The Church Year

Church time and the world's time are different, or had you noticed? A book's author might sign the preface with a name and a date, such as January 6, 1996. The writer of religious books may well sign the preface on the same date, but it will read, Feast of the Epiphany, 1996. The church has its own calendar which is tied to events reported in the life of Jesus and in the church's life. Learning to follow church time will take us through the history of our own faith story.

The most important celebration in the church year is Easter Day. The Paschal cycle begins with the season of Lent during which we prepare ourselves for the coming events of Jesus' passion. On the Sunday before Easter, we observe Passion (Palm) Sunday and remember Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. All the days between that Sunday and Easter Sunday are called Holy Week. Maundy Thursday celebrates the institution of the Eucharist, and we often observe the washing of feet at this time. Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion. Holy Saturday services are followed by the Great Vigil, held in late evening. The days of Holy Week are marked by sorrow and sympathy, with Easter morning being the joyous time of resurrection, celebration, song, and lilies at the altar. The gift of the Holy Spirit is remembered on Pentecost, the fiftieth day of Easter.

The Paschal cycle is preceded by the Incarnational cycle. This begins in winter with Advent, a season during which we again wait, but this time we anticipate Jesus' birth which we celebrate on Christmas Day. After Christmas, there is the Feast of Epiphany, which means "showing forth" the gospel meant for the whole world. Ash Wednesday begins forty days of Lent.

Many feast days, holy days, and days of particular observance are sprinkled throughout these two great cycles of the church year. If you pay close attention to the scriptures assigned to each celebration, you will hear and live out the story of Jesus' life. The church year is a way in which we learn to live our own lives, month by month, alongside that of one who serves as our ideal model.

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