Advent begins this weekend, and with it also begins the new liturgical year. It is thus a fitting time to discuss the idea of the liturgical year. From early times, the Jewish faith has set aside certain days and weeks for special celebrations, including Passover, the Feast of Weeks (which we call Pentecost) and the Feast of Booths in the fall season.
Building upon this practice, the early Church organized the year into days and seasons to develop all of the themes of salvation history, especially the Incarnation and Birth of Jesus, His suffering, death and Resurrection, and our call to participate in His saving mission.
And, although the details have changed over time, the overall structure has continued through the centuries. Thus, we begin with the Advent season, during which the Church recalls the ancient prophesies of the Messiah and the preparation for Jesus’ coming into the world. And we are meant to ask how we are preparing His way here and now.We then continue onto the Christmas season, during which we celebrate the birth and early years of Jesus. We are meant to renew our commitment to welcoming Jesus into our lives, our homes and the world around us.
During the late winter and early Spring season, the Church sets forth Lent as a season for reflecting upon the sacrificial offering of Jesus for our salvation and our own calling likewise to repent of sins and offer sacrifices in union with Him. Then, in the glorious Easter season, the Church focuses upon the Resurrection of Christ, the launching of the early Church and our own mission to be a people of hope. Between the Christmas season and Lent, and then again between Pentecost (which concludes the Easter season) and Advent, we have what is called “ordinary time; the term “ordinary” comes from the Latin words for such things as order, rhythm and stability. During this time, the Church especially reflects upon the public ministry of Jesus, with His preaching, miracles, and gathering of a holy people. And we likewise ask how we are responding to His message and grace through prayer, good works, repentance, giving good example, and assisting the Church.
During these seasons, the Church includes special days, from the highest ones (the Easter Triduum, Christmas, Epiphany and Pentecost) to solemnities and feast for the most central events and more prominent saints to memorials for the vast range of saints and celebrations. As the regular seasons of spring, summer, winter and fall provide both timeless regularity, and variety and renewal each year, the Church’s calendar is meant to gives a sense of the grace of God, which is both constant and ever new.