What Time Is It? – An Overview of the Church Calendar and Liturgical Year
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At first glance, it might not seem like it, but this is one of the most important questions a human being can ask!
Thankfully, there’s an Anglican answer! Or better, there is a Christian answer, which the Anglican tradition helps proclaim!
Keeping Sacred Time: The Liturgical Year
Whereas many world religions seek salvation as an escape from time, Christianity proclaims salvation as a redemption of time (Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 47-8).
Keeping sacred time did not begin with the Christian movement, however, for the Church calendar traces its origins to the principal feasts of Judaism:
- the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover; Deut 16:1-8),
- the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost; Deut 16:9-12), and
- the Feast of Booths (Deut 16:13-17).
In order to commemorate God’s redemptive acts and continual blessings, these three feast days required special worship at the temple in Jerusalem. According to Christians, however, the redemptive acts of God commemorated in Judaism find their fulfillment in God’s invasion of and triumph over time through Jesus Christ.
Much like the gospel the Church proclaims, the calendar the Church keeps revolves around these two divine movements:
The former is remembered through the Christmas cycle, from Advent until Lent, and the latter through the Paschal cycle, from Lent until Pentecost (Mitchell, “Sanctifying Time: The Calendar,” in The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer, 476-7).
The Incarnation: from Advent until Lent
The Church year begins with Advent, a season which encompasses four weeks of preparation – first to await Christ’s second advent to judge the living and the dead (2 Pet 3:11-14; 1 John 3:2-3), but also to celebrate his first advent at the Incarnation.
Just as the Israelites awaited a Messiah to fulfill God’s promises from Genesis 3:15 to Jeremiah 31:31-34 and beyond, so Christians await the return of Jesus the Messiah to renew all things (Rev 21).
This season commemorates the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles in fulfillment of prophecy (Isa 60:1-3), as exemplified in the visitation of the Magi (Matt 2:1-12; McKenzie, The Anglican Way, 127-8).
The Resurrection: from Lent until Pentecost
Because Lent lasts for forty days, not counting the six Sundays which are celebrations of the Resurrection, it recalls Christ’s fasting during temptation in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11).
Maundy Thursday commemorates the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper (Matt 26:20-35) and Christ’s washing of the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-15).
The “Three Days” – Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday
The Paschal Triduum (“three days”) begins on the evening of Maundy Thursday and includes:
- Good Friday (a commemoration of the Crucifixion; Matt 27:27-54),
- Holy Saturday (remembering Christ’s time in the tomb), and
- Easter Sunday, which celebrates the triumphal Resurrection of Christ from the dead (Matt 28:1-20).
Eastertide then lasts for fifty days – first for forty days until the remembrance of Christ’s Ascension to the Father’s right hand (Acts 1:1-11), and then for ten more days until the commemoration of the Holy Spirit’s descent at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-41).
This season emphasizes the typological fulfillment of the feasts of Unleavened Bread and Weeks in the Christian celebrations of Easter Sunday and Pentecost (Daniélou, The Bible and the Liturgy, 339).
The time between Trinity Sunday (the Sunday after Pentecost, focusing upon the Triune identity of God) and Christ the King Sunday (the Sunday before Advent, proclaiming Christ’s Lordship) – from approximately June through November – is called the Season after Pentecost, or Ordinary (numbered) Time.
This remainder of the liturgical year is “the time in which the church is to live out its calling in the world, fulfilling the mission of God” (Chan, Liturgical Theology, 164). Instructed in the school of sacred time, Christians go forth to love and serve the broken world which God has invaded, and over which He triumphs.
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