Liturgical Seasons of the Church Year

At St. John we follow the ancient and historic liturgical calendar common to many Christians – Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and other Protestants. Divided into halves, the first half observes and celebrates the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The second half of the year is devoted to the witness and ministry of the Church.

Advent – Christmas – Epiphany

This three-part liturgical cycle forms a unity of three distinct seasons of the church year.

Advent begins the church year on the four Sundays before Christmas. It is a time of waiting, preparations for the coming of Christ once in history, now in the present, and again in a future time. An Advent wreath of four candles marks the length and progress of the season. The liturgical color is blue for hope and expectation.

Christmas is the twelve-day season following Advent. From Christmas Eve through the Twelfth Day the season rejoices that God has come among us. The responses to this news are also considered. The color is white.

Epiphany is always on January 6th. The Sundays after that date reveal the nature of who Jesus was and is to the faithful.

Lent – Easter – Pentecost

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, a season of 40 days (not counting Sundays) before Easter. Ashes made by burning some palm branches from the previous year are applied to the foreheads of worshippers to remind them of their mortality. The days of Lent are then a season of reflection, repentance and renewal in preparation for Holy Week and Easter. The Lenten color is purple.

Holy Week  begins with the Sunday of the Passion (Palm Sunday) by remembering Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and his passion and death on the cross.

The Great Three Days are the three days immediately before Easter:

  • Maundy Thursday is the first of the Three Days. The name Maundy comes from the new commandment (mandatum in Latin) of Jesus, love one another. (John 13:34.) The lesson of Jesus is recalled in foot-washing. After the Holy Communion the altar is stripped in preparation for Good Friday.
  • Good Friday recalls the death of Jesus on the cross. The liturgy is quiet, the prayers of the faithful are comprehensive. The service closes with a procession of the cross, and worshippers leave in silence.
  • Holy Saturday is a day of waiting and yearning until evening when the Easter Vigil is celebrated. A service of light, readings, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. It is the first Easter liturgy celebrated in the darkness of Easter Eve.

Easter is the celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord and is a season of seven Sundays. A week of weeks is given to this most important season of the church year. The color of Easter is white.

Pentecost marks the fiftieth day of the Easter season, and the fulfillment of Easter is celebrated at Pentecost. The promised counselor comes to the faithful on Pentecost and the church rejoices that God’s mission in Jesus is for all the world’s people. The color of Pentecost is Red.

Time after Pentecost

Sundays after Pentecost (also called Ordinary Time, because the Sundays have ordinal numbers – first, second, third, etc.) are the days from Pentecost until the Church Year begins anew with Advent.  The number of Sundays in this season varies (depending on the date of Easter), but the season generally runs from June until November.  The season focuses on growth and life, and the color for most of the Sundays is green.  There are several major festivals celebrated during this season:

Holy Trinity is the first Sunday after Pentecost. This festive day announces the ways God has been revealed – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The color for Holy Trinity is white.

Reformation Sunday is the last Sunday in October and commemorates Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517.  The day is a celebration of the distinctive beliefs that make us Lutheran, but it also grieves for the brokenness of the Church.  The color for Reformation Sunday is red.

All Saints Sunday celebrates the communion of saints, the belief that the Church extends to all times and places.  The visible church is only a part of the Body of Christ, which includes Christians who have lived in the past.  The color for All Saints Sunday is white.

Christ the King Sunday is the final Sunday of the Church Year.  It focuses on Christ’s dominion over all of creation, a dominion acquired not by power or violence but through love and service.  The color for Christ the King Sunday is white.