What Time Is It? – An Overview of the Church Calendar and Liturgical Year

By |2018-08-13T15:45:00+00:00January 10th, 2017|Categories: Anglican Life|Tags: , |11 Comments
Joshua Steele

Joshua Steele

Managing Editor at Anglican Pastor
Joshua is in charge of the day-to-day operations at Anglican Pastor. He is a Transitional Deacon in the Anglican Church in North America, serving at Church of the Savior in Wheaton, IL. He is also a Ph.D. student in theology at Wheaton College.
Joshua Steele

 

This post is a part of Rookie Anglican, a blog dedicated to Making Anglicanism Accessible.

What time is it?

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:

  1. the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover; Deut 16:1-8),
  2. the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost; Deut 16:9-12), and
  3. 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:

  1. the invasion of the Incarnation, and
  2. the triumph of the Resurrection.

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 Prayer476-7).

The Incarnation: from Advent until Lent


Advent

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).

Christmas

Christmastide begins with the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ on December 25, and extends for twelve days of celebrating the Incarnation (John 1:17).

Epiphany

Epiphanytide begins with the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ on January 06, and extends to the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ [at the Temple; Luke 2:22-52] on February 02.

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


Lent

Just as the Christmas cycle begins with a season of preparation, so the Paschal cycle begins with Lent –the period of fasting and penitence from Ash Wednesday until Holy Saturday.

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).

Holy Week

The last week of Lent, Holy Week, remembers the last week of Christ’s earthly life, beginning with Palm Sunday’s commemoration of Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matt 21:1-11).

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:

  1. Good Friday (a commemoration of the Crucifixion; Matt 27:27-54),
  2. Holy Saturday (remembering Christ’s time in the tomb), and
  3. Easter Sunday, which celebrates the triumphal Resurrection of Christ from the dead (Matt 28:1-20).

Eastertide

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).

“Ordinary” Time


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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11 Comments

  1. Patrick Halferty January 11, 2017 at 7:28 am - Reply

    God bless You!

    Can you recommend a few books to help me better understand the Liturgical Year and Calendar?

    Thank you,
    Patrick Halferty
    Pastor, Christian Life Center
    Chipman, NB
    CANADA

  2. Dale Hall January 11, 2017 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    Joshua, I’ve seen, heard, and read that on Ash Wednesday a grey, or ashen colored stole is appropriate. Have you ever come across that before? A couple of years ago I ordered a box-lot of “vintage stoles”, one was ashen, with a red heart sewn to it. Good post, simple to understand.

    • Joshua Steele January 11, 2017 at 1:01 pm - Reply

      Dale, very interesting! I haven’t come across that before. I’m more familiar with a Tenebrae service at which choir dress is worn…a tippet in place of a stole.

  3. Scott DeLong August 2, 2017 at 12:32 pm - Reply

    This article was really, really helpful to me as I’m editing a newcomer’s guide to our Anglican church, and I’m trying to introduce the church calendar in a helpful and concise way. May I use some of the language you present, especially the “invasion of and triumph over time” idea, citing this article?

    Thanks,

    Scott DeLong
    Communications Director
    Imago Dei Anglican Church

    • Joshua Steele August 2, 2017 at 12:39 pm - Reply

      Hi Scott! Thanks for letting us know that you enjoy the piece. Feel free to use the language if you’d be so kind as to cite this article! Blessings to you and your ministry.

  4. christanglicanchurchhs October 26, 2017 at 11:41 pm - Reply

    Two things is like to come in on: 1. Interspersed with all of the festivals which celebrate the life of Jesus (I lived your way of describing them as invasion and triumph!) we also have feasts of various saints which are really a commemoration if what the Holy Spirit has been up to for the last two thousand years. 2. Dale Hall mentioned “ashen” colored vestments. These are called “Lenten Array” and are the older traditional color for Lent according to the medieval practice of Salisbury Cathedral (called the Sarum Use). Must modern Anglican churches use the simpler color scheme that Rome was using in the 20th century. The Parson’s Handbook by Percy Dearmer does a good job of explaining the Sarum Use, though he’s pretty prejudiced.

    • Joshua Steele October 27, 2017 at 11:17 am - Reply

      Thanks for this, especially the Lenten color information!

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