The Church follows a calendar just like the secular world, but the Church calendar is a little different. It has the same number of days and months, etc. but it has different holidays and feast days than the regular, secular calendar. On many days of the year it celebrates saints, and there are some days and periods set aside for special remembrances of events in the life of Christ. There are six seasons throughout the Church year. These seasons are periods of time which commemorate and draw us to think about particular things and events.
Advent is derived from the latin word “adventus” meaning coming or arrival. It is the first season of the liturgical year and it anticipates the coming of Christ at Christmas. It also helps us to think of the second coming of Christ at the end of the world and the end of our lives. This season starts around the beginning of December, on the Sunday closest to November 30. There are four Sundays in Advent. The color of the season is purple. This is to denote a penitential time. Advent is not as strict a penitential season as Lent, but it still should be a time of prayer and sacrifice. The best way to prepare for the coming of Christ both as a child 2000 years ago and in the future whenever our life is over is to re-focus of Christ and try to detach ourselves from worldly things. Speaking with God through prayer and sacrificing things to keep ourselves detached from them are two excellent ways to participate fully in this first liturgical season. Unfortunately, Advent can sometimes be overlooked in the frantic preparation for Christmas, buying gifts, etc., and all the more because the secular world does not observe Advent at all; Christmas starts Thanksgiving night. However, Advent is a very important and spiritually advantageous season. Christmas is the remembrance of Christ's birth, and it is impossible to properly commemorate that great event without some sort of preparation. The best kind of preparation is spiritual preparation, and that is what the season of Advent is all about.
Christmas is the season of the liturgical year in which we celebrate the birth of Christ. It begins on December 25 and lasts until the Baptism of the Lord. The first eight days after Christmas are the octave of Christmas. These are special days set aside to particularly commemorate the feast. The birth of Christ is such a momentous occasion in the life of the Church that it cannot be properly celebrated on just one day. Instead, it needs eight days to fully unpack the great mystery and for us to concentrate completely on what the birth of Christ means for us and the world. However, even after those eight days are completed, there is still several days left in the Christmas season to continue to celebrate this momentous occasion. This is the second most important feast day of the year, because without Christ's birth, He would not be on earth to save us.
Lent is the liturgical season of preparation for the Easter season. It is forty days long. Forty is a significant period of time in the Bible. The Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years. Jesus fasted and prayed for forty days in the desert. This liturgical season is a time of penance. It is the most penitential time of the year and the faithful are called to perform penance for their sins. This period particularly recalls the time Jesus fasted and prayed in the desert to prepare for His public ministry. We are also called to fast and pray in order to prepare for Easter and to spiritually cleanse ourselves so that the death and resurrection of Christ has greater spiritual effect in our lives. During this liturgical season, we are urged to practice prayer, fasting and alms giving. These are the three traditional disciplines of the church for this season to prepare ourselves spiritually for the holiest days of the year. By practicing these spiritual exercises, we will wipe clean our souls of sin and detachment to all things not God. The lenten season should be a period of great spiritual renewal and advancement.
Sacred Paschal Triduum
The paschal triduum comes at the end of the Lenten season, encompassing Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. During these three days, we commemorate some of the most important events in history and their spiritual effect. It begins on Holy Thursday with the Chrism mass and then the Mass of the Lord's Supper. At the Chrism mass not only is the holy oil for the year blessed, but also the priests of each diocese gather to renew their vows. This is a very strong reminder of the unity and work of priests around the world. They are all gathered together in one place, with the bishop, to re-consecrate themselves to God. What a beautiful witness of love and sacrifice. Then in the evening there is the Mass of the Lord's Supper. This is a wonderful commemoration of the last supper and in particular the institution of two sacraments: the Holy Eucharist and the Priesthood. Of course every mass is a commemoration of the Eucharist, but this day in particular we call to mind the great miracle Jesus worked then and even to this day. However, this mass is not solely a celebration of the institution of these two great and important sacraments. It is also a sad time, because of the anticipation of what is to come the next day. On the second day of the triduum is Good Friday, on which we commemorate the death of Christ. It has been the tradition of the church not to offer mass on Good Friday, in recognition of the solemnity and sadness of this day. Since Christ died on this day, it is fitting that the memorial of Christ's death, the mass, be omitted on this day. On this one day, the omission of mass sets is apart and brings fully to mind the great sacrifice of Christ. The liturgy of Good Friday is celebrated, in which there are readings, prayers and the veneration of the cross. On this day, we recall in a particularly present manner the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for our salvation. Finally, the sacred paschal Triduum concludes with Holy Saturday. This is primarily a day of sorrow and anticipation. There are no liturgical services during the day. Jesus is in the tomb, and we mourn His death. However, we also know that the next day He will rise from the dead, so at the same time of sorrow, there is a sense of hope and expectant waiting. At night, after sunset, the Easter vigil begins, commencing the celebration of the Easter season.
Easter is the time of greatest rejoicing in the Church year. It is the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. As St. Paul wrote, without the resurrection, our Catholic faith is foolish (1 Corinthians 15:14). Christ needed to die on the cross in order to redeem mankind, but He also needed to rise. If He had not risen, there would be no hope that we would rise again and join Christ in Heaven. If death was the end of it for Jesus, who was God, it certainly would be the end for us humans. Without the resurrection, there is no hope of eternal life. The resurrection and the Easter season is such a joyful time that it cannot be contained in just one day. There is first of all the octave of Easter, encompassing the first eight days of the Easter season. These days are celebrated as great feasts of the Church, because of the awesome mystery that is the resurrection. Even after these eight days are completed, there are still forty-two more days of the Easter season, for a total of fifty days of celebration. This mystery is so awesome that it takes fifty days of contemplation and celebration for the church. The season ends with Pentecost, when the Church commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Ordinary time can be a little confusing because we think of ordinary as meaning normal. However, ordinary comes from the word ordinal meaning counting or numbered, so called because the weeks are numbered. Ordinary time encompasses the period between Christmas and Lent and then the period after Easter until Advent. The weeks are numbered one through thirty-three or thirty-four. The liturgical color for ordinary time is green. This is because green is the color of hope and of new life, particularly as seen in new plants. It speaks particularly to the new life of the Church after Pentecost and the new spiritual life we should always be aiming to cultivate throughout the year. Ordinary time is a time of living everyday life in an extraordinary way. Although there are no major feasts or celebrations during the months of ordinary time, this season reminds us of Jesus' public ministry and His daily living. Most of His life, even during His three years of public ministry, was spent living, preaching and caring for others, without any spectacular or noteworthy events. We don't need to have miracles happen every day in order to become better persons. Ordinary time is the time to work on becoming better persons and evangelizing through actions. If we aren't careful, it can become somewhat of a slog, but it provides a great opportunity to continue to grow in the spiritual life.