THE SEASONS OF THE CHRISTIAN YEAR
Introductions to the various seasons of the Christian year and the gospel readings read in them
PREPARE a way for the Lord by living a good life and guard that way by good works. Let the Word of God move in you unhindered and give you a knowledge of his coming and of his mysteries. To him be glory and power for ever and ever, Amen.
I LOOK from afar, and behold I see the power of God coming, and a cloud covering the whole earth. Go out to meet him and say, ‘tell us if you are the one who is to reign over the people of Israel’.
Matins responsory for the first Sunday of Advent, Aspiciens a longe
ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Collect for the first Sunday of Advent, Book of Common Prayer
O WISDOM, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other mightily, and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.
Advent Magnificat antiphon, O Sapientia (Ecclesiasticus 24.3 and Wisdom 8.1)
‘Now we give you thanks because you sent Jesus Christ to redeem us from sin and death and to make us inheritors of everlasting life; that when he shall come again in power and great triumph to judge the world, we may with joy behold his appearing and in confidence may stand before him’. Advent is the season of preparation both for the coming of Christ in the flesh at Christmas and for his coming in glory at the end of time. In addition to these two comings of Christ in past and future, St Bernard and the Cistercian Fathers also speak of a present, intermediate, coming of Christ in grace to the waiting soul. Advent is a preparation for Christmas and in some ways it is like Lent which is a preparation for Easter. It shares with Lent certain distinctive marks in worship such as purple vestments and the omission of the Gloria in excelsis at the Eucharist, but the penitential character of Advent is much less marked and the dominant note is one of joyful expectation.
The name Advent is from the Latin ‘adventus’ which means an approach, a coming or an arrival. It was a technical term for the official arrival or manifestation of a King or a God and has a similar meaning to the name of the feast of Epiphany, in Greek ‘epiphaneia’, on the other side of Christmas. The celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas is the real adventus Domini (‘coming of the Lord’) but the season of Advent is a preparation for this. For over a thousand years Advent has marked the beginning of the Christian year for Western Christians.
Advent begins on the Sunday nearest the feast of St Andrew (30 November) and includes four Sundays. The Sunday Gospels of the three year cycle of the Revised Common Lectionary and the Roman Lectionary are broadly the same and follow a thematic plan in which John the Baptist and the Blessed Virgin Mary have a central role: staying awake to wait for the Lord (Advent 1); John the Baptist and the message of repentance (Advent 2); John the Baptist and Jesus Christ (Advent 3); Mary, Mother of the Lord (Advent 4). It is interesting to note that these three series of Gospels present time in reverse, they start with the final consummation of all things at the end of history and move through events in Jesus’ public ministry to stories of the months before Jesus’ birth. The liturgy is above history and sees all history in the light of the mystery of Christ as it exists in the heart of the Father, from Christ’s eternal pre-existence to his final advent as Judge of the Universe. The mystery of Jesus’ birth can only properly be understood in the light of all this.
As the season of Advent progresses the liturgy shifts its focus from the final coming of Christ to his first coming at Bethlehem and there is a distinct change on 17 December when the Great ‘O’ antiphons begin to be sung at Evensong, starting with O Sapientia (O Wisdom). The usual modern liturgical colour of the season is purple but medieval colour sequences also indicate blue, red and black, and blue is used today in some churches. On the third Sunday of Advent, called ‘Gaudete Sunday’ from the first word of the traditional entrance chant, Gaudete in Domino semper (‘rejoice in the Lord always...’, Philippians 4: 4-6), rose-pink vestments are sometimes used.
THE CHRISTMAS SEASON
LET us strive to comprehend the mystery. The reason God is in the flesh is to kill the death that lurks there. As diseases are cured by medicines and assimilated by the body, and as darkness in a house is dispelled by the coming of light, so death, which held sway over human nature, is done away with by the coming of God. How great is God’s goodness, how deep his love for us! Let us join the shepherds in giving glory to God, let us dance with the angels and sing: Today a Saviour has been born to us; he is Christ the Lord. This feast belongs to the whole of creation. Let our voices too ring out in songs of jubilation.
St Basil the Great
WHILE all things were in quiet silence and night was in the midst of her swift course, your almighty Word, O Lord, leapt down from heaven out of your royal throne.
Antiphon, Dum medium silentium (Wisdom 18: 14-15).
WE venerate this holy day adorned with three miracles: today the star led the Magi to the manger; today water was turned into wine at the wedding; today Christ desired to be baptized in the Jordan by John, that he might save us, Alleluia.
Magnificat antiphon for Epiphany, Tribus miraculis
ETERNAL God, who made this most holy night to shine with the brightness of your one true light: bring us, who have known the revelation of that light on earth, to see the radiance of your heavenly glory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Collect for Christmas night, Common Worship
‘Now we give you thanks because, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ took our nature upon him and was born of the Virgin Mary his mother, that being himself without sin, he might make us clean from all sin’. The Christmas season has two parts, after Christmas and after Epiphany, but it is really only one multi-faceted mystery that is celebrated: God became human and was revealed to Jews and Gentiles. It is distinct from the other parts of the Christian Year in that it is based on a succession of feasts rather than a series of Sundays. It begins on the feast of the Nativity, Christmas, and can end with the Sunday of the Baptism of the Lord or the feast of the Presentation of the Lord (2 February). The Presentation is the last feast that depends on the date of Christmas, forty days before, and thereafter the liturgical year looks forward to Easter (with the significant exception of the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25, nine months before Christmas, which commemorates the conception of Jesus in the womb of the Virgin Mary).
The two great feasts of Christmas (December 25) and Epiphany (January 6) seem to have originated in the early fourth century. Christmas is first mentioned in Rome about the year 335 AD and Epiphany in Gaul before the year 360 AD although it probably came from the Christian East. Christ is the Sun of Justice (Malachi 4:2) and the Light of the World (John 8:12) and some have argued that it is no coincidence that 25 December was the pagan feast of the Unconquered Sun and 6 January was a midwinter feast, but others say that the days were chosen by reason of complicated calendrical reasons associated with their connection to Easter. Christmas commemorates the Incarnation, the Son of God becoming human in the womb of the Virgin Mary and being born at Bethlehem. It was only by being both truly God and truly human that Jesus was able to be the Saviour of the human race, and so the mystery of Christmas is a necessary pre-condition for the paschal mystery celebrated at Easter.
Around the year 600 AD St Gregory the Great began a Christmas sermon by saying that ‘the Lord in his generosity allows us to celebrate Mass three times on this day’, and this Roman custom spread beyond the Alps to other parts of Europe. The first was the Mass of the Day, first celebrated in Rome at St Peter’s but then at the Basilica of St Mary Major, at which was read the Prologue of John’s Gospel – the great Gospel of Christmas; the second was the Mass at Night (‘midnight Mass’) with its Gospel of the Nativity which was celebrated at the replica of the manger in the Church of St Mary Major in imitation of the nocturnal liturgy at the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem; the third was the Mass of the Dawn, originally celebrated in the Basilica of St Anastasia on her feast day (25 December) but later turned into another Christmas celebration with the Gospel of the shepherds. In their different ways these Gospels all present the birth of Christ as the dawning of God’s promised salvation. These Masses are still in the Roman Missal and the Revised Common Lectionary has preserved their Gospels but it does not specify the times at which they should be used, although Anglican Prayer Books such as Common Worship often give liturgical formularies for celebrations at Christmas Night and Christmas Day.
Great Christian feasts such as Easter often have an ‘octave’ (from the Latin octava, eighth), a period of eight days during which the feast continues to be celebrated, and the eighth and final day (octava dies) is sometimes marked by special solemnity. The octave day of Christmas, 1 January, was originally a feast of Mary but soon became a commemoration of the circumcision of Jesus which the Gospel tells us occurred eight days after his birth (Luke 2:21). The Gospel of the feast also notes that this is when the Lord was called ‘Jesus’, according to the message of the angel, and so in the Scottish Episcopal Church it is now called ‘The Naming of Jesus’.
The Epiphany is celebrated on 6 January. As we have noted in the introduction to Advent, Epiphany is from the Greek epiphaneia and means ‘manifestation’, ‘appearance’ or ‘coming’, and it could be used of the manifestation of a God (which is also called a ‘theophany’, from the Greek theophaneia) or the triumphant entry of a King into a city. In the Western Christian calendar the feast celebrates the visit of the Magi or wise men to offer their gifts to the infant Christ, which was the first manifestation of Christ to the gentiles. It also celebrates the baptism of Jesus by John (the main content of the feast in the Christian East) and the miracle at Cana (John 2:1-11) which is described as the first of Jesus’ signs which ‘manifested his glory’.
The baptism of Jesus is now commemorated in Western calendars on the Sunday after Epiphany. This feast has its origin in a celebration of the Baptism of Christ on the octave of the Epiphany in the time of Charlemagne and it entered the Roman calendar in 1960, being assigned to this Sunday in the 1969 Roman Calendar (it is celebrated on the following Monday when 6 January, the Epiphany, is a Sunday). The liturgical Gospels are the accounts of Jesus’ baptism in Matthew, Mark and Luke and the feast has been adopted by the Revised Common Lectionary used by the Scottish Episcopal Church.
The Feast of the Presentation is celebrated on 2 February, 40 days after Christmas. It is traditionally the end of the Christmas season but is discussed in the introduction to the next section, ‘Ordinary Time before Lent’, as it occurs in the series of Gospels of Ordinary Time.
The Christmas season and its Gospels are thus a sustained meditation on the mystery of Christ’s incarnation and first manifestation to Jews and Gentiles as recorded in the first chapters of the Gospels. The richness of the mystery is shown by the various feasts celebrated and the Gospel passages read. From Advent to Candlemas we are led through salvation history in preparation for the great saving drama of the Lord’s death and resurrection which is celebrated in the Easter season but is present each week in the celebration of Sunday.
ORDINARY TIME BEFORE LENT
I ENTREAT you therefore: Let us put our whole trust in God’s promise; let our thoughts be completely taken up with longing for spiritual graces; let us consider everything else of secondary importance compared with the joys to come. To these may we all attain by the grace and loving kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory, power and honour now and for ever, and for endless ages. Amen.
St John Chrysostom
O LORD, who hast taught us that all our doings without charity are nothing worth: Send thy Holy Ghost, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before thee. Grant this for thine only Son Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.
Collect for Quinquagesima, Book of Common Prayer
ADORN your bridal chamber, O Sion, and receive Christ the King; embrace Mary, who is the gate of heaven, for she herself is carrying the King of glory who is the new light; she remains a Virgin although she bears in her hands the Son begotten before the daystar; Simeon takes him in his arms, proclaiming him to the peoples as Lord of life and death and the Saviour of the world.
Antiphon for Candlemas, Adorna thalamum
‘Now we give you thanks because, in the incarnation of the Word, a new light has dawned upon the world, that all the nations may be brought out of darkness to see the radiance of your glory’. Between the season of Christmas and Epiphany and the season of Lent which begins of Ash Wednesday there is a period of time in the liturgical year which different Churches have arranged in different ways at different times.
In the traditional liturgical books of the West this season was sometimes called Septuagesima, the ‘seventieth’, just as Lent was called Quadragesima or ‘fortieth’ after the forty days of Lent. This season seems to have developed in the sixth century out of a desire to extend the Lenten fast backwards towards Christmas. First came Quinquagesima, ‘fiftieth’, which was the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, then Sexagesima, ‘sixtieth’, on the Sunday before that, and then finally, at the end of the century at Rome, Septuagesima on the Sunday before Sexagesima. Quinquagesima is the fiftieth day before Easter but the other names are not mathematically exact in the same way, although medieval writers added Easter week to the total and said that these ten weeks or seventy days symbolised the seventy year captivity of the People of Israel in Babylon (Jeremiah 25:9-12, 29:10). The Byzantine Church has a similar pre-Lent period.
With the adoption of the Roman liturgy all over Western Europe from the eighth century this season came into general use and thence it came into the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England in the sixteenth century. Septuagesima was similar to Lent in the Roman liturgy, alleluia was not sung or said in the liturgy, purple vestments were worn, and the Gloria and Te Deum were not sung on Sundays. In some ways it was a season of beginnings, as the traditional Bible readings at Matins began with Genesis and took the story of salvation history up to Moses before Lent. The reform of the liturgy in the second half of the twentieth century, however, abolished the distinctive features of this season replacing it with the first part of Ordinary Time with its green vestments, which lasts from after the feast of the Baptism of the Lord until Shrove Tuesday. It thus includes most of the old Sundays after Epiphany and the Septuagesima season and gives greater relief to the important seasons of Christmas and Lent which are separated by a ‘green’ period of Ordinary Time which resumes after Pentecost.
The Sunday Gospels during Ordinary Time before and after Lent and Eastertide form one series based on the three-year cycle of readings from the three synoptic Gospels. This has been followed by the Revised Common Lectionary although different Churches follow different customs in naming these Sundays, with the Roman Catholic Church simply having ‘Sundays in Ordinary Time’ (with three to eight before Lent depending on how early Easter falls) and the Scottish Episcopal Church having Sundays of Epiphany followed, after Candlemas, by Sundays before Lent.
The Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, or Candlemas divides the Sundays of Epiphany from the Sundays before Lent and may be celebrated on the Sunday falling between 28 January and 3 February instead of its traditional date of 2 February. Forty days after Christmas it celebrates the presentation of Jesus to God the Father in the Jerusalem Temple by his parents in accordance with the Law of Moses (Luke 2:22-40). Known in the East as the feast of ‘The Meeting of the Lord with Simeon’, from the eighth to the twentieth century the feast was generally known in the West as the ‘Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary’ (Luke 2:22), although the texts of the missal continued to emphasis the Presentation. French liturgies of the eighteenth century used the title ‘Presentation of the Lord’ which has been adopted by by many Anglican Churches in the twentieth century. The feast has been celebrated in the East since the fourth century and in the West since the seventh century. A procession with candles is found in both East and West from an early date and the blessing of candles is first recorded in the tenth century in the Germanic lands. The beautiful antiphon Adorna thalamum is traditionally sung in the procession and is an early Latin translation of a Greek chant.
REMEMBER that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.
Words at the administration of the ashes, Ash Wednesday (Genesis 3:19)
WHEN someone asks you why you fast, you should not answer: because of the Passover, or because of the Cross. Neither of these is the reason for our fasting. We fast because of our sins, since we are preparing to approach the sacred mysteries. The Christian Passover is a time for neither fasting nor mourning, but for great joy, since the Cross destroyed sin and made expiation for the whole world. It reconciled ancient enmities and opened the gates of heaven. It made friends of those who had been filled with hatred, restoring them to the citizenship of heaven. Through the Cross our human nature has been set at the right hand of the throne of God, and we have been granted countless good things besides. Therefore we must not give way to mourning or sadness; we must rejoice greatly instead over all these blessings.
St John Chrysostom
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Collect for Ash Wednesday, Book of Common Prayer
HEAR us, O Lord, and have mercy upon us, for we have sinned against you.
Crying, we raise our eyes to you, Sovereign King, Redeemer of all. Listen, O Christ, to the pleas of the sinners who cry to you.
You are at the right hand of God the Father, you are the Keystone, the Way of Salvation and the Gate of Heaven, cleanse the stains of our sins.
Tenth century Latin chant, Attende, Domine
‘Now we give you thanks because you have given us the spirit of discipline, that we may triumph over evil and grow in grace, as we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed’. Lent is a season of prayer, penance and almsgiving in preparation for the Passover of Christ at Easter. The English word ‘Lent’ means the season of spring and is probably derived from an Old English word meaning ‘long’ because of the lengthening of days in this season. In the middle ages it was adopted for this season of the Christian year which is other western European languages usually call by a name derived from the Latin quadragesima, ‘the fortieth’ (fortieth day before Easter), as in the French carême, the Italian quaresima, and the Spanish cuaresma (the German is Fastenzeit, period of fasting).
Easter always included a period of fasting in preparation for the celebration of the Lord’s resurrection on Easter night. At first this was a total fast of a couple of days with a less strict fast for the preceding days of the week. In the fourth century a forty day fast came to be adopted throughout the whole Church. It originally began on the first Sunday of Lent, which gave forty days before the Triduum (the ‘three days’ from the evening of Maundy Thursday until Easter day) - which included the original Easter fast on the two days before Easter. In the sixth century at Rome the fast came to begin on the Wednesday before the first Sunday of the six weeks so that, as Christians do not fast on Sundays, the whole season consisted of forty fasting days and lasted until the Easter Vigil. The rite of imposition of ashes on people’s heads on Ash Wednesday began in the Germanic lands and spread to Italy in the tenth century. As well as a period of preparation for Easter, Lent in the early church was also a period of preparation for those catechumens who were to be baptised and enter the Church at the Easter Vigil and those penitents who had committed public sins and were to be received back into the community of the Church on Thursday of Holy Week.
The first Sunday of Lent has the Gospel of the temptation of Christ and the second his transfiguration in the Roman Lectionary but the Revised Common Lectionary has the option (mandatory in the Church of England) of transferring the transfiguration Gospels to the Sunday before Lent and replacing them with the Gospel stories of Nicodemus (Year A), a prophecy of the passion (Year B) and Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem (Year C). The Gospel of John dominates the remaining Sundays of Lent. The Year A Gospels from John - the woman at the well, the man born blind and the raising of Lazarus - were perhaps the ancient Gospels of these Sundays when they were used for the ‘scrutinies’ of those preparing for baptism. These three Gospel passages were later transferred to weekdays but returned to the Sundays with the restoration of the catechumenate in the Roman Catholic Church in the later twentieth century. In years B and C other readings are given, emphasising the exaltation of Christ on the cross in year B and repentance and the mercy of God in Year C, but the Roman Lectionary allows the year A readings also to be used in the other years.
In the ancient Latin liturgy the last two weeks of Lent are traditionally called Passiontide, the liturgical formularies focus more strongly on the approaching passion of the Lord and images are veiled in churches. Passiontide is part of the calendar of the Scottish Episcopal Church. The final week of Lent is called Holy Week and begins with Palm Sunday with its liturgical procession commemorating Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. Maundy Thursday has the Eucharist of the Lord's Supper and Good Friday the liturgy of the veneration of the cross.
The Easter or Paschal Triduum is a term that became popular from the 1930s and has been incorporated in the Roman liturgical books, but already in the fourth century St Ambrose was speaking of the ‘sacred triduum’ in which Christ ‘suffered, rested and rose’ (Letter 23.13) and St Augustine also wrote of ‘the most holy triduum of the crucified, buried and risen Lord’ (Letter 54.14). It is an unpacking of the mystery celebrated at Easter and runs from the evening Eucharist of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday to Evensong on Easter Day. The Triduum seems to have had its roots in the liturgy of the Church of Jerusalem where the faithful wanted to celebrate the events of the Gospel in the appropriate order at the places where they occurred. This is what is described by the pilgrim Egeria who visited the Holy Land in the 380s. As the Triduum includes Easter Day it forms a transition from Lent to Eastertide and discussion of it will continue in the introduction to that season.
CHRIST is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life!
Byzantine Paschal Troparion
THE sacred work of our salvation was of such value in the sight of the creator of the universe that he counted it worth the shedding of his own blood. After his passion weakness was turned into strength, mortality into eternal life, and disgrace into glory. At Easter the Lord’s resurrection was the cause of our joy, now it is his ascension into heaven. Having made careful provision for the preaching of the Gospel and the mysteries of the new covenant, our Lord Jesus Christ was taken up to heaven before the eyes of his disciples. His bodily presence among them came to an end, and so what was visible in our Redeemer has passed into the sacraments.
St Leo the Great (abridged)
FOR this is the Passover feast, when Christ, the true Lamb of God, is slain whose blood consecrates the homes of all the faithful. This is the night when Jesus Christ vanquished hell, broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave. Most blessed of all nights! Evil and hatred are put to flight and sin is washed away, lost innocence regained, and mourning turned to joy. For Christ the morning star has risen in glory; Christ is risen from the dead and his flame of love still burns within us! Christ sheds his peaceful light on all the world!
From the Exsultet, sung at the Easter Vigil, Common Worship
‘Chiefly we are bound to praise you because you raised Jesus Christ gloriously from the dead. For he is the true paschal lamb who was offered for us and has taken away the sins of the world. By his death he has destroyed death, and by his rising to life again he has restored to us everlasting life.’ Easter is not just one feast among many in the liturgical year, it is the Great Feast, the Feast of Feasts, as it is the day on which Christ rose from the dead, the central event of our faith: ‘if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain’ (1 Corinthians 15:14).
Easter is the central point of the liturgical year and maintains the link, found in the Gospels, between the death and resurrection of Christ and the Jewish feast of Passover, as St Paul wrote, ‘Christ our Passover has been sacrificed, let us therefore celebrate the feast’ (1 Corinthians 5:7). The mystery of the cross and resurrection of Christ is rightly called the ‘paschal mystery’, from the Greek (pascha) and Hebrew (pesach) names for Passover. It is the mystery of Christ’s Passover through death to life, something in which believers share through baptism: ‘when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead (Colossians 2:12). It is the same paschal mystery of Christ which we celebrate in the Eucharist where, ‘we recall his blessed passion and death, his glorious resurrection and ascension, and we look for the coming of his kingdom’ (Scottish Liturgy 1982).
The Gospels on the Sundays of Eastertide offer us a sustained meditation on the resurrection of Christ. With their emphasis on Jesus, his relationship with the Father and, at Pentecost, the sending of the Holy Spirit, the whole of Eastertide may also be seen as a meditation on the revelation of the mystery of the Holy Trinity – which is also celebrated on the Sunday after Pentecost, Trinity Sunday.
Sunday, the first day of the week and the Lord’s day, was the first feast of the resurrection but at the start of the second century we find Christians celebrating the resurrection annually, either on the date of the Jewish Passover or on the following Sunday. The date was later fixed by the Council of Nicaea in 325 as the Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. The original shape of Easter seems to have been a fast, which developed into Lent, and a nocturnal vigil which ended with the celebration of the Eucharist. From at least the beginning of the third century the feast was extended into a period of fifty days including seven more Sundays, a ‘week of weeks’ (St Hilary of Poitiers), and from the following century the fiftieth day, Pentecost, became a focus of special celebration. The fifty day period came to conform to the chronology of the Book of Acts with the ascension of Christ celebrated forty days after Easter (Acts 1:3), on a Thursday, and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost after fifty days (Acts 2:1). This is found, for example, in the sermons of SS John Chrysostom and Augustine. Thus, just as the Paschal Mystery was unpacked into the Sacred Triduum and Holy Week, so different aspects of the same Mystery were celebrated at different times during the fifty days of Easter.
From the end of the second century Easter became the prime site for celebrating baptism, later joined by Pentecost, and the liturgy reflects this. In the fourth century Easter gained an octave (a period of eight days ending on the following Sunday) during which the newly baptised received more teaching on the mystery they had entered through the sacraments. Some say that Whitsun or Whit Sunday, the English name for Pentecost, is derived from the white garments worn by the newly baptised on this day. Pentecost later received its own octave but this was lost during the twentieth century liturgical reforms in order to emphasise the importance of the celebration of the Paschal Mystery during the fifty days. The nine days between Ascension and Pentecost, however, are often celebrated as a period of prayer in preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit. The names of the Sundays have also been changed, for example the Second Sunday after Easter is now the Third Sunday of Easter, to emphasise the unity of the season. The Roman Lectionary allows the Ascension to be celebrated on the Seventh Sunday of Easter despite the fact that this breaks the chronology of the Acts of the Apostles.
Easter day has two Masses, the Eucharist that is the culmination of the Paschal Vigil and the Eucharist of the Day. The Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter is the same in all three years of the lectionary, the incredulity of St Thomas in John 20 which mentions this very day ‘a week later’ after the resurrection (John 20:26). Despite this, three commentaries have been provided for this Sunday. During Eastertide most Gospel-readings are taken from the Gospel of John. The Gospels for the Third Sunday also recount the appearances of the risen Christ and have in common a meal shared by the disciples and the risen Christ. The fourth Sunday has readings about Jesus as the Good Shepherd from John 10 with its references to the paschal mystery, ‘I lay down my life in order to take it up again’ (John 10:17), and the fifth, sixth, and seventh Sundays have excerpts from the discourse and prayer of Jesus at the last supper. The most important reading for the feast of the Ascension is the account of the ascension of Christ in Acts and the Gospels are taken from the end of the three synoptic Gospels which emphasise the enthronement of Jesus at God’s right hand, two of which mention the ascension. Pentecost has readings from John on the sending of the Holy Spirit.
The liturgical colour for Eastertide is white (sometimes gold or the best vestments that the church possesses) and for Pentecost it is red to symbolise the tongues of fire which descended on the Apostles as they were filled with the Holy Spirit. The joy of the resurrection means that this is the preeminent season of that great shout of praise, the alleluia, as St Augustine writes: “Because there are these two periods of time – the present, beset with the trials and troubles of this life, and the other yet to come, a life of everlasting serenity and joy – we are given two liturgical seasons, one before Easter and the other after. What we commemorate before Easter is what we experience in this life; what we celebrate after Easter points to something we do not yet possess. This is why we keep the first season with fasting and prayer; but now the fast is over and we devote the present season to praise. Such is the meaning of the Alleluia we sing. Now therefore, friends, we urge you to praise God. That is what we are all telling each other when we say Alleluia. You say to your neighbour, ‘Praise the Lord!’ and he says the same to you. We are all urging one another to praise the Lord, and all doing what each of us urges the other to do. But see that your praise comes from your whole being; in other words, see that you praise God not with your lips and voices alone, but with your minds, your lives and all your actions” (On Psalm 148.1-2, abridged).
ORDINARY TIME AFTER PENTECOST
AS soon as we have celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost we greet with song the feast of the Holy Trinity on the following Sunday, a well-chosen place in the calendar for immediately after the descent of the Holy Spirit preaching and conversion began and faith through baptism and confession in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Rupert of Deutz
ALMIGHTY God, you have broken the tyranny of sin and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts whereby we call you Father; give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service, that we and all creation may be brought to the glorious liberty of the children of God; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Collect for the Third Sunday after Trinity, Common Worship
FOR as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from above, and return not again but water the earth, bringing forth life and giving growth, seed for sowing and bread to eat, so is my Word that goes forth from my mouth, it will not return to me fruitless, but it will accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the task I give it.
A Song of the Word of the Lord (Isaiah 55), Common Worship
‘For Jesus Christ is your living Word; through him you have created all things from the beginning, and formed us in your own image. Through him you have freed us from the slavery of sin, giving him to be born of a woman and to die upon the cross; you raised him from the dead and exalted him to your right hand on high. Through him you have sent upon us your holy and life-giving Spirit, and made us a people for your own possession.’ Sunday, also called the Lord’s Day, is the first Christian feast-day, the first day of the week on which Our Lord rose from the dead and on which the first disciples gathered for prayer and the Eucharist (Matthew 28:1, John 20:19, Acts 20:7; Didache 14). The pristine shape of Sunday as the commemoration of the Lord’s resurrection takes central stage in the Sundays in Ordinary Time.
The Revised Common Lectionary follows the revised Roman Lectionary in having a series of Gospel readings from the three synoptic Gospels on the Sundays before Lent and after Pentecost, which the 1970 Roman Missal has called ‘Sundays in Ordinary Time’. These follow the sequence of each Gospel, although the reading of the shorter Gospel of Mark in Year B has a major insert on Sundays 17-21 from the Gospel of John, the sermon on the bread of life in John 6, which replaces the Marcan story of the miraculous feeding and fits well with Mark’s concern with Jesus’ revelation of himself on the surrounding Sundays. The short Gospel readings of the Sundays of Ordinary Time do not give enough space to read all the Gospel text between the early passages of the Christmas cycle and the passion and resurrection stories of Eastertide. Those who created the Roman Lectionary sought to include as much of the story of Jesus’ public ministry as possible and to emphasise the special qualities of each Evangelist while ensuring that the same basic story was told in each of the three years. About three quarters of the stories of Jesus’ public life are thus included and Years A and C contain much material that is special to Matthew and Luke while all three years repeat important episodes that are found in all three Gospels such as the calling of the disciples and the confession of Peter. The old Roman Missal had called these Sundays at the end of the Church’s Year, ‘Sundays after Pentecost’. Other Churches have other names for these Sundays while following the same cycle of readings. For the ‘Sundays after Pentecost’ the Church of England followed the ancient Calendar of Salisbury (the ‘Sarum Use’), widely followed in the British Isles in the Middle Ages, and called them ‘Sundays after Trinity’. In most Churches today the liturgical colour for this season in green.
Trinity Sunday has its roots in a commemoration of the mystery of the Trinity on the Sunday after Pentecost in the seventh-century book of prayers for the Eucharist called the ‘Gelasian Sacramentary’. About the year 800 the great English scholar Alcuin composed a Mass for the Holy Trinity and the celebration of the feast on various days became popular in the Middle Ages. It was eventually fixed on this day and ordered to be celebrated everywhere in the Christian West by Pope John XXII in 1334. The feast of this great Biblical mystery of our faith has been preserved in Anglican and Lutheran calendars.
Corpus Christi was celebrated for the first time at Liège in 1247 at the suggestion of a nun, Juliana of Mont-Cornillon. In 1264 the feast was extended to the whole Latin Church by Pope Urban IV and a Mass was composed for the feast, probably by St Thomas Aquinas. It became popular in the following century. The feast takes up themes from the commemoration of the institution of the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday and is also in the calendar of the Scottish Episcopal Church and other Anglican Churches.
ORDINARY TIME BEFORE ADVENT
THEN suddenly upon Mount Zion a blaze of the sun, shining clear from the south-east, shall come forth from the Creator, gleaming more brightly than the mind of man can conceive, when the Son of God shall appear hither through the vault of heaven. All glorious from the eastern skies shall come the presence of Christ, the aspect of the noble King, gentle in spirit toward His own, bitter toward the wicked, wondrously varied, diverse to the blessed and the forlorn.
ETERNAL Father, whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven that he might rule over all things as Lord and King: keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit and in the bond of peace, and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Collect for Christ the King, Common Worship
BLESSED are you, Sovereign God, our light and our salvation, to you be glory and praise for ever. Now, as darkness is falling, wash away our transgressions, cleanse us by your refining fire and make us temples of your Holy Spirit. By the light of Christ, dispel the darkness of our hearts and make us ready to enter your Kingdom, where songs of praise for ever sound. Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
From Evening Prayer from All Saints to Advent, Common Worship
O DAY of wrath, that day will dissolve the world in ashes just as David and the Sibyl have foretold! The trumpet, scattering a wondrous sound through the land of the dead, will summon all before the throne. Death and nature will marvel when the creature arises to respond to the Judge. O King of tremendous majesty, who freely saves those who must be saved, save me, source of mercy. Remember, merciful Jesus, that I am the cause of your way on earth: don’t lose me on that day. You forgave Mary and heard the prayer of the crucified thief: give hope to me as well! Grant me a place among the sheep, separate me from the goats, set me on your right hand. O God of majesty, gracious splendour of the Trinity, join us with the blessed. Amen.
From the thirteenth-century Latin hymn, Dies irae, dies illa
‘Now we give you thanks that Jesus Christ is the King of Glory, who overcomes the sting of death and opens the kingdom of heaven to all believers. He is seated at your right hand in glory and we believe that he will come to be our judge.’ In the Church of England calendar the Sundays after All Saints’ Day, which may itself be kept on a Sunday, form a group of ‘Sundays before Advent’ in the period of Ordinary Time between Eastertide and Advent when red vestments may be worn instead of the usual green of Ordinary Time. This season from All Saints to Advent has a special emphasis on the saints and on the reign of Christ on earth and in heaven and it is a new development in the calendar, possibly related to the way that the secular Christmas has trespassed on Advent.
The Church of England Alternative Service Book 1980 had a series of ‘Sundays before Christmas’ during this time and some Protestant churches have observed a ‘Kingdomtide’ of varying lengths since the 1930s, a practice reflected in the ‘Season of the Kingdom’ from All Saints to Advent proposed for the Church of England in the 1990s. These terms were not generally adopted by Common Worship, the General Synod having rejected a ‘Kingdom Season’, but they have clearly affected current practice, which also has its roots in the broader Catholic tradition. Advent has been of variable lengths in the past and November, with its commemoration of All Souls and Remembrance Sunday, is traditionally kept as a ‘month of the dead’ during which Christians visit graves, pray for the departed and consider their destiny. The ‘Sundays before Advent’ do thus have a particular traditional ambiance. This is less evident in the Lectionary as the Gospels at the Sunday Eucharist during this period follow the three year Ordinary Time cycle of continuous reading but, because of the shape of the three Gospels themselves, there are a number of eschatological themes.
The feast of All Saints on 1 November is important for this season. At Rome in the beginning of the seventh century Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Roman Temple called the Pantheon to St Mary and all the Holy Martyrs and in the next century Pope Gregory III built a chapel in honour of ‘all the holy martyrs and confessors’. There thus developed a desire to commemorate all the saints together and, perhaps beginning in England, this came to be celebrated on 1 November. The Gospel for the feast is the beatitudes from Matthew 5 but the Revised Common Lectionary also gives readings from John 11 and Luke 6 in years B and C. In the Byzantine East a feast of All Saints is kept on the Sunday after Pentecost.
The Church’s year ends on its last Sunday with the feast of Christ the King. This is a relatively recent celebration but its emphasis on the Kingship of Christ and on the Last Days is firmly rooted in the Gospel and picks up themes from the traditional liturgy of the last weeks of the Christian year. The feasts of Epiphany, Easter and Ascension have always been, in a sense, commemorations of the Kingship of Christ. The daily prayer of the Roman Catholic Church uses at this time the magnificent eschatological hymn which is traditionally sung at funerals, the Dies irae, with its emphasis on the Last Things: death, judgement, heaven and hell. The feast of Christ the King was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 on the Sunday before All Saints. It offered a Christian response to the all-embracing totalitarianism of that age which sought to exclude Christianity from public life. The revision of the Roman Catholic liturgy in the 1960s emphasised the eschatological elements in the feast and moved it to its current date with the title, ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe’. The feast has been adopted by other Churches which use the Revised Common Lectionary including the Scottish Episcopal Church