HISTORIC CHURCH CALENDAR CONTINUES TO GUIDE WORSHIP
By John Armistead
Epiphany and the other seasons of the church year were born of a felt need in the hearts of early Christians for systematic guidance in meditating upon the life of Jesus Christ and in worshipping him Sunday by Sunday. While different churches mark out their own particular days and seasons, the following are common to most Christian traditions.
-Sunday: Before the close of the New Testament period as the church became predominately Gentile, Christians ceased to worship on the seventh (Sabbath) day and set aside the first day of the week, the day Christ arose, as their principal day of worship. Sunday, then, became the first day designated by the church as having special significance.
-Advent: The church year begins with Advent (from the Latin adventus, “coming”). This is a time of spiritual preparation and waiting for Christmas. It begins four Sundays before Christmas Day and emphasizes both the first and second comings of Christ.
– Christmas: The word, evolved from “Christ mass,” celebrates the nativity of Jesus, and is the most popular of all church festivals. Fourth century Roman Christians marked Dec. 25 as a day for remembering the birth of Christ, and the practice spread. (The church in the east was already celebrating Jan. 6 as Christ’s birthday.) The season of Christmas lasts 12 days.
– Epiphany: Jan. 6 celebrates Christ “appearing” or “making himself known” to the non-Jewish world, as represented by the Magi, and, at the same time, as manifesting himself by his baptism in Jordan River and his first miracle at Cana of Galilee. The Epiphany season lasts until Lent.
– Lent: From the Anglo-Saxon word from spring, this is the season of preparation for Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday, which occurs 40 days (not counting Sundays) before Easter. Lent is a time of self-examination and repentance. The last week of Lent is devoted to the Lord’s Passion and is called Holy Week. It begins on Palm Sunday and includes Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
-Easter: The English term (according to Bede) comes from the name of an Anglo-Saxon spring goddess. In Greek and Latin the word Pascha (from the Hebrew Pesah, “Passover”) is used. It celebrates the resurrection of Christ from the dead, begins on Easter Sunday festival and continues through six more Sundays.
-Ascension. From the Latin ascensio, “ascent,” commemorates the ascension of Christ to heaven and is held on the 40th day after Easter.
– Pentecost: From the Greek word for “fiftieth,” the festival is based on the coming of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Acts 2. The Pentecost (or Trinity) season marks the time between the two Advents (“comings”) of Christ when the church, guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit, fulfills its mission to the world.