The Roman Catholic Liturgical Year
Seasons of the Liturgical Year
- Ordinary Time (after Epiphany)
- Ordinary Time (after Pentecost)
What Is the Roman Catholic Liturgical Year?
The Roman Catholic year is not based on the calendar year as we know it. It is a seasonal calendar. The Liturgical Year, also known as the Church Year or the Christian calendar, starts with the season of Advent (the season of awaiting the coming of the Baby Jesus) and ends with the last Saturday of Ordinary Time. This means that, according to the regular calendar we use in our daily lives, the Church year begins in late November/early December of one year and ends in November of the following calendar year.
Life in Christ, A Catechism for Adults states that the liturgical year is the way the Church relives the life of Christ “by celebrating throughout the year the mysteries of his life, death and resurrection.” In this way, the Church, by presenting the mysteries of Jesus Christ, helps its faithful experience them and share more fully in the life of Christ.
Advent is the start of the Roman Catholic year
The season of Advent begins on the Sunday closest to November 30th (the Feast of St. Andrews) and so always falls sometime between November 28th and December 3rd. Advent lasts until the Nativity of the Lord (December 25th, Christmas). The season, therefore, always has between 21 and 28 days.
Advent is a period of preparation for the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. But it’s not only about Jesus’ birth long ago; it’s also a period of renewal of Catholic belief in the second coming of Jesus, the Messiah.
The colors of the Advent season are purple and pink. The Advent wreath, traditionally used to mark the passage of one week to the other, therefore holds four candles: three purple and one pink; the pink one is lit on the third Sunday of Advent.
“When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior's first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming.200 By celebrating the precursor's birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: "He must increase, but I must decrease."
Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, celebrated on December 25th, Christmas Day. It begins with the vigil the night before, called Christmas Eve, on December 24th. Many traditional Roman Catholics begin Christmas by attending the Midnight Mass (sometimes celebrated at 9 or 10 p.m., a bit ahead of midnight), which counts as fulfilling the obligation to attend Mass on a Holy Day (Christmas Day). However, there are actually three different Masses for Christmas: the Midnight Mass, the Mass at dawn and the Mass later in the morning. Each Mass has a different focus. The Midnight Mass focuses on the eternal generation of the Word of God before all time. The Mass at dawn focuses on Christ as the light of the world. The third Mass focuses on God’s sending Jesus, his Son, into the world to save all people.
The main teaching of the Christmas season, however, is the message that we must be born again and undergo a complete transformation by becoming more intimately united to the Word of God made flesh (in the person of Jesus).
The Twelve Days of Christmas
As the song says, there really are twelve days of Christmas. Christmas begins on December 25th and ends on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th (although nowadays it is celebrated on the Sunday closest to this date), which celebrates the manifestation of Christ to gentiles (all those peoples who are not Jewish). This is recalled through the story of the Magi, or the Three Kings, who traveled from the East to pay homage to the Christ Child. The Epiphany liturgy exhorts us to give thanks for the blessings of the faith and to seek a deeper faith through prayer and meditation. However, the Christmas liturgical season lasts until the Octave (the eight day) of the Epiphany, January 13th, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The color of the Christmas season is white.
Ordinary Time after the Baptism
Right after the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on January 13th, the Church calendar enters Ordinary Time until Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, the Tuesday night before Ash Wednesday. The word “ordinary” here does not mean plain, though. It means a time of order. That is, these are the weeks of the church year that are counted (First Sunday of Ordinary Time, Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, etc.). This season focuses on Jesus’ childhood , early life, and on the beginning of His public ministry. The color of this season is green, although other colors may be used to celebrate specific feasts.
Lent is a movable holiday, though it begins on Ash Wednesday every year. However, the date of Ash Wednesday is calculated to be forty-six (46) days from the date of Easter, and so may occur as early as February 4th and as late as March 10th in any given year. Lent does not end at Easter, however. Since Vatican II, Lent officially ends for Roman Catholics on Holy Thursday (also called Maundy Thursday). Good Friday and Holy Saturday are the first two days of the Triduum (the Three Days), ending with Easter Sunday. The color of Lent is purple - though it's more of a magenta color, not the dark purple of Advent. On the Fourth Sunday in Lent pink might be used. On Palm - or Passion - Sunday and Good Friday, the color is red. White or the magenta-violet is worn on Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday.
The Easter season begins with the Easter Vigil and ends on Pentecost Sunday, a period of 50 days. Easter is the most joyous celebration of the Roman Catholic church year. The Easter Vigil is celebrated after nightfall on Holy Saturday night and Easter itself is on the next day, Sunday. It is the biggest liturgical event in the life of the Roman Catholic Church. The faithful celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His promise to us of eternal life. Catholics renew their own baptismal promises; this is the season when the Church welcomes new adult members into the Church, through the Baptism and Confirmation. The Church continues the celebration of the Resurrection through all of the Easter Sunday Masses. The liturgical color for the Easter season is white and red is used for Pentecost Sunday.
Ordinary Time after Pentecost
This is the longest season of the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar and lasts from the Sunday after Pentecost until the last Saturday before Advent. This season focuses on Christ as the King of kings and on our age, our contemporary time period, as the Age of the Church (as opposed to the Age of the Apostles (our past) and the Age of Christ's Second Coming (our future)). The last Sunday of Ordinary Time is the Feast of Christ the King and the Saturday after this Feast is the last day of Ordinary Time. While other appropriate colors are worn on specific feast days, the color of Ordinary Time is green.