What Is the Liturgical Calendar? (AKA Church Year)

Since the early centuries of the Church, congregations have followed what has been called a "liturgical calendar," known alternatively as the "Church Year." The Church - the body of Christ - has developed a way of reminding itself of the life of Christ and the Church's beginnings by following a pattern which repeats itself year after year.

Advent begins the cycle with the four weeks leading up to Christmas.  It is a period of waiting and preparation for the birth of the Savior.  Many congregations celebrate with a service of "greening" the worship space and mark the Sundays with the lighting of candles on an Advent wreath - one each Sunday and with a corresponding theme for each of those to symbolize the movement in time toward the Christmas event.  The predominant colors used are purple or blue, for penitence.

The Christmas season follows - sometimes called the 12 days of Christmas.  It begins on Christmas day and continues until January 6.  Its predominant color is white, the color of celebration or holiness.

January 6 is the traditional date of Epiphany, usually associated with the visit of the Magi and often with the baptism of Christ.  Its color is green.

Lent follows Epiphany.  It is another season of waiting, this time focusing on inner preparation for the death and resurrection of our Lord.  It begins with Ash Wednesday and a reminder of our mortality.  It ends with Holy Week.  The traditional color is purple.

Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter or Resurrection Sunday, recounts the events in the week leading up to the crucifixion.  Often several services are held that week, the most common being Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday - to commemorate the giving of the command to observe the washing of feet or the Lord's Supper, the day of crucifixion, and the day the Lord was still in the tomb, respectively. Red and black are the colors commonly used for this week.

After the heaviness of Holy Week, the lightness of Resurrection Sunday is a welcome contrast.  Easter is the highest holy day of the Christian calendar. White is again the predominant color, along with accents of gold.

The season of Easter continues until Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the Church, marked with flaming red to remind us of the tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit which graced the heads of the disciples gathered in prayer.

The season following Pentecost is often called Ordinary Time, an ordered numbering of days which marks the time until the Church once again moves into the season of Advent and begins the cycle again.  Its color is also green.

For more about the seasons and resources related to those, here are some links:

The Revised Common Lectionary

Seasons of the Church Year

Journey to the Cross - lenten devotional guide

Follow the Christian Year with Central Bookmark (PDF)