This week marks the end of another year. No, we don’t have our dates mixed up; the week, with the Feast of Christ the King, we are at the conclusion of another liturgical year, the cycle that the Church follows which delineates the feasts and seasons of the year.
The new liturgical year begins next week, with the first Sunday of Advent. During this season, we prepare for the coming of Christ, both the coming that we celebrate at Christmas, and the return of Christ at the end of time. Advent is followed by the Christmas season, which for Christians begins, not with the holiday shopping season, but with Christmas itself. Christmas continues until the feast of Epiphany.
The calendar then moves into the prosaically-named Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time includes all those times of the year not marked as a special season, and it comes in two blocks. Between those sections of Ordinary Time, we have Lent and Easter. Lent is a 40-day season of repentance and renewal which prepares us for the celebration of Easter. The Easter Season lasts from the Easter Vigil until the celebration of Pentecost, some 50 days later.
While most feasts in the calendar are attached to a particular date, Easter (and therefore Lent, Ash Wednesday, and Pentecost) are moveable; their dates are tied not to the standard solar calendar, but are calculated based on the cycles of the moon.
This recurring cycle of ritual and worship serves to keep us spiritually connected to the cycles of the seasons in the world around us. Just as so much of our lives happens in cycles, our communal prayer also follows patterns that keep us both grounded, and always moving forward. For more information, go to the Bishops’s Conference web site, www.usccb.org, and search for the term “liturgical calendar.”
So, as we conclude one liturgical year, and prepare to begin another, here’s wishing you a blessed and prayerful new year.