The Church’s Liturgical Year

Rather like the cycle of the natural year with its various moods and senses, the Church Year is made up of different Seasons and Festivals.

We would stress that throughout the year Christians rejoice that Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, was born and lived among us, died on the Cross, rose to new life and ascended into heaven, to restore our broken relationship with God our Father.  And EVERY Sunday, whatever the Season, is observed as the ‘weekly Easter Sunday’.

The ordered pattern of seasons which comprise the Church’s Liturgical Year are a help to Christians in remembering and celebrating the key points of our faith through the course of the year, deepening our appreciation of the particular events and their meanings, the ‘mysteries of Christ’.

Each of the Church’s Seasons has its own liturgical colour to highlight its mood and meaning.

The Church’s Year’s Seasons are ADVENT (purple), CHRISTMAS (white/gold), LENT (purple), EASTER (white/gold) and ORDINARY TIME (green), with various particular or additional Feasts.

The first ‘half’ of the Church’s Year, the period from Advent to Pentecost, concentrates on the main events in the story of Jesus Christ – from expectancy of his coming, his birth, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, to the birth of the Church with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the 50th day of Easter.

The second ‘half’ of the Church’s Year, the period from after Pentecost until the next Advent, concentrates on the ministry and teaching of Jesus Christ. It is known as ‘Ordinary Time’ (which really means ‘General Season’).

(There is also a short period of ‘Ordinary Time’ between the Seasons of Christmas and Lent.)


The start of the Church Year (begins four Sundays before Christmas Day).

Advent derives from the Latin word for ‘coming’.

The Church prepares to celebrate the first coming of Christ as the Babe of Bethlehem, and in so doing also looks forward to the second coming of Christ in glory at the end of time.


The Christmas Season celebrates the birth of Christ.

CHRISTMAS DAY (25th December) is not just a ‘stand alone’ feast, but begins the Christmas Octave or ‘week of Christmas Days’

As well as Christmas Day itself, the Christmas Season also includes a number of other major feasts:-

THE HOLY FAMILY (1st Sunday of Christmas)

MARY, MOTHER OF GOD (Octave Day of Christmas – 1st January)

THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD (6th January – may be observed on 2nd Sunday of Christmas)

Ephiphany is a Greek word meaning ‘revelation’.  The feast commemorates the coming of the Magi (Wise Men) from the east to the infant Jesus.  The Wise Men, Gentiles from the East, represent the nations coming to Christ.

THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD (Sunday after Epiphany)

The feast of the Baptism of the Lord concludes the Christmas Season by the celebrating the beginning of Christ’s public ministry as an adult.

However, there is still one ‘Christmas-related’ feast to come – the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, forty days after his birth (2nd February).  It is popularly called Candlemass because of the candlelit procession.


Season of penitence, discipline and preparation for Easter – begins with Ash Wednesday.

Lent was originally observed by candidates preparing for baptism at Easter.  But over course of time, the Church adopted it for all the Faithful in preparation for the renerwal of their baptismal commitment at Easter.

Lent reflects Christ’s 40 days fasting in the wilderness.  (And so, begins 47 days before Easter Sunday – i.e. 40 days not including Sundays.)

Holy Week

Holy Week is the week leading up to Easter, in which the Church celebrates dramatically the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

PALM SUNDAY – Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, greeted by the crowds waving palm branches.

MAUNDY THURSDAY – The Last Supper, institution of the Eucharist, Christ washing the disciples’ feet, watching in Gethsemane and betrayal.

GOOD FRIDAY – The Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

HOLY SATURDAY/EASTER EVE – By ancient custom, the sacraments are not celebrated during the day Holy Saturday.  But as Holy Saturday moves into becoming Easter Eve, the most important Service of the Church Year takes place, the EASTER VIGIL, completing the Paschal Triduum.  – Blessing of the new fire and Paschal Candle, symbolising the new life of Christ, Bible readings recounting salvation history, Blessing the baptismal waters of the Font and renewing baptismal commitment, the first Eucharist of Easter.

(These great three days are together known as THE PASCHAL TRIDUUM.)


Easter is the most important feast of the Christian Church, celebrating the resurrection of Christ from the dead.

EASTER SUNDAY is not just a ‘stand alone’ feast, but begins the Easter Octave or ‘week of Easter Days’.  The Easter Season lasts 50 days, from Easter Sunday until Pentecost.

Easter Sunday is a ‘moveable feast’ – its date varies each year, according to the phases of the moon. This is to connect it with the original Passover of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection.

THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD – 40 days after Easter Sunday, Ascension Day commemorates the ascension of the risen Christ into heaven.

PENTECOST – The word ‘Pentecost’ dervies from the Greek for ’50 days’. Pentecost is the 50th day of Easter, and commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit onto the disciples, and the birth of the Christian Church.

The Deposition from the Cross (Gerard David)

The Resurrection (Piero della Francesco)

Feast of Christ the King : Christ seated in majesty

Ordinary Time

The bulk of Ordinary Time (which really means ‘General Season’) occurs between Pentecost and the next Advent; though there is also a short period of ‘Ordinary Time’ between the Seasons of Christmas and Lent.

The Season of Ordinary Time concentrates on the ministry and teaching of Jesus Christ (hence the liturgical colour of green – standing for growth).

In Ordinary Time, the first Sunday after Pentecost is celebrated as Trinity Sunday, on which the Church reflects on the mystery of God who has revealed himself as Three Persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit yet One God.  The last Sunday of Ordinary Time is celebrated as the Feast of Christ the King.

Saints’ Day

Throughout the year Saints’ days are also marked, usually on the date of their death (birthday into heaven).

The Saints are those who have lived faithfully and fully the grace and meaning of their baptism. The Saints include both those who had a direct part in the life of Christ, such as the Blessed Virgin Mary, St Joseph, St John the Baptist, the Apostles and Evangelists such as St Peter and St Paul, etc; and those who have followed Christ in subsequent generations.  Amongst these are numbered Martyrs, Pastors (bishops, priests and deacons), Doctors (theologians and teachers of the Faith), Religious (monks, nuns, friars and sisters) and Holy Men and Women from all walks of life. The Holy Angels are also commemorated.

The Saints who are commemorated individually in the Church’s Calendar are but a small part of the number. All of the Saints, both named and anonymous, are celebrated in the Feast of All Saints (1st November).

Liturgical Colours

Over the centuries, the Church has used a variety of colours to signify Seasons and Festivals. The colours are used in the vestments, altar frontals and other hangings. The Eastern Church (Orthodox) has a different usage, but In the Western Church the liturgical colours are now as follows:

PURPLE – Advent and Lent. May also be used for funerals and Requiems for the Departed.

WHITE (GOLD on greater holy days) – Christmas, Easter, Feasts of Our Lord, Our Lady and other Saints, and the Holy Angels.

RED – Pentecost and other celebrations of the Holy Spirit, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Holy Cross Day and other celebrations of the Passion of Christ, Apostles and Evangelists, Martyrs.

GREEN – Ordinary Time.

Less common in general use, but still to be found in use at St Edmund’s:-

BLACK – May be used for funerals and Requiems for the Departed.

ROSE – The 3rd Sunday of Advent and the 4th Sunday of Lent.