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 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 this common life of the living Body of Christ, the Church. Let’s learn some more about the purpose of the Liturgical Year and its highlights.
The Liturgical Year
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.
The Liturgical Year has a cycle of twelve feasts — plus one major feast: Pascha — that Christians celebrate each year, and these are interspersed with remembrance of Saints, Church events, and Bible readings that are observed on the same day all around the world.
So what does the expression “Liturgical Year” mean?
The writer of Ecclesiastes speaks of the appropriateness of such times and seasons:
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.
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” (the 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.”
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, and resurrection. 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).
Feast Days of the Liturgical Year
September 8th: The Nativity of Mary (birth of the Virgin Mary)
September 14th: The Exaltation of the Cross (the discovery of Christ’s Cross)
November 21st: The Presentation of Mary in the Temple
December 25th: The Nativity (birth of Jesus Christ)
January 6th: The Holy Theophany/Epiphany (baptism of Jesus Christ)
Feb 2nd: The Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple
March 25th: The Annunciation (Angel tells the Virgin Mary about Christ’s Incarnation)
One week before Pascha: Palm Sunday (Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, celebrated during Lent)
Variable: Holy Pascha — the major feast (Resurrection of Christ)
40 days after Pascha: The Ascension (Christ ascending into Heaven)
50 days after Pascha: Holy Pentecost (Holy Spirit descending to Earth)
August 6th: Holy Transfiguration (of Jesus on the mountain)
August 15th: The Dormition of Mary (falling asleep)