To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1
As we journey through life we become more and more aware of the patterns and cycles that emerge - in the natural world, in history, in society, in the spiritual life and in the life of the Church. The writer of Ecclesiastes speaks of the appropriateness of such times and seasons.
The Church in her wisdom has organised cycles that guide us through the events, the fasts and feasts of the Christian Year. The Church Calendar urges us to join in this common life of the living Body of Christ, the Church. The possibility for a rich spiritual impact upon our soul is contained in each part of the yearly cycle.
The Church’s liturgical year begins every year on September 1st. and on that day we enter into the yearly cycle of prayers and commemorations that define our pattern of worship. Why September 1st.? As with many other aspects of our faith, it seems to have been ‘brought forward’ by the Early Church from the Jewish origins of Christianity. The Jewish New Year has always started in September, although not always on September 1st.
So what does the expression ‘liturgical year’ mean?
The liturgical year can be expressed as a calendar with a cycle of 365 days, from September 1st. to August 31st. But simply to identify it with a calendar is not enough.
A Calling to Mind.
We can also say that the purpose of the liturgical year is to bring to our minds the teachings of the Gospel and the main events of Christian history in a certain order. That is true, but this educational purpose does not fully explain the meaning of the liturgical year either.
A Guide to Prayer.
In addition to this, we could say that its aim is to guide our prayer in a particular way. This is also true, but the liturgical year is more than a way of prayer.
An Offer of God’s Grace.
Every feast that we celebrate in the liturgical year focuses on a particular event in the past and brings it into the present, offering us ‘grace’ (divine energy) which we experience in proportion to the state of our soul. The Liturgy should never be thought of as some kind of a magic that works on us regardless of our attitudes and spiritual state; we have to be receptive and cooperative to benefit from it. But this still does not say everything that can be said about the liturgical year.
Union with Christ.
In addition to what we have already said, the liturgical year is actually a special means of union with Christ for us. Every Liturgy celebrated during the year unites us intimately with Christ, because in it He is the One ‘Who offers and Who is offered' (See Liturgy book p 16 para 2).
The Forming of Christ in us.
We relive the whole life of Christ as we progress through the liturgical year and we are urged to unite ourselves to Him at every step along the way and so experience what He experienced; His birth, growth, suffering, dying, resurrection etc. So the liturgical year is used to form Christ in us as well as to unite ourselves with Him.
The Cycle of Saints.
The liturgical year also includes the cycle of feast of the Saints. These two cycles are closely intertwined because the Saints are in fact glorified members of the Body of Christ. To celebrate the feast of a Saint is to be touched by the holiness that flows from Christ Himself to the Saint and so to us. The Saints are channels of Christ’s holiness to us. We can connect with Christ by asking for their prayers. In the same way that the feasts of our Lord mysteriously renew the events of His life, so the feasts of the Saints make their lives, their merits and their deaths mysteriously present.
The liturgical year has only one object, Jesus Christ: whether we contemplate Him directly, or whether we contemplate Him through the members (the Saints) of His Body.
Holiness and Unity among Believers.
Great graces and great spiritual opportunities are offered to us during the course of the liturgical year. It provides a framework and support for Christian holiness and it helps to preserve unity among believers. Above all, it communicates an inspiration and it transmits a Life.
Attaining the Kingdom of God within us.
Liturgical life is not an end in itself; it is only a means - amongst other means - of reaching the Kingdom of God, which 'is within us' (Luke 17:21). Our taking part in the liturgical year is empty and dishonest if the ‘outward cycle’ is not matched by an ‘inner cycle’, and if the events of Christ's life that each feast represents do not find themselves mysteriously renewed in our soul. The liturgical year acquires its true meaning to the extent that it becomes worship in ‘spirit and in truth’ (John 4:23).
Please join us on the journey this coming year!
I hope and pray that our understanding of the riches of the liturgical year that are made available to us through Christ’s Body, the Church, will motivate us all to join in at our churches as we celebrate the events, the fasts and feasts of this New Christian Year.
Let us all offer this coming year, this time of new beginnings, to the glory of Almighty God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Major Feasts Days
September 8th: The Nativity of Mary
September 14th: The Exaltation of the Cross
November 21st: The Presentation of Mary in the Temple
December 25th: The Nativity
January 6th: The Holy Theophany/Epiphany
Feb 2nd: The Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple
March 25th: The Annunciation
1 week before Easter: Palm Sunday
Variable: Holy Pascha
40 days after Easter: The Ascension
50 days after Easter: Holy Pentecost
August 6th: Holy Transfiguration
August 15th: The Dormition (falling asleep) of Mary