The Liturgical Seasons of the Church remind us that we are in the world, but not of the world. We desire to be a people who are guided by God, not the other way around. We accomplish this by letting our tradition and liturgy order our lives as a reminder that God is our Lord and we are to follow his guidance.
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church follows a calendar based on what the Book of Common Prayer refers to as “The One Holy Catholic (meaning “Universal”) and Apostolic Church.” What this means to those of us at worship is that St. Mary’s abides by long-respected, Scriptural based divisions in the year that aid us in our communal observances of important Christian celebrations and rituals.
Advent: We consider the four-week season of Advent, which leads into Christmas and the remembrance of Christ’s birth, as the beginning of the Church Year. “Advent” means arrival or emergence, and these weeks allow our congregation to prepare for the great wonder of His incarnation in human form. It is a time to slow down, be quiet, and meditate about the the promise that God made to his people, fulfilled in Jesus Christ. This season’s usual color is “royal purple“, so called because once-costly purple dye signified power and royalty. At St. Mary’s we use the alternative “Sarum blue“, a tradition from Salisbury Cathedral in England, because blue is also the color of Mary.
Christmas: At Christmas, we proclaim God’s unique nature: He did not remain apart from us, but chose to fully enter into our lives as a human being. After the last Sunday of Advent, the first service of the Christmas Season is Christmas Eve, with others offered on Christmas Day and Epiphany Sunday, the 12th and final day of the season. The Christmas season is signified liturgically with the color white for purity, joy, and hope, although secular red and green notes are generally offered in altar and church floral displays.
Epiphany: The word “Epiphany” means to make something clear, and the Church’s third season is about making God known. The Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord falls on the first Sunday after the annual January 6th Epiphany, and marks the season’s theme as baptism, a chance to renew our lives in the church. Epiphany ends on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Its traditional color is green, reminding us of spiritual growth following Christ’s birth.
Lent: Christ’s adult life included teaching, which challenged the people and institutions around him. In Lent, we are meant to walk in His path and consider challenges in our regular lives. Beginning with Ash Wednesday, when some of us choose to be marked on the forehead with ashes signifying our mortality and penitence, we observe 40 days (Sundays, always being feast days, are excluded) of reflection, introspection, and penitence. Purple is commonly seen in the season of Lent as the color represents penitence and expectation. Like the season of Advent, we follow the alternative custom of “unbleached muslin“.
Holy Week: Between Lent and Easter comes Passion Tide, or Holy Week. It begins on Palm Sunday, when we remember Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem and impending death. Next comes Maundy Thursday, “maundy” being an ancient word for “mandate,” referring to the foot washing done to signify humility and Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples. Good Friday, the most solemn day of the Church year, marks the death of Our Lord on the cross, while Holy Saturday is a day of waiting for Him to exit the tomb and resolve our lives in His grace.
Easter: At the first “Alleluia!” of Easter as the sun rises during the Great Vigil, we begin a season of light and joy. The lights come on, the altar and church are adorned with flowers, and we celebrate together for 50 days with the color white and uplifting liturgies, lessons, gospels, and sermons. The Paschal Candle burns continuously during Easter season to remind us that Christ is the Light of the World. Another service note: The confession of sin is not used in the first week, because God has brought us full circle from Ash Wednesday into new life, delivering us from the old life of sin to new life in Christ.
Pentecost: After the drama of moving from Advent to Easter, how should we take God’s story and His Word out into the world? Christ’s disciples wondered this, too, and spent 50 days waiting, praying, and considering until the Day of Pentecost when God’s Holy Spirit came to them and anointed them ambassadors of the faith. After almost half a year of learning and celebrating, this Church season reminds us of our duty to share God’s word and love. Red is the color of Pentecost that symbolizes fire and blood.
Season after Pentecost: From the start of June to the end of November, Christians live in the “Season after Pentecost” or “Ordinary Time,” following Pentecost and Trinity Sunday. During this long, important season, the color green reminds us of growth–growth in God’s creation at all levels, from the smallest blade of grass to the greatest saint’s soul. Christians meet, worship, pray, commune, and celebrate throughout Ordinary Time as imperfect people in an imperfect world that they know is being redeemed through Christ’s love and grace.
Liturgical Calendars are available at the St. Mary’s church office.