The Church’s year
There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven.
The Church’s year begins with the time called Advent – four weeks leading up to Christmas, and then we have a time of celebration. Later in spring is the longer time of preparation for Easter called Lent, and then we celebrate Easter itself for an even longer time.
The rest of the year is referred to as Ordinary time and is punctuated by special days and celebrations: the whole purpose is to help us to take time over the year to appreciate different parts of our faith and celebrate them in the church community.
To download the Diocesan Ordo which details all the celebration of the Church’s year, click here.
The word Advent means “coming” and it is a time to prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas, but it also invites us to prepare for Jesus to come at the end of time, so it is a reflective period for some serious thinking about our future – our ultimate future!
During Advent the Church uses the sombre colour purple for vestments and hangings, and the readings from scripture and the music and prayers all have a tone of waiting in anticipation. At this dark time of the year the theme of light is significant as the church waits for Christ – the “Light of the World”.
At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus as the child of Bethlehem who comes to join us in our human nature. This great sign of God’s love for humanity we celebrate with great joy – and that is clear in the decoration of the church and in the prayers and singing.
Most churches – like many families – will set up scenes depicting the birth of Jesus known as cribs where people stop and look and pray and think of the extraordinary thought that God came to be one of us. During this time the church uses white and gold colours as a sign of rejoicing.
Lent is a long season – traditionally 40 days – leading up to Easter when we prepare to recall the suffering death and resurrection of Jesus. Because Easter is such an important serious time for Christian Lent is taken very seriously when members of the church reflect on how well they live out their Christian life.
It is a time of quiet and sober prayer, music is restrained and people are encouraged to be generous to the needy, to be restrained in their personal pleasure and to give time to prayer. Purple is the colour associated with Lent – a sign of its seriousness.
For Christians the death and resurrection of Jesus which we remember at Easter is the most significant event in human history. So it is celebrated with great solemnity for a period of 50 days with joyful music, much singing of “Alleluia” and splendid decoration of the church building.
Eastertide ends with the feast of Pentecost which recalls the Holy Spirit coming on the disciples of Jesus like tongues of fire. After the white and gold of Easter, the church uses red as sign of the fire of the Holy Spirit.
The rest of the year the church uses green as the colour of vestments, and the cycles of prayers and readings focuses on the teachings of Jesus. The music and decoration do not have the exuberance of Easter or Christmas, nor the restraint of Lent.
There are also many special days remembering specific events or individual saints, and these celebrations take place across the year. In November the church remembers the dead and we are invited to pray especially for those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith – those who through baptism are our brothers and sisters.