The lives of many Christians revolve around the feasts and fasts and commemorations that are celebrated year by year. Some of these are very old such as the celebration of the Paschal mysteries, which eventually became known as Easter from the name of the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring. Some like Christ the King is a modern observance, introduced by Pius XI in 1926.
The Christian Year begins with ADVENT as the name suggests. It has four Sundays with its themes of preparation for not only the first coming of Christ but also the second. To-day it is more common with the revised lectionary to concentrate on the first with its wonderful readings from Isaiah prophecying of the coming of a Messiah who will be born of a virgin, and the last of the prophets, John the Baptist, cousin of our Lord who prepares the way with his message of repentance.
A week before Christmas the Church introduces the "O" Antiphons to remind us that we are indeed approaching the greatest event in history, the Incarnation of Christ, and how this birth fulfills Old Testament prophecies.
In years gone by the main teaching of Advent was "The Last Things", but these now feature in November as do aspects of the Kingdom.
The Lord said unto me: You are my Son; this day I have begotten you.
CHRISTMASS with its twelve days ends with the EPIPHANY or THEOPHANY as celebrated in the Eastern tradition. During these twelve days we worship the Christ-Child as do the angels, shepherds and magi.
Lo, how a Rose,e'er blooming,
From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse's lineage coming,
As men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.
Of the Father's love begotten,
ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
.he the source, the ending he,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
evermore and evermore.
Christ, to thee with God the Father,
and, O Holy Ghost, to thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving,
and unwearied praises be;
Honour, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory,
evermore and evermore.
O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness
Kneel down before Him, His glory proclaim,
With gold of obedience and incense of lowliness,
Kneel and adore Him the Lord is His name.
During those TWELVE DAYS we also celebrate THE HOLY FAMILY and afterwards THE EPIPHANY and THE BAPTISM OF CHRIST
The bridge between Christmass and Lent is CANDLEMASS. At Christmass we celebrate the coming of Light into the world. Forty days afterwards we close it appropriately when Christ is presented in the Temple and His mother is purified.
On this day the glory of the Lord shines from Simeon's arms as he proclaims, and gives thanks to Christ as the Saviour of all people; may we too give thanks for the coming of Light which illuminates all of life. So illuminate our path with Your Word dear Lord.
Simeon's words should make us too ponder on our death.
Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people
To be light to lighten the gentiles
and to be the glory of thy people Israel.
Those great forty days have been part of the Christian tradition for centuries as a preparation for welcoming the TRIDUUM. In the early Church it was a time not only of fasting as it is still to-day but also a time of discipline and baptismal preparation for the catechumens. At the Paschal Vigil these would be baptised and became members of the Church. In our own times this custom has been revived.
HOLY WEEK ushers in the Triduum. This week focuses on the last week of our Lord's life. The most important period of the Christian Year begins with HOLY or MAUNDY THUSRDAY, as the Church commences the Triduum. On this most holy night the Church commemorates the instutition of the Eucharist, the washing of the feet by Christ and the watch in the garden of Gethesamene.
Faithful Cross! above all other,
One and only noble tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit thy peer may be;
Sweetest wood and sweetest iron,
Sweetest weight is hung on thee.
On this day Our Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross for the salvation of all people.
He died that we might be forgiven,
He died to make us good,
That we might go at last to heaven
Saved by his precious blood.
We may not know, we cannot tell,
What pains he had to bear;
But we believe it was for us,
He hanged and suffered there.
O dearly, dearly has he loved
And we must love him too;
And trust in his redeeming blood
And try his works to do..
Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King,
.Never was grief like Thine!
This is my Friend,
In whose sweet praise
I all my days
Could gladly spend.
ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA. CHRIST IS RISEN. HE IS RISEN INDEED.
The EASTER VIGIL ushers in the GREAT FIFTY DAYS ending with PENTECOST
We are Easter people. Christ has conquered death and has risen from the grave.
The day of Resurrection!
Earth tell it out abroad;
The Passover of gladness,
The Passover of God!
From death to life eternal.
From earth unto the sky,
Our Christ hath brought us over,
With hymns of victory.
During those great fifty days the Church celebrates the Ascension of Christ, forty days after Easter. Christ returns to heaven taking His manhood with Him, and to prepare a place for all His faithful people.
The Lord ascendeth up on high,
Loud anthems round hims swelling;
The Lord hath triumphed gloriously,
In power and might excelling:
Hell anf grave are captive led;
Lo, he returns, our glorious Head,
To his eternal dwelling.
The Spirit that Christ promised during His earthly ministry is poured out on the Apostles, Mary, and other disciples who had been waiting for its descent. This day is thus known as the birthday of the Church as from that moment the Apostles preached boldly that the Christ who had been crucified had risen from the dead and we are witnesses to that. Repent and believe in Christ the Saviour of all.
It fills the Church of God; it fills
The sinful world around:
Only in stubborn hearts and wills,
No place for Him is found.
THE HOLY AND BLESSED TRINITY
A week after Pentecost the Church celebrates the glorious and undivided Trinity - that God is three persons in one - God the Father, God the Son and the God the Holy Spirit.
Most ancient of all mysteries,
Before thy throne we lie;
Have mercy now, most merciful,
Most holy Trinity.
celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday
O Sacrament most holy,
O Sacrament divine,
All praise and thanksgiving,
Be every moment thine,
Be every moment thine.
On this day the cradle and altar are one, as indeed it is at every Mass. The heart of the life for every devout Catholic is attending daily Mass where the Eucharist is offered and the faithful receive the Body and Blood of Christ.
Therefore we, before him bending,
This great Sacrament revere;
Types and shadows have their ending,
For the newer right is here;
Faith, thy outward sense befriending,
Makes the inward vision clear.
SACRED HEART, celebrated Friday week after Corpus Christi. On this day we focus on that heart which was pierced at Golgotha when our blessed Lord poured out His life for all peoples. No heart has loved so much.
THE DORMITION OR THE ASSUMPTION OF MARY.
Who is she who rises resplendent, all pure, and bright as the sun?
On the 15th August the Church commemorates the falling asleep of the Mother of God and her assumption into heaven. Throughout the year there are many feasts of Mary, but this is the most important.
The feast of the Dormition dates at least from the 5th C. It was always celebrated in Jerusalem on this date, whilst in some other parts of the Eastern church the date varied. In the 7th C, the Byzantine emperor, Maurice decreed that the Dormition be celebrated everywhere on the 15th. Later the Western Church adopted the same date, but always kept it as the Assumption.
The Orthodox Church has never insisted that the Assumption be a dogma as the West has done. It has taken the attitude that for those who are affirmed in faith in the Resurrection and Ascension of our Lord, it is evident that, if the Son of God, took His human nature from blessed Mary, she who served the Incarnation had in her turn to be assumed into the glory of her Son who was risen and ascended into heaven. "Arise, O Lord, into Your rest; You, and the ark of Yours holiness." "The grave and death could not retain the Mother of Life", for her Son has transported her into the life of the future age.
MICHAELMASS. At the end of September and during the month of October we remember the angels, especially the arcangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael on the 29th September, and Guardian Angels on the 2nd October. Remembring the angels makes us conscious of the spiritual world as well as the material. We should always be conscious that the angels surround us and only wanting our good.
ALL SAINTS AND ALL SOULS. November is the special time when we remember all those who have gone before us. Those souls who are now in heaven and the dead who are still in purgatory being refined for the everlasting life in heaven.
November is also the time when we reflect on eschatology, the last things. We are prompted by the readings to ponder on how ready I am to meet my God when that day comes.
The Christian Year ends with the the celebration of CHRIST THE KING.
This is a very modern commemoration. It began in 1926 when Pius XI wished to foster the awareness of Christ's kingship over all people and to establish peace among nations. Originally it was celebrated on the last Sunday in October. After Vatican II it was transferred to the last Sunday of the Liturgical year as a fitting finale.
FEASTS OF OUR LADY.
During the Christian Year the Church celebrates various festivals either for Theotokos or with which she has some association.
The first celebration within the Christian Year is the IMMACULATE CONCEPTION. This is quite a modern dogma being proclaimed by Pius IX in 1854. Yet belief in the purity and immaculateness of Mary has been longed believed in the Church. Writing in the 4th C. Ambrose declared,"Mary, a Virgin not only undefiled but a virgin whom grace has made inviolate, free of every stain." A little later St. Ephrem, in a poem addressed to Christ, wrote
"You and your mother are alone in this; you are wholly beautiful in every respect. There is in thee, Lord, no stain, nor any spot in your Mother."
At Christmass the Church rejoices with Mary as she gives birth to the Christ Child who is Lord of all.
He who created you has become incarnate in you;
the Word of God.
through whom the heaven earth
and all things were made;
The Word. not ceasing to be God,
assumes in you the nature of man, becomes man ...
When he was conceived, you were a virgin;
a virgin still, when he was born.
On New Year's Day in the secular world the Church
celebrates the Feast of Theotokos, Mary as the Mother of God.
Pray for us O Holy Mother of God.
That we may be worthy of the fruit of thy womb Jesus.
At CANDLEMASS the Church celebrates both the Presentation of Christ in the Temple and the PURIFICATION OF MARY 40 days after the birth of her Child. The Church today calls each one of us to make our Soul a Temple of God, where the Holy Virgin can bring her Divine Child. And each one of us should, like Simeon, take the Child in our arms and say to the Father:
"My eyes have seen your salvation, now let your servant depart in peace".
LADY DAY - THE ANNUNCIATION - On this day we celebrate with great joy Mary's "yes" to the Archangel Gabriel.
At the end of May the Church celebrates THE VISITATION when Mary visited her cousin, Elizabeth and was greeted with those wonderful words, "How is it that the Mother of my Lord should visit me?" As she greeted her cousin Elizabeth, the womb leaped for joy in her womb.
In early September, the 8th, the Church celebrates the NATIVITY OF MARY. This feast goes back to the 7thC.
By your holy nativity, O most pure Virgin,
Joachim and Anna were set free from the reproach of childlessness,
And Adam and Eve from the corruption of death.
Delivered from the guilt of sin,
Your people keep the feast and sing:
'The barren woman bears the Theotokos,
the Sustainer of our life.'
On the 21 st November, the last feast in the Church's calendar is THE PRESENTATION OF MARY IN THE TEMPLE. When she was three years old her parents presented her to the Lord in thee Temple. Here she remained until twelve years old when she was betrothed to Joseph.
During the Christian Year we honour the saints: martyrs, virgins and other holy men and women who have been a light in this world to the message of Christ's redeeming love for all mankind. Many who witnessed to this gave their lives for the Lord in whom they believed as Lord and King of all.
On each day of the year some saint is commemorated. However few have their own collect, epistle and gospel; these are called MAJOR SAINTS' DAYS and include all the Apostles. Whether major or minor each saint has something to teach us about the Christian life and so we should ponder on their lives during a daily meditations.
By observing the Christian Calendar year by year the faithful Christian is able to understand more fully the Communion of Christ's Church, as well as enriching one's own life in the power of the Spirit to wait for the coming of the Lord. Maranatha!.