The Nazarene Way of Essenic Studies
~ The Liturgical Year ~
The Observance of Fasts, Feasts and Memorials

The liturgical year consists of the cycle of liturgical seasons in some Christian traditions which determines when Fasts, Feasts, Memorials, Commemorations and Solemnities are to be observed and which portions of Scripture are to be read. Distinct liturgical colours may appear in connection with different seasons during the liturgical year. 

Some liturgical observances are attached to a specific date, while others depend on other events in the church year and are therefore considered "movable." Most of these depend on the number of days before or after Easter. 

~ Roman Catholic Church ~ 

The seasons in the Roman Catholic Church are: 

Easter Triduum 

The Easter Triduum consists of: 


The Easter season extends from the Easter Vigil through Pentecost Sunday 49 days later. It commemorates the resurrection of Jesus. 

Ordinary Time 

The second part of Ordinary Time begins after the Easter Season, on the Monday after Pentecost, and ends on the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent. Before the liturgical calendar was reformed at the Second Vatican Council, the Sundays in this part of the year were listed as "Sundays after Pentecost." 

Eastern Orthodox Church 

The Liturgical year in the Eastern Orthodox Church is characterized by alternating fasts and feasts, and is in many ways similar to the Roman Catholic year described above. It includes the 12 Great Feasts, plus Pascha (Easter) itself, the Feast of Feasts. 

These feasts generally mark various significant events in the lives of Jesus Christ and of the Virgin Mary. Winter Lent is one name for the extended fast leading up to the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ (Christmas). Great Lent is the extended fast leading up to Holy Week and Pascha. Other times are especially set aside as well. Two other extended fasts are the Apostles' Fast, generally about one to two weeks leading up to the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, and the fast leading up to the Dormition of Mary, which is for the two weeks prior to that feast, from August 1 to August 14. 

The Twelve Great Feasts 

  1. Nativity of Mary (September 8) Birth of the Virgin Mary to Joakim and Anne
  2. Elevation of the Cross (September 14) The rediscovery of the original Christian Cross
  3. Entrance of Mary into the Temple (November 21) The Virgin Mary's first entry into the Temple at about the age of 3.
  4. Nativity of Jesus Christ (December 25)
  5. Theophany (January 6) The baptism of Jesus, Christ's blessing of the water, and the revealing of Christ as God.
  6. Presentation of our Lord in the Temple (February 2) Christ's presentation as an child in the Temple.
  7. Annunciation of Mary (March 25) Gabriel's announcement to Mary that she will conceive the Christ
  8. Entry into Jerusalem (Sunday before Pascha) known in the West as Palm Sunday. 
  9. Ascension (40 days after Pascha) Christ's ascension into Heaven following his resurrection. 
  10. Pentecost (50 days after Pascha) The Holy Spirit comes and indwells the apostles and other Christians. 
  11. Transfiguration of our Lord (August 6) Christ's Transfiguration is witnessed by Peter, James and John. 
  12. Dormition of Mary (August 15) The falling asleep of the Virgin Mary. 

Why Does Easter's Date Wander?

The Moveable Feast Day of Easter.

The date of Easter Sunday, a so-called movable feast day in the Christian Church year, may seem mysterious to many who celebrate it. There are 35 possible dates in the spring season (northern hemisphere) for celebrating a one-time event. Why this wandering? The answer comes from decisions made several centuries after Christianity's inception.

And why do most Eastern Orthodox Christian Churches observe Easter 13 days after the rest of Christendom? This answer lies in how different people reacted to a centuries-old papal decree.

Our first stop on this tour of the wandering Easter is a quick study of how calendars were used in the Biblical lands around 30 A.D. Although the Julian or solar-based calendar of the Roman Empire had 
been in place since 45 B.C., it did not supplant the lunar calendar that was the chart and compass of 2,000 years of Jewish history. (A lunar year is 12 lunar cycles of 29.53 days each or 354.36 days while a Julian year is 365.25 days with a leap day every four years). The Julian calendar functions by having three years of 365 days and one year of 366 days every four years.

The incongruence of the two calendars had marred historical recordings in the Eastern Mediterranean and environs since the dual systems began. And to add to the confusion, Jesus' followers had failed to record the exact date of their Lord's resurrection. Many of those first believers expected Jesus to return soon, a hope that (some scholars believe) rendered such anniversaries unimportant for them. For these reasons, a single, universally accepted date for the event's celebration had little to no chance.

The Nicean Accord

Three hundred years later in the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine, Christianity was beginning to spread though out the Empire. Since any self-respecting religion was expected to have its religious festivals and days of observance, a date for celebrating Easter now became a priority. In fact, this was one of eight major topics considered by priests and bishops at the church's first Ecumenical Council in 325, in Nicea (present-day Turkey). One unanimously accepted canon guaranteed that Easter would never fall on the beginning the Jewish Passover, perhaps reflecting Christian animosity towards Jews for their perceived role in Jesus' death.

However, each church group present at Nicea seemed to have a different opinion on the matter of Easter's date. The biggest division was that between the Eastern churches of Antioch and Syria, which still relied on the Jewish or lunar calendar for determining the date of Easter, and the Western churches of Alexandria and Rome, which employed the efficient solar calendar. The resulting accord, as commonly stated, was that Easter shall fall on the first Sunday following the first full moon following the spring equinox. (The spring equinox is one of the two times in the year when the sun crosses the celestial equator and the length of day and night are approximately equal.)

This explains the 35-day span where Easter can occur (March 22 - April 25, inclusive): the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox may occur as little as two or as many as 37 days from the equinox.

We owe this complicated formula, with its attention to both the sun (the equinox) and the moon (full phase), to a political compromise among Nicea's gathered factions. The Eastern Christians injected the irregular phases of the moon into the calculations—thus causing the "wandering" effect—because they wanted their lunar calendar to keep its historical (though problematic) role in determining important dates.

The Portentous Shift

Cumbersome though it was, the Nicean accord ruled the church's commemoration of Jesus' resurrection for next 900 to1000 years. But this was not the end of the story. Unfortunately, the Julian solar calendar contained a non-trivial flaw that reared its head as the centuries crept along. This flaw affected the celebration of Easter, and its correction wrought great strife and consternation among Christians.

In the mid-1200's, an English Friar named Roger Bacon observed that the date of Easter, in addition to its prescribed wandering, was drifting farther and farther into the spring season. Astronomers now knew that the length of the solar year was closer to 365.242 days than to the 365.250 days assumed in the Julian calendar year. In 1,000 years, the Julian calendar counted 365,250 days, while in actuality, 365,242 solar days had elapsed. Bacon realized that each Julian year "overflowed" slightly into the next solar year, and that any given date was farther along in real time than the calendar would imply. The man-made calendar might say one thing, but nature's seasons were not fooled! Though the small mismatch caused a shift of only 11 minutes per year, this had accumulated—from Julius Ceasar's to Roger Bacon's day—into a troubling 9 days. Bacon's petitions to correct the drift went unheeded.

By the mid-1500s, Pope Gregory XIII recognized the consequences of the drift and entrusted a solution to a Jesuit mathematician and astronomer, Christopher Clavius. The enlightened Pope endorsed Clavius's findings in 1563 at the Council of Trent, and 19 years later, on October 4, 1582, Gregory signed a papal bull promulgating the new calendar that bears his name—the Gregorian calendar.

Gregory's calendar inserted a correction to the Julian calendar from that time forward. Ingeniously, it removed eight of the 250 leap days (February 29) occurring in each 1,000 years of the Julian calendar, thereby approximating more accurately the average number of days in a year—namely, 365.242. The exact rule is that at the century boundaries, a leap day shall be observed only when the century number is wholly divisible by 400. In other words, observance of a leap day in 2,000 was a special event. It will not happen again at a century boundary until 2,400.

More trouble for Easter

While the Gregorian calendar solved the problem for future years, there remained the critical matter of correcting the older calendar's "slippage." By 1582, the cumulative mismatch of the Julian calendar year against the solar year totaled 10 days. The papal bull addressed this problem in a practical but provocative way: it advanced the Julian calendar by 10 days. The calendar days October 5—14, 1582 simply vanished!

This part of Gregory's decree sealed confusion and conflict across Christendom. Not only would Easter continue its wandering, but it would wander differently in different regions. Germany, with its mixture of Catholic and Protestant enclaves, was particularly hard hit. For 193 years, Easter was celebrated variously at different times by different Germanic states. The Anglican Church joined the fray, resisting the change for nearly 170 years. And to this day, Christians in the Eastern Orthodox Church, except for the Finnish, retain the Julian calendar that is now 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar. In the year 2,100, the lag will equal 14 days.

The Calendar of Saints, Feast Days, and Holy Days

The calendar of saints forms a way of organizing a liturgical year on the finely-granulated level of days by assigning each day to association with a saint. This calendar system, when combined with major festivals and movable and immovable feasts, constructs a very human and personalized yet often localized way of organizing the year and identifying dates.

Medievalists continue the old tradition of dating by saints' days: their works may appear "dated" as "The Feast of Saint Martin" or "Lammastide". Poets such as John Keats commemorate the importance of The Eve of Saint Agnes. Many children acquire baptismal or confirmational names from the saint associated with their date of birth, baptism or confirmation, and believing Eastern Orthodox Christians mark the "name day" of the saint whose name they bear with special attention. 

Feast Days, or Holy Days, are days which are celebrated in commemoration of the sacred mysteries and events recorded in history, in memory Christ, of the Virgin Mother, the apostles, martyrs, and saints, by special services or rest from work. A feast not only commemorates an event or person, but also serves to excite the spiritual life by reminding us of the event it commemorates.

Some traditional dates (Roman Catholic unless otherwise indicated) include: 

Notes: Observance usually begins at sundown the day before this date. Local customs may vary this date.













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The Liturgical Year