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The liturgical year, also known as the Christian year, consists of the cycle of liturgical seasons in some Christian churches which determines when Feasts, Memorials, Commemorations , and Solemnities are to be observed and which portions of Scripture are to be read. Distinct liturgical colours may appear in connection with different seasons of the liturgical year.
The dates of the festivals vary somewhat between the western Church (Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant) and the Eastern (Orthodox) church, though the sequence and logic is the same. In both traditions the dates of many festivals vary between years, though in almost all cases this is due to the variation in the date of Easter, and all other dates follow from that. The extent to which the fasts and festivals are celebrated also varies between churches; in general Protestant churches observe far fewer of them then Catholic and Orthodox churches, and in particular are less likely to celebrate feasts of the Virgin Mary and the saints.
The cycle of the year defines a series of seasons, which are associated with different ways of decorating churches, different vestments for clergy, and different topics for reading from the Bible and preaching. These, especially the recommended bible passages for each Sunday, are recorded in lectionaries. The Sundays are denoted as "the first Sunday in Advent", "the twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost", etc. The increased use of lectionaries in Protestant churches, especially the growing influence of the Revised Common Lectionary, led to a greater awareness of the Christian year in Protestantism in the later decades of the twentieth century, at least in mainstream denominations.
Because of the dominance of Christianity in Europe throughout the Middle Ages, many features of the Christian year became incorporated into the secular calendar. Many of its feasts remain holidays, and are now celebrated by people of all faiths and none - in some cases worldwide. The celebrations bear varying degrees of relationship to the religious feasts from which they derived, often also including elements of ritual from pagan festivals of similar date.
Roman Catholic Church
The seasons in the Roman Catholic Church are:
- First season of the liturgical year. It is traditionally a fast, and begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. Its purpose is the preparation for Christmas.
- Begins with the Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve (December 24) and ends on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on the Sunday after January 6 (formerly on the eighth and final day of the Octave of Epiphany, or January 13). Christmas Day itself is December 25.
Ordinary Time ("Time after Epiphany" and "Septuagesima")
- Ordinary comes from the same root as our word ordinal, and in this sense means "the counted weeks." These are the common weeks which do not belong to a proper season. It consists of either 33 or 34 Sundays, depending on the year. The first part (formerly known as the season after Epiphany) extends from the Monday following the Christmas Season (or, in the United States only, from the Tuesday in years when the first Sunday after January 6 falls on January 7 or 8, in which case the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is observed on a Monday instead of a Sunday) through the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. This first installment of Ordinary Time has anywhere from four to nine Sundays, depending on how early or late Easter falls in a given year.
- This liturgical season replaces the traditional Seasons of "Time After Epiphany" and "Septuagesima," which are still in use by traditional Catholics and other Catholics who attend the ancient, pre-Vatican II Mass known as the Tridentine Rite.
- Lent is a major fast taken by the Church to prepare for Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday, in Holy Week. There are forty days of Lent, counting from Ash Wednesday through the Easter Triduum, but not including Sundays. The last two weeks of Lent are known as "Passiontide," which begins on Passion Sunday; the final week of Lent is known as "Holy Week," which begins on Palm Sunday. The final three days of Lent are known as the Easter Triduum.
- The Easter Triduum consists of:
- Holy Thursday
- at the evening Mass of the Lord's Supper
- Good Friday
- the celebration of His passion
- Holy Saturday
- commemoration of the day Christ lay in the Tomb
- Easter Vigil
- The date of Easter varies from year to year, but is set to be close to the date of Jesus' resurrection, which the holiday recognizes. The Easter season extends from the Easter Vigil through Pentecost Sunday on the Novus Ordo calendar. On the traditional calendar used by traditional Catholics, Eastertide lasts until Trinity Sunday, when the revelation of the Trinity is celebrated.
Ordinary Time ("Time After Pentecost")
- The second part of Ordinary Time begins after the Easter Season, on the Monday after Pentecost, and ends on the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent. Before the liturgical calendar was reformed at the Second Vatican Council, the Sundays in this part of the year were listed as "Sundays after Pentecost." Trinity Sunday takes place in this span of time, being the Sunday after Pentecost. The remainder of the liturgical year after this date is known as the Trinity season.
- For Traditional Catholics, this Season is known as "Time After Pentecost," and begins on Trinity Sunday.
Anglican and Protestant churches
Some Protestant churches recognize a liturgical year, including Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Lutherans.
In general those Protestant churches that recognize a liturgical year, and follow a conventional lectionary, follow the pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic parlance, recognizing an Epiphany Season (or "Sundays after Epiphany") and a Pentecost Season (or "Sundays after Pentecost").
Some Christian festivals and when they occur according to Roman and Protestant (Western) Christianity are:
- Epiphany: 6 January
- Shrove Tuesday: The day before Ash Wednesday
- Ash Wednesday: 44 days before Good Friday
- Palm Sunday: The Sunday before Easter
- Maundy Thursday: The Thursday before Easter
- Good Friday: The Friday before Easter
- Easter: calculated by Computus - Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after the 14th day of the lunar month that falls on or after 21 March.
- Whitsun or Pentecost: Seven weeks after Easter
- Whitmonday: The day after Whitsun or Pentecost
- Reformation Sunday: The Sunday before All Saint's Sunday.
- Christmas: 25 December
Eastern Orthodox Church
In a few, predominantly Eastern Orthodox, nations, religious holidays are celebrated on the corresponding day in the Julian Calendar. From 1900 until 2100, there is a thirteen-day difference between the Julian and the Gregorian Calendar, which is used in most of the world as well as in Eastern Orthodox countries for civil purposes. Thus, for example, Christmas is celebrated on January 6 in these countries. The computation of the day of Easter is, however, completely different between the two calendars and does not differ in any straightforward way.
The Liturgical year in the Eastern Orthodox Church is characterized by alternating fasts and feasts, and is in many ways similar to the Roman Catholic year described above. However it is traditionally held to begin on September 1, not on the first Sunday of Advent. It includes the 12 Great Feasts, plus Pascha (Easter) itself, the Feast of Feasts. These feasts generally mark various significant events in the lives of Jesus Christ and of the Virgin Mary. Winter Lent is one name for the extended fast leading up to the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ (Christmas). Great Lent is the extended fast leading up to Holy Week and Pascha. Other times are especially set aside as well. Two other extended fasts are the Apostles' Fast, generally about one to two weeks leading up to the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, and the fast leading up to the Dormition of Mary, which is for the two weeks prior to that feast, from August 1 to August 14.
The twelve Great Feasts
- The Nativity of Mary (September 8)
- The Elevation of the Cross (September 14)
- the rediscovery of the original Cross on which Christ was crucified
- Entrance of Mary into the Temple (November 21)
- the Virgin Mary's first entry into the Temple around the age of 3
- Nativity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (December 25)
- Theophany (January 6)
- the baptism of Jesus Christ, Christ's blessing of the water, and the revealing of Christ as God
- Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple (February 2)
- Annunciation of Mary (March 25)
- Gabriel's announcement to Mary that she will conceive the Christ, and her "Yes"
- Entry into Jerusalem (Sunday before Pascha)
- known in the West as Palm Sunday.
- Ascension (40 days after Pascha)
- Christ's ascension into Heaven following his resurrection.
- Pentecost (50 days after Pascha)
- Transfiguration of Our Lord (August 6)
- Christ's Transfiguration as witnessed by Peter, James and John.
- Dormition of Mary (August 15)
- Calendar of saints
- Julian calendar
- Gregorian calendar
- Computus - computing the date of Easter
- Eastern Orthodox Church Calendar
- Overview of the Traditional Catholic Liturgical Calendar
- Traditional Catholic Customs of the Liturgical Year
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