THE LITURGICAL YEAR is a cycle like a wheel, ending where it begins.
ADVENT begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve.
The weeks before Christmas called Advent, means “coming,” as we anticipate the incarnation, God becoming human. Our companions during Advent in the scripture stories are Mary, John the Baptist, St. Nicholas and Lucy among other holy men and women. Advent is a time of waiting in joyful anticipation for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ, to bring to earth the kingdom of God’s peace and justice. We ready ourselves for his birth, for his coming into our hearts and for his return in glory to “judge the living and the dead.” We wait for the light of Christ to extinguish our darkness.
CHRISTMASTIME begins with Christmas Eve and ends with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Other feasts within Christmastime are the celebration of the Holy Family and Epiphany. The celebration of the birth of Christ, of God with us, is announced in the scriptures. We hear how God loved us so much that he gave his only Son to dwell among us and show us how to live. The Savior of the world came to bring peace, freedom to the oppressed, healing all division and pain. Among our festivities during Christmastime, we bring gifts, sing carols and bring light into winter’s darkness. It is a season of light, the Light that dispels the darkness of sin for our salvation.
LENT begins on Ash Wednesday and ends with the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. We enter 40 days of prayer, fasting and almsgiving—the Christian disciplines for living as a follower of Jesus—wearing ashes, firm in our desire to live better lives and re-create humankind. The number “40” has significance throughout salvation history: it rained on the earth for 40 days as Noah awaited the birth of a new earth. The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 days as they journeyed toward the promised land. Jesus fasted and prayed in the desert for 40 days, a victor over Satan and his temptations. The number “40” suggests something is happening that is changing our world. Lent looks to the Resurrection, rising to new and everlasting life, a life we share with Christ through baptism.
TRIDUUM begins on Holy Thursday with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and ends on Easter Sunday evening. The word Triduum means “three days.” It is the feast of Passover celebrating the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that has freed us from the bindings of death. This is the centerpiece of the liturgical year. During these three days we bend before one another to wash feet as Jesus did his disciples. We venerate the cross on Good Friday, remembering the Lord’s Passion, his suffering and triumph over death on the cross. On the night between Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, we gather around a new fire, listen to our most treasured stories of God saving his people, sing our best songs and gather around the waters of baptism. We make new Christians, baptizing them, confirming them in the Holy Spirit and welcoming them to the table of Eucharist. With these neophytes, we renew our own baptism and promise to go and spread the good news, baptizing, teaching and healing.
EASTERTIME begins on Easter Sunday and ends with Pentecost.
So vital in the faith life of Christians is the Resurrection of the Lord that the Church continues to celebrate for 50 days! The customary greeting of early Christians during this season was “The Lord is risen” answered with “The Lord is risen, indeed!” Fasting is behind us and we are left to feast on God’s goodness and love given to us in the sacrifice of the cross and glory of the Resurrection. We bless ourselves with the font’s water to remind ourselves and rejoice in our share of this suffering and glory. Over the Sundays of Eastertime, our scriptures tell us of encounters with the risen Lord and teach us how to “be church” and live with the values of the gospel. Alleluia is abundant in our sung prayer. We simply cannot contain our joy.
ORDINARY TIME occurs between Christmastime and Lent and from Pentecost Eve until the first Sunday of Advent. It occupies most of the Sundays of the year inviting us to count time to the major seasons. That is the meaning of the word “Ordinary” or ordinal a word that translate to counted time. Ordinary Time is full of feasts and days that Catholic Christians keep holy such as The Assumption of Mary into heaven during the summer, All Saints Day and All Souls Day in November. For the few weeks in January and February, then all through the summer and fall, the Church is in Ordinary Time observing Sunday, recalling the saving act of God and looking toward the heavenly banquet.