Nazarene Way of Essenic Studies
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:
- Advent; First season of the liturgical year. It begins four Sundays before Christmas and its purpose is the preparation for Christmas.
- Christmas; The Christmas season begins with the Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve and ends on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on the Sunday after January 6 (formerly on the eighth and final day of the Octave of Epiphany, or January 13).
- Ordinary Time; In this sense, ordinary means not assigned to a specific season. It consists of either 33 or 34 Sundays, depending on the year. The first part (formerly known as the season after Epiphany) extends from the Monday following the Christmas Season (or, in the United States only, from the Tuesday in years when the first Sunday after January 6 falls on January 7 or 8, in which case the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is observed on a Monday instead of a Sunday) through the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Prior to 1970, the last three Sundays before Lent were designated Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima, from the Latin words for 70, 60 and 50 respectively (referring to roughly how many days remained until Easter, even though the actual respective numbers are 63, 56 and 49). This first installment of Ordinary Time has anywhere from four to nine Sundays, depending on how early or late Easter falls in a given year.
- Lent; Lent is the time taken by the Church to prepare for Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Maundy Thursday, in Holy Week. There are forty days of Lent, counting from Ash Wednesday through the Easter Triduum, but not including Sundays.
The Easter Triduum consists of:
- Maundy Thursday; at the evening Mass of the Lord's Supper
- Good Friday; the celebration of His passion
- Holy Saturday; commemoration of the day Christ lay in the Tomb
- Easter Vigil; held on the evening of Holy Saturday in anticipation of the resurrection.
The Easter season extends from the Easter Vigil through Pentecost Sunday 49 days later. It commemorates the resurrection of Jesus.
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
- Nativity of Mary (September 8) Birth of the Virgin Mary to Joakim and Anne
- Elevation of the Cross (September 14) The rediscovery of the original Christian Cross
- Entrance of Mary into the Temple (November 21) The Virgin Mary's first entry into the Temple at about the age of 3.
- Nativity of Jesus Christ (December 25)
- Theophany (January 6) The baptism of Jesus, Christ's blessing of the water, and the revealing of Christ as God.
- Presentation of our Lord in the Temple (February 2) Christ's presentation as an child in the Temple.
- Annunciation of Mary (March 25) Gabriel's announcement to Mary that she will conceive the Christ
- Entry into Jerusalem (Sunday before Pascha) known in the West as Palm Sunday.
- Ascension (40 days after Pascha) Christ's ascension into Heaven following his resurrection.
- Pentecost (50 days after Pascha) The Holy Spirit comes and indwells the apostles and other Christians.
- Transfiguration of our Lord (August 6) Christ's Transfiguration is witnessed by Peter, James and John.
- 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.
- January 1: Mary, Mother of God
- January 6: Epiphany
- January 17: Saint Anthony the Great
- January 18: The Confession of Saint Peter
- January 21: Saint Agnes
- January 22: Saint Vincent
- January 25: The Conversion of Saint Paul
- February 2: The Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple
- February 4: Saint Ansgar
- February 10: Saint Charalampos (Eastern Orthodox Church)
- February 14: Saint Valentine
- March 1: Saint David
- March 17: Saint Patrick
- March 19: Saint Joseph of Nazareth
- March 25: The Annunciation of the Lord (The angel Gabriel's visit to Mary to announce that she would be the mother of a Divine Son)
- March 31: Saint Benjamin
- April 11: Saint Leo I
- April 14: Saint Timothy
- April 21: Saint Anselm of Canterbury
- April 23: Saint George
- April 25: Saint Mark the Evangelist
- May 3: Saint Philip and Saint James
- May 14: Saint Matthias the Apostle
- May 15: Saint Dymphna and Saint Gerebernus
- May 19: Saint Dunstan
- May 31: The Visitation; Celebrates Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth who was with child. (John the Baptist)
- June 9: Saint Columba
- June 11: Saint Barnabas the Apostle
- June 12: Saint Anthony of Padua
- June 20: Saint Adalbert of Magdeburg
- June 22: Saint Alban, Saint Thomas More
- June 24: Saint John the Baptist, Saint Amphibalus
- June 29: Saint Peter and Saint Paul
- July 3: Saint Thomas the Apostle
- July 11: Saint Benedict
- July 13: Saint Teresa de los Andes
- July 15: Saint Swithun
- July 22: Saint Mary Magdalene
- July 25: Saint James the Great
- July 31: Saint Ignatius of Loyola
- August 6: Transfiguration
- August 10: Saint Lawrence
- August 15: Assumption of Mary / Dormition of the Theotokos (Mary's transition to heaven)
- August 20: Saint Bernard of Clairvaux
- August 24: Saint Bartholomew the Apostle
- August 28: Saint Augustine of Hippo
- August 29: The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist
- September 8: The Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Three important births are celebrated in the Roman calendar, the birth of Jesus, of Mary, and of John the Baptist.
- September 14: Elevation of the Cross
- September 21: Saint Matthew the Evangelist / Fall Equinox
- September 25: Yom Kippur * - Jewish
- September 27: Saint Vincent de Paul
- September 29: Saint Michael the Archangel
- September 30: Saint Jerome
- October 4: Saint Francis of Assisi
- October 7: Saint Birgitta
- October 18: Saint Luke the Evangelist
- October 28: Saint Simon and Saint Jude
- October 31: All Hallows Eve
- November 1: All Saints
- November 4: Saint Charles Borromeo
- November 11: Saint Martin of Tours
- November 21: The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- November 23: Saint Clement I
- November 30: Saint Andrew the Apostle
- December 3: Saint Francis Xavier
- December 6: Saint Nicholas
- December 8: Immaculate Conception of Virgin Mary
- December 8-15: Hanukkah * - Jewish
- December 21 Yule/Winter Solstice
- December 25: The Nativity of Christ
- December 26: Saint Stephen
- December 27: Saint John the Evangelist
- December 28: Holy Innocents
- December 31: Saint Sylvester
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The Liturgical Year