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Church Seasons:
Mark Your (Liturgical) Calendar

by Sandra DeGidio, O.S.M.

(A summary of this month's Youth Update)
If you would like to preview a future edition in Youth Update's private online chat room, contact CarolAnn@franciscanmedia.org.

You probably have a very full calendar. On that calendar, however, you probably haven't recorded the First Sunday of Advent or the Feast of Christ the King. In this Youth Update, you will find an overview of the calendar year in liturgical terms. The Church calendar includes all the festivals to be celebrated publicly within a year. These celebrations encourage and support you in making God's time your time!

1. Celebrate Sunday

Sunday is the centerpiece of every week in the Catholic calendar. This is the day that Jesus rose from the dead. The first Christians gathered on that day to break bread and share the stories of Christ's redeeming work. This is what you are expected to do as well.

The first Sunday of the Church's liturgical year is the First Sunday of Advent, which comes very near the end of the calendar you bought at Hallmark in January. The date of this Sunday changes from year to year. The liturgical calendar consists of two cycles or spirals of extraordinary time framed by stretches of ordinary time. Each cycle includes a time of preparation and ends in a season of celebration. Each has its own color, mood, tone, special prayers, liturgies and unique rituals.

2. The Christmas Cycle

In the liturgical year, the Christmas cycle begins with Advent, a season of desire, passion and hope. The color is not the red and green of Santa and mistletoe, but purple, which symbolizes the darkness of the world without Jesus, the penitence of the season of waiting for his arrival and the hope we place in Jesus' coming.

What is Christmas really? Christmas is the dawning of salvation. In three words: God made flesh. While December 25 begins the end of Christmas at the mall, it's not so quickly over at church. Christmas lasts 12 days, with Epiphany its conclusion. That feast, which commemorates the visit of the Magi to Jesus, is considered a celebration of God being revealed to the larger world, to all nations, races, classes and peoples. In some countries, Epiphany is the gift-giving feast, and Christmas is clearly focused on the gift of Jesus to us—our best present.

3. The Easter Cycle

The second great cycle centers around Resurrection. Easter celebrate the central event in the story of our salvation. It is the highest of Church feasts, the Great Sunday. Easter is also the oldest Christian festival.

The Easter cycle includes the six Sundays of Lent, the seven Sundays of Easter and Pentecost Sunday. The link between cross and Resurrection in Christian faith unifies this cycle.

The Lenten journey begins on Ash Wednesday, when you begin what might be called a spring cleaning of the soul. Purple returns. Decoration in the Church is sparse. Lent includes six Sundays. At Lent's end is Holy Week—really the Holiest Week of the whole year—when you are directed to remember Christ's suffering, death and Resurrection.

This week includes Holy Thursday, the celebration of the Lord's Supper, Good Friday, the anniversary of the death of Jesus, and the Easter Vigil, when the whole Church keeps watch, while retelling the whole story of who we are as a community of believers and who we are becoming. You might think of the Easter vigil as a late evening campfire where you listened to the story of how you—not only the Israelites—were made, chosen, set free and planted in the promised land.

The celebration of Pentecost (50 days after Easter) concludes the Easter season. On this Sunday, the Church celebrates God's gift of the Spirit—the breath of God, the closeness of God to us.

Jesus is the link among all the seasons and the central reason for every celebration in the Church. The Church's liturgical calendar is your calendar. It is what's happening in your soul, day after day, season after season.

Nadia Hlebiczki (17), Natalie Howard (16), David Lusher (16), Julie M. Maggard (16), Mark Tiemeier (16), Matthew Wagner (16) and Michael Wagner (16) gathered at the home of Chris and Beth Holmes, who coordinate Celebration! Retreats, the Covington, Kentucky, diocesan youth retreat program. These seven teenagers, members of the retreat team, previewed this issue.

 

Q.

Why didn't you say anything about the Advent wreath, my favorite liturgical custom?

A.

You're not alone. The lighting of the Advent wreath is one of the most popular traditions today in both churches and homes. The custom originated among Lutherans in 16th-century Germany. Its rich symbolism speaks volumes: the hopefulness of evergreens, the eternal and constant love of God expressed in the circle without beginning or end, the flames of the candles pushing out darkness to make way for Christ, the light of the world, and the marking of time with the lighting of a new candle each week.

Q.

You talk about the six Sundays of Lent, but isn't it supposed to be 40 days?

A.

Early in Christianity, the discipline of fasting became associated with the number 40. Fasting was done after the example of Jesus' 40-day fast in the desert, Moses' 40 days on Mt. Sinai, Elijah's 40-day fast on his journey to Mt. Horeb and the 40 years the Israelites spent in the desert. This gradually determined the length of Lent. These days were originally counted back from Holy Thursday to determine the date of the first Sunday of Lent. Fasting, however, was never done on Sundays, which are "Little Easters." By the seventh century, the six-week season of Lent began on Ash Wednesday, included Good Friday and Holy Saturday and excluded Sundays, keeping the days of fast at 40.

Q.

It feels like Christmas is more important than Easter, the way people celebrate--even at Church. Know what I mean?

A.

Part of the reason for that feeling might be that Christmas is not just a Christian liturgical feast, but also a seasonal mood not limited to believers rejoicing over the birth of the Messiah. That mood seems to begin earlier and earlier each year! The power of the media, marketing and consumerism can have a strong influence on us. Lent and Easter do not attract the same materialistic attitude. What must be remembered is that although Christmas is the beginning of Jesus' life on earth, the final act to accomplish our salvation occurred with his death and resurrection. Without that sacrificial gift, his birth might not be such a cause for celebration.

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