The changing seasons and colors of the Christian Church provide us with repeat opportunities to celebrate the Christian Faith in worship. The Church employs the seasons of the year using specific colors to focus on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The sequence of events from Advent to Resurrection Sunday becomes an annual spiritual journey for worshippers. The remainder of the year provides a favorable time to reflect on the purpose of Jesus and His ministry as a light unto the world.
Not all churches celebrate in a similar manner throughout the church year beyond Christmas and Easter. However, the observance of the seasons and colors of the church year has a long history in the life of our Christian Faith.
The Christian calendar is structured around two major centers of worship time: Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany and Lent, Holy Week and Easter, concluding at Pentecost. The remainder of the year following Pentecost is known as Ordinary Time, from the same root as our word “ordinal” and in this sense translates to “the counted weeks.” In the Roman Catholic Church and in some Protestant traditions, these are the common weeks which do not belong to a strong season.
One approach in tracking the seasons of the church year for worshippers, as well as providing a visual context for worship, is the use of colors of the Church year in the sanctuary. Different colors are associated with different seasons and the changing colors of communion table and pulpit coverings or wall banners provide visual enhancements to support the seasons.
The below listed Church calendar follows the practices most common in the Western church and those most used by Protestant churches and shared by Catholic traditions. These are the major dates of the Christian Church Year for 2011 - 2012, beginning with Advent in 2011.
The Season of Advent- November 27 – December 24, 2011
First Sunday of Advent: November 27
Second Sunday of Advent: December 4
Third Sunday of Advent: December 11
Fourth Sunday of Advent: December 18
The Season of Christmas - December 25, 2011 – January 5, 2012
Christmas Day: December 25, 2011
First Sunday of Christmas: December 25, 2011
Second Sunday of Christmas: January 1, 2012
Holy Name: January 1, 2012
The Season of Epiphany - January 6 – February 21, 2012
Epiphany: January 6
Baptism of Our Lord: January 8
Transfiguration (Last Sunday in Epiphany): February 19
Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras: February 21
The Season of Lent February 22 – April 7, 2012
Ash Wednesday: February 22
First Sunday in Lent: February 26
Holy Week - April 1- April 7, 2012
Palm/Passion Sunday: April 1
Maundy Thursday: April 5
Good Friday: April 6
Holy Saturday: April 7
The Season of Easter - April 8 – May 27, 2012
Easter Sunday: April 8
Ascension Day: May 17
Pentecost: May 27
Ordinary Time Season after Pentecost – May 28 – December 1, 2012
All Saints Day: November 1
Christ the King: November 25
First Sunday of Advent: December 2, 2012
The seasons follow the life of Christ, beginning with the preparation for his birth in Advent, the birth of the Christ child at Christmas, the journey of discipleship in Epiphany as the Wise Men follow the star to Bethlehem, the preparation for Jesus’ passion and death during Lent and Holy Week, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead at Easter, and his ascension into Heaven. After his ascension, we receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and build our relationship with the risen Christ during this season.
The church year begins with the Advent of Our Lord, the four weeks of getting ready for the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem on Christmas Day. Advent is a time of joyful preparation for the wonderful time when the Son of God came to earth to live as a person among the people. The color of Advent is blue.
Christmas is a brief season, beginning with Christmas Day, December 25, and continuing through the Name of Jesus until Epiphany. Christmas is a season of thankfulness for the goodness of God. The purpose of Jesus Christ’s birth was to save us from our sins, to reveal the Father to us and lead us to Him and to reveal the Kingdom of God so that we can live according to God’s Way. Jesus came to reconcile us to God so that we can have eternal life. “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘look, here it is!’ or ‘there it is!’ for in fact, the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17: 20-21). The color of Christmas is white.
Epiphany is the conclusion of the Advent and Christmas Season and the Twelve Days of Christmas. Epiphany begins on January 6. The term epiphany means to reveal. In Western churches, it remembers the coming of the wise men bringing gifts to visit the Christ child, who by so doing “reveal” Jesus to the world as Lord and King. Epiphany is a season of worship, as the whole world follows the Wise Men to find and honor Jesus. The color of Epiphany is green.
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and is a season of repentance, self-examination and quiet contemplation of the mysteries of God. Lent originated in the very earliest days of the Church as a preparatory time for Easter, when the faithful rededicated themselves and when converts were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism. By observing the forty days of Lent, the individual Christian imitates Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days. Christians prepare for the forgiveness of their sins and fleshy lives with the death of Jesus on the cross on Good Friday as they follow his footsteps through Holy Week. The color of Lent is purple.
The Season of Easter begins with Easter Sunday. It is a glorious celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. It is a season of praise, as Christians glorify the risen Christ. Christians believe, according to Scripture, that Jesus was raised from the dead, three days after his death on the cross. As part of the Easter season, the death of Jesus Christ by Crucification commemorated on Good Friday, always the Friday just before Easter. Through his death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus paid the penalty for sin, thus gifting for all who believe in him, eternal life in Christ Jesus. The color of Easter is white.
Pentecost is the great festival that marks the birth of the Christian Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Season of Pentecost begins with the Feast of the Pentecost, fifty days after Easter. Because Pentecost celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit from heaven on human flesh, Pentecost is a season of evangelism and outreach, as Christians become empowered to proclaim the gospel of the risen Christ to everyone on earth. The color of Pentecost Sunday can be red with the season of Pentecost being green.
The Season of Ordinary Time begins for some churches on Monday after the Sunday following Jan. 6 and continues until the day before Ash Wednesday. For many churches Ordinary Time begins on the Monday after Pentecost and ends on the Saturday before the first Sunday of Advent. The last Sunday may be celebrated as the Solemnity of Christ the King. The overall purpose of the season is to elaborate the themes of salvation history. In Ordinary Time, the Church celebrates the mystery of Christ in all its aspects. The readings during the liturgies of Ordinary Time help to instruct us on how to live out our Christian faith in our daily lives. The color of Ordinary Time is green.
We are currently in the Season of Advent. Advent is the beginning of the Church Year for most churches in the Western tradition. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is the Sunday nearest November 30, and ends on Christmas Eve (Dec 24). If Christmas Eve is a Sunday, it is counted as the fourth Sunday of Advent, with Christmas Eve proper beginning at sundown.
The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent. Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. That is a process in which we now participate and the consummation of which we anticipate. Scripture reading for Advent will reflect this emphasis on the Second Advent, including themes of accountability for faithfulness at His coming, judgment on sin, and the hope of eternal life.
Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation, as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today and that He will come again in power. We are living “between the times” and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people. We are a people commissioned to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and to “love your neighbor.”
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