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The Liturgical Cycle





Western Christian liturgical calendars are based on the cycle of the Roman or Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, including Protestant calendars since this cycle pre-dates the Protestant Reformation. Generally, the liturgical seasons inwestern  Christianity are Advent, Christmas, Ordinary Time (Time after Easter, and Ordinary Time (Time after Pentecost).


The first season of the liturgical year, beginning four Sundays before Christmas and ending on Christmas Eve. Historically observed as a "fast", its purpose focuses preparation for the coming Christ. Although often conceived as awaiting the coming of the Christ-child at Christmas, the modern lectionary points the season more toward eschatological themes--awaiting the final coming of Christ, when "the wolf shall live with the lamb" (Isaiah 11:6) and when God will have "brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly" (The Magnificat, Luke 1:52)--particularly in the earlier half of the season. This period of waiting is often marked by the Advent Wreath, a garland of evergreens with 4 candles. Although the main symbolism of the advent wreath is simply marking the progression of time, many churches attach themes to each candle, most often 'hope', 'faith', 'joy', and 'love'.

Color: Violet, or in some traditions Blue. On the third Sunday of Advent, also called Gaudete Sunday, Rose/Pink is used in some places.

Although the Roman Catholic rite omits the "Gloria in Excelsis" in Mass of the season (as opposed to Mass of a feast), the "Alleluia" remains (although the pre-Vatican II rite had no "Alleluia" in Mass of the season other than on Sunday).


Christmastide begins on the evening of Christmas Eve (December 24) and ends on the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. Christmas Day itself is December 25. The 12-day length of the Christmas season gives rise to "The Twelve Days of Christmas"; despite what retailers and the media might have one believe, the Twelve Days begin on Christmas Day, instead of ending on it.

The Roman Catholic calendar has the Christmas liturgical season continuing to the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord (the old octave day of Epiphany), which in pre-Vatican II calendar was fixed on January 13.
Color: White or Gold.

Ordinary Time ("Time after Epiphany" and "Septuagesima")

"Ordinary" comes from the same root as our word "ordinal", and in this sense means "the counted weeks". In the Roman Catholic Church and in some Protestant traditions, these are the common weeks which do not belong to a proper season. It consists of either 33 or 34 Sundays, depending on the year. In the modern Roman rite, the first portion of Ordinary Time extends from the day following the Feast of the Baptism of Christ until the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent). This first installment has anywhere from three to eight Sundays, depending on how early or late Easter falls in a given year. In other rites, including Protestant ones, Ordinary Time may start as early as the day after Epiphany or as late as the day after Candlemas.

The terminology of "Ordinary Time" replaces the older language of the Seasons of "Time After Epiphany" and "Septuagesima" (pre-Lenten season), which are still in use by traditional Catholics and other Catholics who attend the ancient, pre-Vatican II Mass known as the Tridentine Rite. Some Protestant rites also use the older terminology.

In the older Roman rite, the Time after Epiphany could have anywhere from one to six Sundays, with Septuagesima as a 17-day season beginning nine Sundays before Easter and ending on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Any omitted Sundays after Epiphany are transferred to the time after Pentecost and celebrated between the Twenty-Third Sunday and the Last Sunday. If, however, there are not enough Sundays in the year to accommodate all such Sundays, then the one which would otherwise occur on Septuagesima Sunday is celebrated on the previous day (Saturday); in the case of Easter falling so late that there were only 23 Sundays After Pentecost, the Mass for 23rd Sunday was celebrated on the day before the Last Sunday After Pentecost. The 1962 reform changed this, instead dropping the displaced Sunday Mass for that year. During Septuagesima, certain customs of Lent are adopted, including the suppression of the "Alleluja" and, on Sundays, the Gloria, and the vestments are violet.
Color: Green.

Lent and Passiontide

Lent is a major fast taken by the Church to prepare for Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at the beginning of the Easter Vigil, at the conclusion of Holy Week. There are forty days of Lent, counting from Ash Wednesday through the Easter Triduum, but not including Sundays. The final week of Lent is known as Holy Week, which begins on Palm Sunday. The final three days of Lent are known as the Easter Triduum.

Before the 1970 reforms, the last two weeks of Lent in the Catholic Church were known as Passiontide. During this season, the Gloria Patri is suppressed except after the Psalms in the Divine Office, the readings begin to focus even more on the Passion of Christ, and, most noticeably, the crucifixes and images of the saints are covered with violet cloth. On the Friday before Good Friday is the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Should the Feasts of St. Joseph or the Annunciation fall during Holy Week, they are transferred to the week following Easter.
Color: Violet. In some traditions, Rose may be used on the 4th Sunday of Lent, called Laetare Sunday.

The Easter Triduum consists of:

  • Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday
    • at the evening worship service or Mass of the Lord's Supper
    • some churches who celebrate this day as Maundy Thursday engage in the ritual of ceremonial footwashing.
    • Color: White.
  • Good Friday
    • the celebration of His passion
    • Color: Varies: No color, Red, or Black are used in different traditions. (Where colored hangings are removed for this day, liturgical color applies to vestments only.)
    • In the Roman Catholic rite, a crucifix (not necessarily the one which stands on or near the altar on other days of the year) is ceremoniously unveiled. (And in pre-Vatican II, other crucifixes were to be unveiled, without ceremony, after the Good Friday service.)
  • Holy Saturday
    • commemoration of the day Christ lay in the Tomb
    • Color: None
  • Easter Vigil
    • Held after sunset of Holy Saturday, or before dawn on Easter Day, in anticipation of the celebration of the resurrection.
    • See also Paschal candle
    • Color: White, often together with Gold.
    • In pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic rite, during the "Gloria in Excelsis" at the Mass, the organ and bells are used in the liturgy for the first time in 2 days, and the statues, which have been veiled during Passion time, are unveiled.


The date of Easter varies from year to year, but is set to be close to the date of Jesus' resurrection, which the holiday recognizes. The Easter season extends from the Easter Vigil through Pentecost Sunday on the Catholic and Protestant calendars. On the calendar used by traditional Catholics, Eastertide lasts until the end of the Octave of Pentecost, at None of the following Ember Saturday.

The Easter octave allows for no other feasts to be celebrated or commemorated during it (possible exception is the Greater Litanies if Easter falls late enough). If Easter is so early that March 25 falls in Easter week, Annunciation feast is postponed to the following week.

Ascension is the fortieth day of Easter, always a Thursday. Pentecost is the fiftieth.
Color: White or Gold, except on Pentecost, on which the color is Red.

Ordinary Time ("Time after Pentecost" and "Kingdomtide")

Ordinary Time resumes after the Easter Season, on Pentecost Monday, and ends on the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent. Before the Roman liturgical calendar was reformed at the Second Vatican Council, the Sundays in this part of the year were listed as "Sundays after Pentecost" by Roman Catholics; the Eastern Orthodox and some Protestants still adhere to this terminology. The first Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday and in many traditions the last Sunday of Ordinary Time is the Feast of Christ the King.

Variations during this season include:

  • In the traditional Catholic calendar, Christ the King is the last Sunday in October rather than the final Sunday before Advent.
  • In the Catholic and some Anglican traditions the feast of Corpus Christi occurs eleven days after Pentecost.
  • Most Western traditions celebrate All Saints' Day on November 1st or the Sunday following. The liturgical color is White.
  • Some traditions celebrate St. Michael's Day (Michaelmas) on September 29th.
  • Some traditions celebrate St. Martin 's Day (Martinmas) on November 11th.
  • In some Protestant traditions, especially those with closer ties to the Lutheran tradition, Reformation Sunday is celebrated on the Sunday preceding October 31st, commemorating the purported day Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg. The liturgical color is Red, celebrating the Holy Spirit's continuing work in renewing the Church.
  • Many traditions treat the final few weeks of Ordinary Time as having a distinctive focus on the coming of the Kingdom of God (so that the liturgical year turns full circle by anticipating one of the predominant themes of Advent). In the Roman Rite, the final three Sundays have such an eschatological theme, though without any change in designation for those Sundays. Some other denominations, however, change the designation and sometimes also the liturgical colour. For example, the Church of England uses the term "Sundays before Advent" for the final four Sundays and permits red vestments as an alternative. The term "Kingdomtide" is used by a number of denominations, among them the United Methodist Church and the Christian Church - Synod of Saint Timothy. In the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS), this is known as the "Period of End Times," and red vestments are worn on the first and second Sundays.
    Color: Green

Assumption of Mary (Roman Catholic)

August 15th. On this date, which is the same as the Eastern tradition of the Dormition , the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven is celebrated. This feast day is perhaps the oldest feast day in the Christian Church, being celebrated in both the East and the West. The teaching on this feast was dogmatically defined on November 1, 1950 by Pope Pius XII in the Papal Bull, Munificentissimus Deus .

Anglican and Protestant Churches

Many Protestant churches recognize a liturgical year, including Anglicans/Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, the Reformed churches, and the United/Uniting churches (the United Church of Christ [ USA ], the United Church of Canada, and the Uniting Church in Australia ).

Some Protestant churches label the seasons outside of the two festival cycles (Advent-Christmas-Epiphany Day and Lent-Easter-Pentecost Day) "Ordinary Time" like the current Roman Catholic calendar. In the United States , this includes the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Church of Christ; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has proposed switching to this terminology as well. In other Protestant churches, these seasons retain their pre-Vatican II names of "Season after Epiphany" and "Season after Pentecost".

Certain minor differences exist between the Roman Catholic liturgical year and the Protestant one, but these differences vary among the different Protestant churches. Generally speaking, the Anglican/Episcopal churches have retained many of the minor festivals and commemorations, as have Lutheran churches to a lesser extent. Most other Protestant churches only observe the major seasons, although the 'ordinary time' lesser festivals of All Saints Day (November 1) and Christ the King (last Sunday of liturgical year) are observed by many. Churches in the Lutheran tradition, as well as some in the Reformed tradition, also observe Reformation Day on October 31st or its preceding Sunday.




taken from: http://www.answers.com/topic/liturgical-year


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