to rejoice, so the pink vestments mark a softening of the penitential tone of the season.