The Church of England like many other Christian denominations follows a seasonal pattern to the year in terms of its services and celebrations. Admittedly there are many different levels at which churches engage with these traditions, even within the Anglican Communion, but we at St Mary’s are pretty well wedded to the seasons, festivals and colours that this offers for our worship.
The Beginning of the Year - Advent
The start of the Church Year is Advent Sunday and so falls in late November or early December. This period is one in which we look forward to the arrival of Christ, both as the Christ child at Christmas, but also in terms of His coming again in triumph to save the world. The colour of Advent is purple, usually associated with penitence. John the Baptist, the one who announced and prepared for Christ’s ministry, as well as calling for repentance, is a large part of this season. It is a time for preparing ourselves for the arrival of God’s Son.
The First Great Festival - Christmas
Most of us know that Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s birth; His arrival as a human being upon the earth. This is a time of celebration in Church – and the colours reflect this celebration: white or more commonly gold. The season of Christmas is often said to last for twelve days but ends with a further season of celebration, again marked with the colours white or gold – namely Epiphany.
The Celebration continues - Epiphany
Epiphany is a season of revelation, beginning with us recalling the visit of the Magi, or Wise men to the baby Jesus; a part of the story of Christ’s birth that is often intimately associated with the season of Christmas. The season of joyful celebration begun at Christmas is continued throughout Epiphany in which further events in the life of the infant Christ are remembered. This ends on the 2nd of February with Candlemas, also known as the Feast of the Presentation, where we commemorate Christ being taken to the Temple in Jerusalem by His parents Mary and Joseph, but more particularly perhaps where His presence in the world as “a light to lighten the Gentiles” is announced by Simeon.
Preparing again - Lent
Depending upon when Easter falls, the next period of time in the Church year may be what is known as Ordinary Time (see later) or it may be Lent. Like Advent Lent is a time of penitence and preparation, and the colour is once again purple. Ash Wednesday begins this season where we mark our heads with the sign of the cross in ash and remember our need to be sorry and receive forgiveness. Often Lent is a time that Christians turn to Christ through purposeful efforts to study the Bible and pray. During Lent the Church is kept sparse and undecorated and as we get closer to Easter itself we begin to anticipate the story of Christ’s suffering and death during Passiontide and Holy Week.
Nearly Easter – Holy Week
During Holy Week we mark Christ’s journey to the cross, beginning with His entry into Jerusalem in triumph on Palm Sunday, then the Last Supper and His arrest on Maundy Thursday, before the crucifixion on Good Friday. The solemn feelings of this day continue into Easter Eve, the Saturday before Easter Sunday when Christ was in the tomb.
The Second Great Festival - Easter
Easter Day is the day that we remember Christ conquering death and bursting from the tomb in triumph! Naturally a time of celebration this - and indeed the rest of the season of Easter - is marked by the colour white, or gold. Easter is a full seven week period of joy at the rising of Jesus in glory. On the fortieth day Christ’s ascension into heaven is celebrated in particular. The arrival of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (when the Church is decked in red – the colour of the Holy Spirit) completes and crowns the Easter festival.
Unless there was a short period of Ordinary time before Lent, this period for the church begins here, usually around June and continuing all the way into October. Despite the name this is no Ordinary Time, as here through the readings of the period we delve more deeply into the ministry of Jesus Himself during His time on Earth. The colour of Ordinary Time is green. During this long period in the Church year there are however many occasional celebrations of particular aspects of our Christian lives and faith, such as Trinity Sunday, and commonly Harvest.
The End of the Year
All Saints Day and All Souls Day at the start of November mark the beginning of our looking toward the next new Church Year. Often there is a change in colour to red. Remembrance Sunday falls in this period, and the season ends with the Feast of Christ the King – such that the year that began with the hope of the coming Messiah, ends with the proclamation of His universal sovereignty. The Sunday after this is Advent Sunday once again and so the cycle begins and continues!