The Liturgical Year Reminds Us of What is Truly Important

It is now the season of Lent: a season of starting over, or spiritual renewal, and of preparation for Easter. As Catholics, our lives follow the liturgical year: the Church’s calendar of seasons and holy days.

The liturgical year reminds us of what is truly important. Sundays remind us that our first duty is to worship God and the greatest form of worship is the Mass. The seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, the Sacred Paschal Tridium, and Easter remind us of Jesus’ Incarnation, death, and Resurrection and His great love for us. The days that honor Mary remind us that she is our mother in our life of faith. The days that honor the saints remind us that we, too, are called to be saints. The days that honor the angels (the memorial of the Holy Guardian Angels and the feast of the Archangels) remind us that there are angels appointed by God to protect us and help us in our journey to Heaven.

The liturgical year begins with Advent and concludes with the solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Sunday, the first day of the week, is the Lord’s Day and a holy day. Advent is the time of preparation for Christmas. The Christmas season includes the feast of the Holy Family, the Epiphany of the Lord, and the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Christmas is followed by Ordinary Time, (in Latin, “tempus per annum” or “time throughout the year”) commemorating events in the life of Jesus and His teachings. Then, the six weeks of prayer and penance before Easter begins with the First Sunday of Lent. Holy Thursday through Easter Vigil are the three days of the Sacred Paschal Tridium. There are fifty days in the Easter season, including the Ascension of the Lord, and Pentecost, which celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the Church. Ordinary Time resumes after Pentecost, until the First Sunday of Advent begins a new liturgical year.

The word holiday is derived from the Old English word for holy day. Sunday is the most important holy day and is a holy day of obligation, a day when Catholics are to participate at Mass, refrain from work (unless there is a legitimate excuse), spend time with their families, and do the works of mercy. I think we should see them as holy days of celebration. The six holy days of obligation in the United States are the solemnities of Mary, Mother of God, on January 1; Ascension Thursday, forty days after Easter; the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15; All Saints Day, on November 1; the Immaculate Conception of Mary, on December 8; and the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, on December 25. Although the various holy days in the Church are commonly called “feast days” (from the word “festus” meaning “joy” in Latin), there are actually different levels of holy days. Solemnities are the most important days and include the Gloria and Creed at Mass; feast days honor some titles of Jesus and the Blessed Mother, the Apostles, the Evangelists, and some saints of the early Church; and memorials and optional memorials usually honor the saints.

Each season and many of the holy days have familiar hymns that we sing at Mass, and familiar symbols. The different seasons and feast days are symbolized by colors: violet for Advent and Lent (except for Gaudete Sunday in Advent and Laetare Sunday in Lent, which use the color rose); green for Ordinary Time; red for Pentecost, on days that recall Jesus’s suffering and death, such as the Exultation of the Holy Cross, Palm Sunday, and Good Friday, and on days that honor martyrs; and white for joyful feast days in the life of Jesus, feast days of the Blessed Mother, of angels, and of saints who are not martyred. There are other signs of the seasons and feast days, such as the Paschal Candle at Easter and the Creche at Christmas. While radio stations may start playing Christmas carols and on Thanksgiving or earlier, we don’t sing Christmas carols in church until Christmas or Easter hymns until Easter. Each season in the calendar is not rushed; much like the seasons of the year, they gradually proceed, and then end just before the new season begins.

The Church has many traditions such as lighting an Advent wreath during the season of Advent and having processions on the feast of Corpus Christi. There are many ways to celebrate special feast days: with parties, pilgrimages, processions, sending cards, and preparing special meals. Through the years, I have enjoyed special celebrations of different feast days in the Church’s calendar. Some memorable occasions include: seeing some of the members of the Priests of the Sacred Heart in England renew their vows during Mass on the feast of the Sacred Heart; witnessing two of my friends being received into the Church at the Easter Vigil Mass; attending birthday parties for the Blessed Mother, given by one of my friends; going on a beautiful procession through a nearby city on the feast of Corpus Christi ; attending Mass at a Franciscan chapel on the feast days for some of the saints of the Franciscan order; and making the consecration to Mary with a group of other Catholics after a special Mass on the feast of the Immaculate Conception.  

The Church’s liturgical calendar gives me great joy. It is part of my culture as a Catholic, it is something that I share with my friends and relatives, and it reminds me that each day is special. Many Catholic families come up with creative ways to celebrate the different feast days and seasons. I think the greatest way we can celebrate is to participate at Mass. There, we can listen to the Scripture passages and a homily pertaining to the feast day, worship with other Catholics who are also celebrating this special day, and most importantly, receive the Blessed Sacrament.

The liturgical year brings a sense of tradition and stability into our lives because the same seasons and holy days come every year, no matter what else may occur. Even though modern life is fast-paced and constantly changing, the Church’s calendar gives us a sense of continuity. It also connects us to other Catholics worldwide who are celebrating the same holy day and to the saints who once celebrated these days on earth.

The Church’s calendar reminds us that a day is not just twenty-four hours in which to work and do errands. It is something much more. Each day is a gift, an opportunity to grow closer to God and to one another. Our awareness of sacred time transforms our days.

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Louise Merrie is a freelance writer on Catholic subjects. Her articles have been published in Catholic Life, Novena Magazine, and the Saint Austin Review. She is the founder of the Community of Mary, Mother of Mercy, an organization in which senior priests and Catholic laity support each other through prayer and friendship in living as disciples of Jesus.

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