- church year
Introductionannual cycle of seasons and days observed in the Christian churches in commemoration of the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and of his virtues as exhibited in the lives of the saints.Origins of the church yearReligious times and seasonsThe church year has deep roots in the primitive human impulse to mark certain times with sacral significance and ritual observance. These are times when conscious attention is given to the mysterious forces that surround and involve all living creatures in the natural and inexorable cycles of light and darkness; labour and rest; birth, growth, decay, and death.Two interrelated cycles have had primary importance in the shaping of religious calendars. One is cosmic: the phases of the Moon and the solar equinoxes and solstices. The other is the periodic succession of the seasons of nature that determines times of sowing and reaping. Both cycles speak to the mystery of birth, death, and rebirth and to human dependence upon the fecundity of life given in the natural creation.Jewish (Judaism) backgroundThe Jewish religious year, grounded in the divinely revealed Law of the Old Testament, was the foundation for the church year of Christians. It is a lunar-month calendar stemming from the primitive nomadic life of the Hebrews, with its chief festival at the first full moon of spring, known later as the Passover. Grafted onto this calendar after the settlement of the Hebrew tribes in Palestine were the agricultural festivals—dependent upon “the early and later rains”—the firstfruits at Passover, the first harvest at the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, and the autumn harvest at the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth) or Booths.Of uncertain origin, but prior to the monarchical period (11th to 6th century BC), the Hebrews observed a seven-day week, of which the last day, or Sabbath, was a holiday and day of rest. Whatever its original purpose, it became transformed into a sacral day, consecrated to Yahweh, the one God of the Hebrews, and increasingly surrounded with restrictions upon all activity other than worship. In the time of Jesus (1st century AD), “keeping holy the sabbath day” was a principal hallmark of adherence to Judaism.The remarkable aspect of the Jewish religious year was its transformation, in successive codifications of the Old Testament Law, into a series of historical commemorations associated with God's deed in creation and in the redemption of God's people. At first, the sabbath was related to the Exodus, the deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt in the 13th century BC (Deuteronomy 5:15), and, later, to the repose of God at the completion of creation (Exodus 20:8–11; Genesis 2:2–3). The three agricultural feasts became a sequence of remembrances of the Exodus from Egypt and the pilgrimage through the wilderness to the promised land (Exodus 12:1–20; Leviticus 23; Deuteronomy 16:1–17). Through these annual celebrations the devout Jew relived the saving events of the past and anticipated the final deliverance of the people of God in the age to come. Rabban Gamaliel (Gamaliel I), a contemporary of Jesus, said, “In every generation a man must so regard himself as if he came forth himself out of Egypt. . . . ” (from Mishna, Pesaḥim 10:5).Formation of the church yearIn his earthly life Jesus was subject to the law of sabbath, feast, and fast prescribed in the Old Testament; but his ministry and teaching pointed to a new age, the coming Kingdom of God, when the Law would be fulfilled. He was, therefore, not so much concerned with outward conformity to legal regulations as he was with the spirit in which they were observed. “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). It was in the context of a celebration of the Passover feast with his disciples that he was arrested, tried, and put to death.Early Christians believed that the new age promised by Jesus had dawned with his Resurrection, on “the first day of the week” (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). By this event the Law was fulfilled. Now every day and time were viewed as holy for the celebration and remembrance of Jesus' triumph over sin and death. Though many of his disciples continued to observe the special times and seasons of the Jewish Law, new converts broke with the custom because they regarded it as no longer needful or necessary. Paul, himself a dutiful observant of the Law, considered the keeping of holy days a matter of indifference, provided the devotion be “in honor of the Lord” (Romans 14:5–9). He warned his converts not to judge one another with regard “to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath” (Colossians 2:16).From the beginning the church took over from Judaism the seven-day week. Before the end of the apostolic age (1st century AD), as the church became predominantly Gentile in membership, the first day of the week, or Sunday, had become the normative time when Christians assembled for their distinctive acts of worship, in commemoration of the Lord's Resurrection (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2). During the first two centuries AD, the Greco-Roman world in general adopted the planetary seven-day week of the astrologers.Christian writers of the 2nd century came to view Sunday, “the Lord's day,” as a symbol of Christianity in distinction from Judaism. Most of the churches decided to observe the Lord's Passover (Easter) always on a Sunday, after the Jewish feast was over. In addition, local churches began to celebrate the anniversaries of the deaths of their martyrs (martyr), called “birthdays in eternity,” for these also were regarded as witnesses to the resurrection triumph of Christ in his followers. The weekly Sunday and the annual Paschal (Passover) observance of 50 days from Easter to Pentecost (the Jewish harvest festival that also commemorated the revelation of the Law to Moses) were thus the principal framework of the church year until the 4th century—reminders of the new age to be brought by Christ at his coming again in glory at the end of time, when the true believers would enter their inheritance of perpetual joy and feasting with their Redeemer and Lord.The establishment of Christianity as a state religion, following the conversion of the emperor Constantine (AD 312), brought new developments. The Paschal season was matched by a longer season of preparation ( Lent) for the many new candidates for baptism at the Easter ceremonies, and the discipline and penance of those who for grievous sins had been cut off from the communion of the church.A new focus of celebration, to commemorate the birthday of Christ, the world Redeemer, was instituted at ancient winter solstices (December 25 and January 6) to rival the pagan feasts in honour of the birth of a new age brought by the Unconquered Sun. Later, the Western churches created a preparatory season for this festival, known as Advent. Many new days were gradually added to the roster of martyr anniversaries to commemorate distinguished leaders, the dedication of buildings and shrines in honour of the saints, and the transferral of their relics.The major church calendarsUnlike the cycle of feasts and fasts of the Jewish Law, the Christian year has never been based upon a divine revelation. It is rather a tradition that is always subject to change by ecclesiastical law. Each self-governing church maintains the right to order the church year according to pastoral needs of edification. The pattern of the year therefore varies in the several churches of the East and of the West. The subtle adjustments of a lunar-month calendar, with its movable date of Easter, and a solar calendar of fixed dates require many rules to avoid conflict of observances.In the Western churches periodic reforms of the church year have occurred, notably in the Reformation era and again in the 20th century. The Protestant (Protestantism) Reformers of the 16th century took differing attitudes toward such reforms. With their strong sense of the prime authority of Scripture and of the freedom of the gospel from all legalisms in liturgical matters, they revised the church year with varying degrees of radicalism. Lutherans (Lutheranism) and Anglicans (Anglicanism) took a conservative position, retaining the traditional seasons but eliminating commemorations that had no connection with the biblical record.The Reformed churches (Reformed church), on the other hand, allowed only those feasts with a clear basis in the New Testament: Sundays, Holy Week and Easter, Pentecost, and in some cases Christmas. The Church of Scotland (Scotland, Church of) and Anabaptist and Puritan groups abolished the church year entirely, except for Sundays. In recent years this attitude has been very much modified. Their protest has been a reminder to the church that all days are regarded as belonging to Christ in the freedom of his Spirit, who cannot be controlled by rigid systems of fixed special observances.In the late 20th century in the Western churches the church year was being subjected to an overall revision comparable in scope only to that of the 16th century. This was due to a number of currents of interest that were converging; i.e., advances in historical and liturgical studies, changes in theological perspectives, and ecumenical encounters.The basic structure of the church year was the creation of the ancient churches in the varied cultures surrounding the Mediterranean Sea that were embraced in the Roman Empire. Christian missionaries have carried the church year throughout the world—first in the Northern Hemisphere and, since the 16th century, in the Southern Hemisphere, where the natural seasons are reversed. It is unlikely that the dates of the two major feasts, Easter and Christmas, which control the seasons of the church year, will be changed. But new symbols and popular customs associated with them will emerge in areas where, for example, Easter is celebrated in the autumn rather than as a spring festival.The church year consists of two concurrent cycles: (1) the Proper of Time (Temporale), or seasons and Sundays that revolve around the movable date of Easter and the fixed date of Christmas, and (2) the Proper of Saints (Sanctorale), other commemorations on fixed dates of the year. Every season and holy day is a celebration, albeit with different emphases, of the total revelation and redemption of Christ, which are “made present at all times” or proclaim “the paschal mystery as achieved in the saints who have suffered and been glorified with Christ” (second Vatican Council, “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy”). The church year is an epitome in time of the history of salvation in Christ.Eastern churchesThe Orthodox churches (Eastern Orthodoxy) of the Byzantine tradition recall the Resurrection of Christ every Sunday. Many Sundays take their title from the Gospel lesson for the day. In addition to Easter, “the feast of feasts,” there are 12 other major feasts: Christmas, Epiphany, Hypapante (Meeting of Christ with Simeon, February 2), Palm Sunday, Ascension, Pentecost, Transfiguration (August 6), Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14), and four feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary—her Nativity (September 8), Presentation in the Temple (November 21), Annunciation (March 25), and Falling Asleep (August 15).The principal cycle consists of (1) 10 weeks before Easter, contained in the Triōdion (pre-Easter liturgical service book); the first four of these Sundays prepare for the Great Fast, or Lent (i.e., the Sunday of the Pharisee and Publican; the Sunday of the Prodigal Son; Meat-Fast Sunday, after which abstinence from meat is enjoined; and Cheese-Fast Sunday, after which the fast includes cheese, eggs, butter, and milk), and (2) eight weeks after Easter, contained in the Pentēkostarion (post-Easter liturgical service book), including the Feast of Ascension, 40 days after Easter, and concluding with the Festival of All Saints on the Sunday after Pentecost. Other special commemorations of the period are the Feast of Orthodoxy (Orthodoxy, Feast of), on the first Sunday in Lent, recalling the end of the Iconoclastic Controversy in 843, and the feast of the Fathers of the first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 on the sixth Sunday after Easter.The schedule of fixed holy days in the Menaion (liturgical service book for each month) begins on September 1, the New Year's or Indiction Day of the Byzantine Empire. It includes the invariable feasts of Christ, St. Mary and other Christian saints, and many Old Testament saints.The separated churches of the East (those not accepting the jurisdiction of Orthodox patriarchs or bishops) have calendars basically similar to the Byzantine. West Syrians (Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch) (Jacobites) and East Syrians (Nestorians (Nestorian)) begin the year with a series of Sundays devoted to themes of the Dedication of the Church (consecration by a bishop) and the Annunciation (of the angel Gabriel to Mary that she would bear the Son of God)—the West Syrian sequence starting on November 1, the East Syrian on December 1. There are few saints' days in the Nestorian calendar. The Copts (Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria) (Egyptians) and Ethiopians (Ethiopian Orthodox church) date their year from August 29, considered the beginning of the Christian Era in the persecution of the emperor Diocletian (AD 303–311). They have some 32 feasts of the Virgin Mary and many feasts of angels. The Armenian Church (Armenian Apostolic Church) follows the Byzantine in beginning the year with the preparatory Sundays before Lent, but it commonly observes fixed holy days on the nearest Sunday. It is the only ancient church that never adopted the feast of Christmas on December 25 but celebrates the incarnation only on Epiphany, January 6.Roman Catholic Church (Roman Catholicism)The church year begins on the first Sunday in Advent, which is the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. Until 1969, after Advent and Christmas, there followed the seasons of Epiphany, Pre-Lent, Lent, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost. The first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday, being the 40th day (exclusive of Sundays) before Easter. A special festival of the Holy Trinity occurs on the first Sunday after Pentecost. Corpus Christi (Corpus Christi, Feast of), a feast celebrating the Real Presence of Christ in the bread and wine of the Eucharist (Communion meal, or the Lord's Supper), was instituted in 1264 by Pope Urban IV and is observed on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. In 1925 Pope Pius XI created the Feast of Christ the King (Christ the King, Feast of), assigned to the last Sunday in October.Until 1969, the fixed holy days began with St. Andrew (November 30), the nearest to the beginning of Advent. The three days before Ascension Day, called Minor Rogation Days (“Days of Asking”), are devoted to special prayers for fruitful harvests. Found only in the Roman Catholic Church are the fasts of the four seasons (quatuor tempora), known as Ember Days (Ember Days and Ember Weeks), and especially associated with ordinations to the ministry. They occur on the Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays after the third Sunday of Advent and the first Sunday in Lent, in the week of Pentecost and the week after Holy Cross Day (September 14).A revised calendar was issued by Pope John XXIII in 1960. The “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” of the second Vatican Council (Vatican Council, Second) called for further reforms. These have been completed in the new calendar and lectionary promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969.The most important feature of the new calendar was the restoration of all Sundays as feasts of Christ. No saints' days, even of the Virgin Mary, may take precedence of a Sunday. In the Proper of Time, the season of Pre-Lent was eliminated, and two cycles were provided: (1) the principal seasons, Sundays, and holy days from Advent to Pentecost and (2) a schedule of 33 Sundays per annum to be observed in numbered sequence in place of the Sundays previously designated “after Epiphany” and “after Pentecost.” The ancient Roman Feast of St. Mary was restored to January 1; a new Feast of the Baptism of Christ was assigned to the first Sunday after Epiphany; and the Feast of Christ the King was shifted to the last Sunday of Ordinary Time. All octaves were eliminated. Fixed holy days are now arranged from January 1.A considerable simplification, reclassification, and in many cases shifting of dates were made in the Proper of Saints. Except for 13 “solemnities” (including major feasts of Christ and Mary) and 25 “feasts,” all other saints' days and holy days were reduced to “memorials,” either obligatory or optional—with the right of national and regional episcopal conferences to alter their rank. Ember and Rogation Days were assigned as votive masses to be observed according to regional directives.Regulations regarding holy days and processes leading to the canonization of saints are controlled by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship (formerly the Congregation of Rites). Certain feasts, in addition to all Sundays, are designated “ holy days of obligation,” when all the faithful must attend Mass. In the United States these are: Christmas Day (December 25), the Feast of St. Mary (New Year's Day), Ascension Day, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (August 15), All Saints' Day (November 1), and the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (December 8). In addition to these, “days of obligation” observed elsewhere include: St. Joseph's Day (March 19), the Annunciation (March 25), SS. Peter and Paul Day (June 29), and the Feast of Corpus Christi.Protestant churchesLutheran and Anglican churches preserve in their liturgies the seasons of the Roman Catholic calendar; but in general they reduced the fixed holy days to primary feasts of Christ and the Apostles and evangelists, Michaelmas Day (September 29), and All Saints' Day (November 1). In the second half of the year, Sundays were named “after Trinity.” In the late 20th century the revisions of Lutheran and Anglican service books were influenced by the new designs of the Roman Catholic calendar, notably proposals to eliminate Pre-Lent and to name Sundays “after Pentecost” instead of “after Trinity.” Anglican and Lutheran calendars were also enriching their entries with many non-biblical saints and holy days, but for optional observance. Lutherans celebrate a festival of the Reformation on October 31 or the Sunday preceding that date.In other Protestant churches, only Sunday observance remains obligatory, including Easter and Pentecost. Holy Week is frequently observed, and Christmas is commonly celebrated liturgically on the Sunday preceding December 25. Among these Protestant churches, new service books and hymnals have exhibited interest in recovering the major seasons of the Proper of Time, from Advent to Pentecost, and in some cases the Feast of All Saints. Especially significant was the restoration of the seasons in the Reformed (Presbyterian) and Methodist churches.Many Protestant churches devote Sundays to special themes of a religious, charitable, or civic nature, such as Race Relations, Rural Life, Christian Home, and Labour Sundays. Harvest festivals, common in the Western churches since the Middle Ages, have a distinctive American tradition in Thanksgiving Day, on the fourth Thursday in November. Traditionally held to have originated in the Plymouth (Mass.) colony in 1621, it was first proclaimed a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Ecumenical services, now worldwide, are observed during the Octave or Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, January 18–25—a custom started by Paul James Wattson of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement and developed by Abbé Paul Couturier. The week is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches and the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity.History of the church yearSundayRegular Christian corporate worship on Sundays goes back to the apostolic age, but New Testament writings do not explain how the practice began. Jewish Christians probably kept the Sabbath at the synagogue, then joined their Gentile fellow believers for Christian worship after the close of the sabbath at sundown, either in the evening or early Sunday morning. When the church became predominantly Gentile, Sunday remained as the customary day of worship. Assemblies for the Eucharist were common on Saturday, however, as well as on Sunday in the Eastern churches into the 5th century, and Eastern canons forbade the practice, customary in the Roman Church, of fasting on the sabbath.The term Lord's Day, signifying the triumph of Christ in his Resurrection and the beginning of a new creation, was in use by the end of the 1st century (Revelation 1:10; Didachē 14; Ignatius of Antioch, Magnesians 9:1). Some writers referred to the sabbath as the rest promised to the people of God at the end of time and to Sunday as “the eighth day,” or beginning of a new world (Hebrews 4:4–11; Letter of Barnabas 15).In 321 the Roman emperor Constantine (Constantine I) decreed Sunday to be a legal holiday and forbade all trade and work other than necessary agricultural labour. Later emperors extended the prohibition to include public amusements in the theatre and circus. Church councils of the period were more concerned to enforce the obligation of Sunday worship, the earliest being the Spanish Council of Elvira (Elvira, Council of) (c. 300); but a synod of Laodicea (c. 381) enjoined Christians not to “Judaize” but to work on the sabbath and rest, if possible, on the Lord's Day. The Old Testament commandment of sabbath rest received a spiritual interpretation from the Church Fathers when they applied it to Sunday; e.g., Augustine (Augustine, Saint) of Hippo held that the sabbath rest from servile work meant abstention from sin (compare Tract. in Joannis, Book III, chapter 19; Book XX, chapter 2).A literal application of the sabbath law to Sunday became evident in conciliar canons and civil laws of the Frankish (Frank) kingdoms in the 6th century, climaxed by Charlemagne's (Charlemagne) capitulary adopted by the Council of Aachen, 789 (canon 80). Medieval legislation thereafter repeatedly sought to enforce the “holiday” of Sunday, as also of many other holy days, for the benefit of serfs and labourers.Sabbatarian laws applied to Sunday were also continued by the Protestant (Protestantism) Reformers. The Acts of Uniformity of Edward VI in 1552 and of Elizabeth I in 1559 required all persons to attend worship on Sunday, the latter imposing a fine for neglect to do so. The Church of England's (England, Church of) Canons of 1604 (number 13) make similar provision. Many Puritans (Puritanism) were strongly sabbatarian in sentiment. Some of them referred to Sunday as “the sabbath.” In the Puritan colonies of New England, the so-called Blue Laws (blue law) of Sunday observance were especially severe. Today some states and cities in the United States have statutes restricting certain trades and amusements on Sunday. Church laws continue to insist upon the moral obligation to attend worship every Lord's Day.The Advent (from Latin adventus, “coming”) season is peculiar to the Western churches, though its original impulse probably came from the East, where it was common, after the ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431, to devote sermons on Sundays before Christmas to the theme of the Annunciation. In Ravenna—a channel of Eastern influences upon the Western Church—Peter Chrysologus (Peter Chrysologus, Saint) (reigned c. 433–450) delivered such homilies (sermons). The earliest reference to a season of Advent is the institution by Bishop Perpetuus of Tours (reigned 461–490) of a fast before Christmas, beginning from St. Martin's Day on November 11. Known as St. Martin's Lent, the custom was extended to other Frankish churches by the Council of Mâcon in 581.The six-week season was adopted by the church of Milan and the churches of Spain. At Rome, there is no indication of Advent before the latter half of the 6th century, when it was reduced—probably by Pope Gregory I (Gregory I, Saint) the Great—to four weeks before Christmas. The longer Gallican season left traces in medieval service books, notably the Use of Sarum (Salisbury), extensively followed in England, with its Sunday before Advent. The coming of Christ in his Nativity was overlaid with a second theme, also stemming from Gallican churches, namely, his Second Coming at the end of time. This interweaving of the themes of two advents of Christ gives the season a peculiar tension both of penitence and of joy in expectation of the Lord who is “at hand.”Popular piety in Advent is chiefly devoted to musical and dramatic performances based upon biblical prophecies and stories of the Nativity of Christ. In many homes and churches simple devotions are associated with an Advent evergreen wreath, in which four candles are inserted and lighted, one by one, each week, as a symbol of the coming of the “Light” of the world.The word Christmas is derived from the Old English Cristes maesse, “Christ's Mass.” There is no certain tradition of the date of Christ's birth. Christian chronographers of the 3rd century believed that the creation of the world took place at the spring equinox, then reckoned as March 25; hence the new creation in the incarnation (i.e., the conception) and death of Christ must therefore have occurred on the same day, with his birth following nine months later at the winter solstice, December 25. The oldest extant notice of a feast of Christ's Nativity occurs in a Roman almanac (the Chronographer of 354, or Philocalian Calendar), which indicates that the festival was observed by the church in Rome by the year 336.Many have posited the theory that the feast of Christ's Nativity, the birthday of “the sun of righteousness” (Malachi 4:2), was instituted in Rome, or possibly North Africa, as a Christian rival to the pagan festival of the Unconquered Sun at the winter solstice. This syncretistic cult that leaned toward monotheism had been given official recognition by the emperor Aurelian in 274. It was popular in the armies of the Illyrian (Balkan) emperors of the late 3rd century, including Constantine's father. Constantine himself was an adherent before his conversion to Christianity in 312. There is, however, no evidence of any intervention by him to promote the Christian festival. The exact circumstances of the beginning of Christmas Day remain obscure.From Rome the feast spread to other churches of the West and East, the last to adopt it being the Church of Jerusalem in the time of Bishop Juvenal (reigned 424–458). Coordinated with Epiphany, a feast of Eastern origin commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the world, the celebration of the incarnation of Christ as Redeemer and Light of the world was favoured by the intense concern of the church of the 4th and 5th centuries in formulating creeds and dogmatic definitions relating to Christ's divine and human natures.Christmas is the most popular of all festivals among Christians and many non-Christians alike, and its observance combines many strands of tradition. From the ancient Roman pagan festivals of Saturnalia (December 17) and New Year's come the merrymaking and exchange of presents. Old Germanic midwinter customs have contributed the lighting of the Yule log and decorations with evergreens. The Christmas tree comes from medieval German mystery plays centred in representations of the Tree of Paradise (Genesis 2:9). Francis of Assisi (Francis of Assisi, Saint) popularized the Christmas crib, or crèche, in his celebration at Greccio, Italy, in 1223.Another popular medieval feast was that of St. Nicholas of Myra (Nicholas, Saint) (c. 340) on December 6, when the saint was believed to visit children with admonitions and gifts, in preparation for the gift of the Christ child at Christmas. Through the Dutch the tradition of St. Nicholas (Sinterklaas, hence “Santa Claus”) was brought to America in their colony of New Amsterdam (New York City), now New York. The sending of greeting cards at Christmas (Christmas card) began in Britain in the 1840s and was introduced to the United States in the 1870s.In Hellenistic times an epiphany (from the Greek epiphania, “manifestation”), or appearance of divine power in a person or event, was a common religious concept. The New Testament uses the word to denote the final appearing of Christ at the end of time; but in 2 Timothy 1:10 it refers to his coming as Saviour on earth. In this latter sense, a festival of Christ's epiphany is first attested among heretical Gnostic (Gnosticism) Christians (those who believed that mankind was saved by secret knowledge, not faith, and that matter was evil and the spiritual world good) in Egypt in the late 2nd century (Clement of Alexandria, Strōmateis, Book I, chapter 21), on January 6, when he was manifested as Son of God at his baptism. The date is that of an Egyptian solstice, celebrated by pagans as a time of overflow of the waters of the Nile, and in certain mystery cults as the occasion of the birth of a new eon, or age, from the virgin goddess Kore, daughter of the earth-mother goddess Demeter. In other places of the Middle East, the time was associated with miraculous fountains from which wine flowed in place of water.Nothing more is known of an Epiphany feast until the 4th century, when it appears in the Eastern churches (Eastern Orthodoxy) as a festival second in rank only to Easter. It commemorated three “manifestations”: the birth, the baptism, and the first miracle of the Lord at Cana (John 2:1 ff.). In the latter half of the century Eastern and Western churches adopted each other's incarnation festival, thus establishing the 12-day celebration from Christmas to Epiphany. The particular emphasis in the Eastern feast upon the baptism of Christ led to special liturgical ceremonies of the blessing of waters and the ministration of baptism at this time. In the West, where Christmas was the primary festival, the Epiphany was associated particularly with the Adoration of the Magi to the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:1–12), as anticipation of the universal redemption of Christ in his “Manifestation to the Gentiles.”Pre-LentA season of Pre-Lent, peculiar to the Roman Catholic (Roman Catholicism) rite, was eliminated from that calendar in 1969. It had developed in the 6th century as a time of special supplication for God's protection and defense in a period of great suffering in Italy from war, pestilence, and famine. It was marked by three Sundays before the beginning of Lent, called, respectively, Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima—roughly 70, 60, and 50 days before Easter. Though not included in the discipline of Lenten penitence and fast, the season was related by some authorities to influences from the East, especially upon Roman monastic customs, for a longer Lent of eight weeks.Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday (the initial day of Lent), is in many places a day of carnival, though its name derives from the custom of going to confession for absolution and penance before Lent (from the Middle English word shriven, “to shrive”). A famous carnival is that of Mardi Gras (French: “Fat Tuesday”) in New Orleans.The Lenten (from Middle English lenten, “spring”) season is rooted in the preparation of candidates for baptism at the Paschal vigil. For several weeks they received intensive instruction, each session followed by prayer and exorcism. The earliest detailed account of these ceremonies is in the Apostolic Tradition (c. 200) of Hippolytus. At the conclusion all the faithful joined the catechumens (inquirers for instruction) in a strict fast on the Friday and Saturday before Easter. These were the days “when the Bridegroom was taken away” (compare Mark 2:20).As a 40-day period (six weeks) Lent is mentioned in canon 5 of the first ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325. In the 4th century instruction of the baptismal candidates was normally given by the bishop. Several such “catechetical lectures” on the creed and sacraments have survived, notably those of Cyril of Jerusalem and Theodore of Mopsuestia. Augustine's treatise De catechizandis rudibus (c. 400) gave a less dogmatic and more biblical and historical approach. The Roman Church organized its instruction around three (later seven) “scrutinies,” at which the catechumens were introduced to the Gospels, the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer.Since Sunday was never a fast (fasting) day, piety sought to conform the Lenten fast exactly to 40 days, after the examples of the 40 days in the wilderness of Moses, Elijah, and Christ. In the Eastern churches, where Saturdays were also excluded from fasting, this developed into an eight-week Lent. At Rome, from the late 5th century, the fast began on Wednesday before the first Sunday in Lent.During Lent also, grievous sinners were excluded from Communion and prepared for their restoration. As a sign of their penitence, they wore sackcloth and were sprinkled with ashes (Tertullian, De paenitentia 11; compare the biblical precedents: Jeremiah 6:26; Jonah 3:6; Matthew 11:21). This form of public penance began to die out in the 9th century. At the same time, it became customary for all the faithful to be reminded of the need for penitence by receiving an imposition of ashes on their foreheads on the first day of Lent—hence the name Ash Wednesday.The last week of Lent was one of special devotion in remembrance of the Lord's Passion. Athanasius in his Festal Letter of 330 called it “holy Paschal week.” The Church of Jerusalem in particular organized dramatic ceremonies during the week at appropriate holy sites of its neighbourhood. A detailed description is contained in the account of a Spanish nun (c. 395), Peregrinatio ad loca sancta (or Peregrinatio Etheriae). From Jerusalem many of these ceremonies, such as the Palm Sunday procession and the Good Friday veneration of the cross, spread to other churches.The Roman Catholic liturgy of Holy Week begins with the blessing of palms and a procession on Sunday, with a solemn rendition of St. Matthew's Passion narrative at the mass. On Thursday the bishop blesses the sacred oils for the catechumens and the sick and the chrism (oil) for confirmation, and, in ancient times, penitents were reconciled for their Easter Communion. After a festal mass commemorating the institution of the Eucharist, the altars are stripped and washed. An additional ceremony, of medieval origin, has given its name to this day—the washing of feet (foot washing), in imitation of the Lord's action at the Last Supper (John 13:2–15). It is popularly called the Maundy (Maundy Thursday), from the anthem sung during the ceremony (Mandatum, “a new commandment,” John 13:34).Another medieval custom, which has had a popular revival in the late 20th century, is the service of Tenebrae, held on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, in the evening. It is the old choir office of Matins and Lauds, originally sung before dawn and marked by the gradual extinguishing of candles before the breaking of the light of day.On Good Friday (the day commemorating the Crucifixion of Christ), the Mass of the Presanctified (Presanctified, Liturgy of the) is observed. Its name is derived from the fact that there is no consecration of the sacred elements of bread and wine; instead, Communion is ministered from the Reserved Sacrament (consecrated elements retained from previous celebrations). Other features are the singing of the Passion according to John, the impressive series of intercessions, and the adoration of the cross with singing of the Reproaches and the hymn “Pange lingua” (“Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle”). Following the Communion and dismissal of the people, there are no further liturgical rites other than the daily choir offices until the vigil of Easter.The term Easter, commemorating the Resurrection of Christ, comes from the Old English ēaster or ēastre, a festival of spring; the Greek and Latin Pascha, from the Hebrew Pesaḥ, “Passover.” The earliest Christians celebrated the Lord's Passover at the same time as the Jews, during the night of the first (paschal) full moon of the first month of spring (Nisan 14–15). By the middle of the 2nd century most churches had transferred this celebration to the Sunday after the Jewish feast. But certain churches of Asia Minor clung to the older custom, for which they were denounced as “Judaizing” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book V, chapters 23–25). The first ecumenical Council of Nicaea (Nicaea, Council of) in 325 decreed that all churches should observe the feast together on a Sunday. Yet many disparities remained in the way the several churches calculated the date of Easter. Today the Eastern churches follow the Julian calendar, the Western churches its correction by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, so that in some years there may be a month's difference in the time of celebration.Since 1900, various religious, business, and professional groups have promoted the concept of a fixed world calendar, which would include a fixed date for Easter. Proposals have been placed before the League of Nations and its successor, the United Nations. The second Vatican Council in its “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” (1963) accepted the principle of a fixed date for Easter, subject to approval by other churches, provided that no world calendar impaired the regular succession of a seven-day week. The World Council of Churches in the early 1970s canvased its member bodies to this end, and a large majority replied in favour of such a change. An Easter message of Athenagoras I, the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, in 1969, called for a resolution of the differences between the Eastern and Western churches and a search for a common date. Among those preferring a fixed date for the observance of Easter—regardless of the issue respecting a common world calendar—the second Sunday in April has been widely proposed.The Easter celebration continues for 50 days, to and including the Feast of Pentecost. In the early church, as on all Sundays, there was no fasting or kneeling in prayer during the period.The liturgy began with a solemn vigil on Saturday evening. A new fire was lit for the blessing of the Paschal candle (the Exultet)—symbol of the driving away of the powers of darkness and death by the Passover of the Lord. There followed a series of lessons from the Old Testament, with a homily based upon the narrative of Exodus 12. Then, toward midnight, while the faithful were engaged in prayers, candidates for baptism were taken to the baptistery for their initiation. Returning to the assembly, they were confirmed by the bishop with chrism and the laying on of hands, and toward dawn the Easter Eucharist was completed. A similar celebration was repeated on the eve of Pentecost for those who were hindered from receiving baptism at Easter.As at Christmas, so also at Easter, popular customs reflect many ancient pagan survivals—in this instance, connected with spring fertility rites, such as the symbols of the Easter egg and the Easter hare or rabbit. The Easter lamb, however, comes from the Jewish Passover ritual, as applied to Christ, “the Lamb of God” (compare John 1:29, 36; 1 Corinthians 5:7).At first, the church commemorated the Ascension (from the Latin ascensio, “ascent”) of Christ into heaven, after his Resurrection (Luke 24:50–51; Acts 1:1–11), as part of the total victory of Christ celebrated from Easter to Pentecost. A special feast of the Ascension is not mentioned before the 4th century. The Spanish Council of Elvira (Elvira, Council of) (c. 300) appears to have rejected it as an unwarranted innovation. But by the end of the 4th century the feast had become universal in the church, on the 40th day after Easter.The old English popular name for the feast is Holy Thursday, but there is no liturgical tradition to support the idea of an “Ascensiontide” as a season distinct from Easter. From the 10th century there developed an “octave” of Ascension, adopted at Rome in the 12th century but suppressed in 1955. The three days before Ascension Day, known as Minor Rogation Days, were instituted by Bishop Mamertus of Vienne (Gaul) in 470 and extended to all the Frankish churches at the Council of Orléans in 511. Pope Leo III (Leo III, Saint) (reigned 795–816) adopted them at Rome. They are observed by processional litanies and fasting as a supplication for clement weather for the crops and deliverance from pestilence and famine. In 1969 the Minor Rogation Days were changed to votive masses.The Jews had an early harvest festival seven weeks after the firstfruit offerings of Passover, called the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot). The Priestly Code (Leviticus 23:15–16) assigned it to “the morrow after the seventh sabbath”—which would be a Sunday. Early rabbinic tradition (Babylonian Talmud, Pesaḥim 68b) associated the festival with the giving of the Law at Sinai, on the basis of Exodus 19:1.The Christian festival of Pentecost (from the Greek pentecoste, “50th day”), unlike Easter, is not rooted in Judaism but is based upon the narrative of Acts 2, recording the gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples and the launching of the church's mission to all peoples on the Pentecost that followed the Lord's Resurrection. The outpouring of the Spirit was the final seal upon Christ's redemptive work, a sign of the inauguration of the new age when the Law was fulfilled and the way to salvation opened to the Gentile peoples. For this reason the early Christians considered Pentecost to be included in, but climactic of, the great “50 days” of Easter. Pentecost was in fact the name commonly given by the early Fathers to the whole season.As early as the 5th century, baptisms were administered at Pentecost to those unable to be initiated at Easter, and a vigil rite was developed comparable to that of the Pascha (Leo the Great, Letters 16; Leonine and Gelasian sacramentaries). The Anglo-Saxons called the feast White Sunday (Whitsunday), from the white garments bestowed upon the newly baptized (compare Bede, Ecclesiastical History, Book II, chapter 9; Penitential of Archbishop Theodore of Tarsus). The term Whitsunday has been customary in the Anglican churches since the First Prayer Book of Edward VI (1549).Pentecost or Trinity SeasonThe Sundays after Pentecost mark the season of the life of the church between the two advents of Christ as it fulfills its mission to the world under the guidance of the Spirit. Bishop Stephen of Liège (reigned 902–920) instituted a Feast of the Holy Trinity (Holy Trinity, Feast of the) on the first Sunday after Pentecost, which spread through northern Europe. It was taken up in the Use of Sarum and was accepted at Rome in 1334 by Pope John XXII. It became common to date the Sundays after this feast, instead of after Pentecost, as in the Roman liturgy, and this practice was followed by the Carthusians and the Dominicans and in the Lutheran and Anglican (Anglicanism) churches.Saints' (saint) days and other holy daysThe celebration of days in honour of the saints or “heroes of the faith” is an extension of the devotion paid to Christ, since they are commemorated for the virtues in life and death that derive from his grace and holiness. Originally each local church had its own calendar. Standardization came with the fixation of the rites of the great patriarchal sees, which began in the 4th century and was completed for the Byzantine churches in the 9th century. The Roman calendar of the Gregorian Sacramentary became the basis of the Western Church's observances with the liturgical reform of Charlemagne (c. 800), but it was constantly supplemented throughout the Middle Ages by new additions from diocesan or provincial areas. It was not until 1634 that the Roman see gained complete control over the veneration and canonization of saints in the Roman Catholic churches subject to its jurisdiction.Before the toleration of the Christian Church under Constantine (AD 312), the several churches commemorated only their martyrs (martyr), on the anniversaries of their deaths, commonly called their natale, or birthdays, with rites similar to those of Easter. By giving up life for their faith, often after cruel tortures, the martyrs were the supreme examples of the imitation of Christ. The earliest attested institution of such an anniversary is recorded in the Martyrdom of Polycarp of Smyrna (c. 155). The oldest Roman calendar of the martyrs reaches only to the beginning of the 3rd century and includes the joint martyrdom of the church's apostolic founders saints Peter and Paul (June 29), a feast apparently instituted in the year 258.After the age of the martyrs, the calendars continued to be enriched by entries of eminent bishops, teachers, ascetics, and missionaries. Other new feasts were associated with the transfer of the relics of saints to sumptuous shrines or churches dedicated in their honour. A precedent of great influence was the feast of dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (or Anastasis, “resurrection”) at Jerusalem, on Sept. 14, 335, where the discovered tomb and cross of Christ (Jesus Christ) were enshrined on the supposed site of his victory over death. The feast is popularly called Holy Cross Day (Holy Cross, Exaltation of the). From the 4th to the 6th century many “inventions” or discoveries of relics were produced and fictitious “Acts” written to promote the cults of apostles, evangelists, and hitherto unknown martyrs of earlier times.In the late 4th century a feast of All Martyrs was observed by the East Syrians on May 13 and by the West Syrians and Byzantines on the Sunday after Pentecost. Pope Boniface IV (Boniface IV, Saint) received from the emperor Phocas (reigned 602–610) the Pantheon at Rome, which he dedicated on May 13 to St. Mary and All Martyrs. The Feast of All Saints (All Saints' Day) at Rome on November 1 was promulgated by Pope Gregory IV in 835, in place of the May festival. Some authorities believe this festival to be of Irish origin; others relate it to a chapel of All Saints in St. Peter's Basilica established by Pope Gregory III (reigned 731–741).Liturgical feasts in honour of Mary—related to the incarnation cycle—developed in the East after the third ecumenical Council of Ephesus (Ephesus, councils of) in 431, where she was declared to be Theotokos (“God-bearer”). At Rome the earliest special commemoration was on the Octave of Christmas, but Pope Sergius I (Sergius I, Saint) (reigned 687–701), an Easterner, introduced to Rome her four major feasts: her Nativity (September 8); Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (February 2, with its procession of candles—hence “Candlemas”); Annunciation (March 25); and Assumption (August 15).Liturgical coloursThe early Christians had no system of colours associated with the seasons, nor do the Eastern Churches to this day have any rules or traditions in this matter. The Roman emperor Constantine gave Bishop Macarius of Jerusalem a “sacred robe . . . fashioned with golden threads” for use at baptisms (Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History, Book II, chapter 23). Toward the end of the 4th century, references are made to shining white garments worn by celebrants at the Eucharist (Apostolic Constitutions, Book VIII, chapter 12; Jerome, Dialogi contra Pelagianos, Book I, chapter 29). Inventories of Frankish churches in the 9th century reveal a variety of colours used for vestments, but without any particular sequence for their use; but the Ordo of St. Amand of the same period refers specifically to dark vestments at the major litanies and black ones at the Feast of Purification (February 2).The modern colour sequence of the Roman Catholic Church (Roman Catholicism) was first outlined in Pope Innocent III's (Innocent III) treatise De sacro altaris mysterio (Book I, chapter 65, written before his election as pope in 1198), though some variations are admitted. White, as a symbol of purity, is used on all feasts of the Lord (including Maundy Thursday and All Saints') and feasts of confessors and virgins. Red is used at Pentecost, recalling the fiery tongues that descended upon the Apostles when they received the Holy Spirit, and also at feasts of the Holy Cross, Apostles, and martyrs, as symbol of their bloody passions (sufferings and deaths). Black is used as a symbol of mourning on days of fasting and penitence and at commemorations of the departed—but violet, symbolizing the mitigation of black, is allowed during Advent and Lent. Green is used on other days, without special significance, as a compromise colour distinguished from white, red, and black. Innocent's symbolism is based upon allegorical (symbolic) interpretations of colours and flowers mentioned in Scripture, especially in the Song of Solomon.In the later Middle Ages other colours were used in various churches, such as blue for certain feasts of the Virgin Mary, and rose (a mitigation of violet) on the third Sunday in Advent and the fourth Sunday in Lent. The missal of Pope Pius V in 1570 prescribed the sequence of Innocent III, with rose on the two Sundays mentioned. In 1868 the Congregation of Rites allowed the use of gold vestments in place of white, red, and green. Medieval English uses showed much variation, but the predominant principle was use of the finest vestments, of whatever colour, on great feasts, and others on lesser days of importance. In the Use of Sarum, white, red, and blue were the primary colours; but in Lent an unbleached cloth was customary, changing to deep red during the two weeks before Easter.Anglican (Anglicanism) and Lutheran (Lutheranism) churches have in recent times generally followed the Roman (Roman Catholicism) sequence, although some Anglican churches have restored the colours of the Use of Sarum. In the liturgical experiments since World War II, the sequences and symbolism inherited from the Middle Ages are being abandoned, and a greater freedom is evident in paraments (vestments and hangings), with increasing variety and combinations of colours, especially on festal occasions.Additional ReadingLouis Duchesne, Christian Worship: Its Origin and Evolution, 5th ed. (1919, reprinted 1956; originally published in French, 4th rev. and enl. ed., 1908), ch. 8, is fundamental but should be supplemented by later handbooks, such as J.A. Jungmann, Public Worship (1957, reissued 1966; originally published in German, 1955), ch. 9; and John H. Miller, Fundamentals of the Liturgy (1960, reprinted 1964), ch. 8. Good summary accounts are those of Noële M. Denis-boulet, The Christian Calendar (1960; originally published in French, 1959); A. Alan McArthur, The Evolution of the Christian Year (1953); and Adolf Adam, The Liturgical Year: Its History & Its Meaning After the Reform of the Liturgy (1981), basic for present Roman Catholic use. Thomas J. Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year (1986), is a fresh reading of the early evidence. More popular treatments, valuable for their detail of popular observance, are the works of Francis X. Weiser, The Christmas Book (1952, reissued 1954), The Easter Book (1954), The Holyday Book (1956), and Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs: The Year of the Lord in Liturgy and Folklore (1958). See also Sue Samuelson, Christmas: An Annotated Bibliography (1982). Insights into primitive and non-Christian backgrounds of the church year are contained in Mircea Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return (1954, reprinted 1974; originally published in French, 1949); and E.O. James, Seasonal Feasts and Festivals (1961, reprinted 1963). For Jewish background, see Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions (1961, reissued 1973; originally published in French, 2 vol., 1958–60), pt. 4, ch. 15–18. A standard monograph on the origin of the seven-day week is F.H. Colson, The Week (1926, reprinted 1974). Eviatar Zerubavel, The Seven Day Circle: The History and Meaning of the Week (1985), is a comprehensive historical, cultural, and sociological study. More exhaustive and detailed is Willy Rordorf, Sunday: The History of the Day of Rest and Worship in the Earliest Centuries of the Christian Church (1968; originally published in German, 1962). For historical discussions of Holy Week and Easter, see Massey H. Shepherd, Jr., The Paschal Liturgy and the Apocalypse (1960); and John Walton Tyrer, Historical Survey of Holy Week: Its Services and Ceremonial (1932). Clarence Seidenspinner, Great Protestant Festivals (1952), defends nontraditional observances in modern Protestant churches.The Rev. Massey H. Shepherd, Jr.
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