Highlights of the Liturgical Year
Worship at Christ Church Cathedral expresses the Anglican tradition of “liturgy in the beauty of holiness” in a variety of ways. Services are faithful to the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer centered on Sunday’s Eucharist, the “sacrament of the Holy Communion,” and range from quiet spoken-services to grand choral festivals, from solemn Evensongs to informal Spanish celebrations. We invite you to join in celebrating together this life that God has given us.
Seasons of the Incarnation
Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany celebrate the mystery of Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God, the Word of God incarnate.
The Advent Season
The Christian year and the cycle of readings and services for each year in the Liturgy begins with the First Sunday of Advent.
Advent means the “coming” or the “entry,” and prepares for the Coming of Christ and for the coming of Christmas.
There are four Advent Sundays before Christmas, and each week of Advent reminds us of a different coming of Christ. In week one we begin with the end, the mystery of the final Coming of Christ the King, the risen Lord, who will judge the living and the dead at the end of time. Then the first coming of Jesus as the “Christ,” the “messiah” foretold by the Old Testament prophets to God’s people Israel. The scriptures for the third week of Advent tell of the work of St. John the Baptist, the fore-runner who prepared the way for Jesus. Finally the last Sunday of Advent is always devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of God, our Savior Jesus Christ, and the story of the annunciation of his birth.
Advent is celebrated by special festival services of “Advent Lessons and Carols” and with an “Advent Wreath” lighted daily in churches and homes in honor of the season.
During Advent, St. Nicholas day, on December 6th, remembers Nicholas, bishop of Myra and one of the Church fathers who is also the patron saint of children, young people, and travelers, known to us as Santa Claus.
Advent is a time of meditative preparation and fast. Keeping Advent as a preparation and expectation — in contrast to the commercial “holidays” — makes the actual celebration of Christmas Day more joyful and climactic.
The Christmas season is the celebration of the Incarnation, and answers the question “who is Jesus Christ?” Christmas proclaims Jesus the Incarnate Word, “the Word of God made flesh and dwelling among us,” that God himself came among us in the life of Jesus, to reveal his love and bring us home through his own life lived for us, and that in Jesus all that we are as human beings and all that God is, are joined for our salvation.
The birth of Jesus Christ is celebrated on Christmas Day, the Feast of the Nativity. Christmas Eve is a festive Vigil preparing and climaxes in the Midnight Mass, the first Eucharist of Christmas. Christmas Day proclaims the Virgin Birth of Jesus, truly human born of Mary yet truly God from God. Christmas is one of the four “principal feasts” of the Christian year.
There are Twelve Days of Christmas, each day is part of the Feast; the crèche and Christmas tree should be kept through the whole feast if possible, until January 6.
During Christmas fall special days. St. Stephen’s day commemorates Stephen the first martyr, the first to give his life for Christ; St. John’s, John the “beloved disciple,” gives thanks for all who share the gospel of Christ and are friends with God; Holy Innocents’ remembers all the innocent suffering of the world; and finally on January 1, Holy Name day celebrates the giving of the name of Jesus to the holy Child, as each new year begins.
Twelfth Night, the eve of the Epiphany, ends the Christmas season, and is a night for celebration, feasts, and presents.
“Epiphany” means “to reveal or to show.” The Epiphany season celebrates “the revealing of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
The Feast of the Epiphany is January 6. Epiphany commemorates the visit of the “Magi,” the Three Kings, and celebrates the first adoration of God in Christ by the gentile nations. In many places gifts are given not on Christmas Day but on the Epiphany.
Often Epiphany is celebrated by a procession of the Three Kings or by a Feast of Lights and candlelight procession. Each of the Sundays during Epiphany season reflects on a different aspect of the life of Christ, the Incarnate Word. The First Sunday after Epiphany celebrates the Baptism of Christ, and is a time for blessing holy water and for Baptisms. The Second Sunday always commemorates the first miracle at the Wedding Feast of Cana, and all the miracles and works of Christ. And each successive Sunday centers on a different aspect of his work, as healer, as teacher, calling the apostles, creating the Church.
Candlemas, the feast of the Presentation of Christ by Holy Family, is the fortieth day after Christmas on February 2 yearly, commemorating the coming of the Christ into God’s Temple as a child, and often there is a service of light and candlelight procession.
The Last Sunday of Epiphany always is a special feast of the Transfiguration, the vision of Jesus transfigured by the glory of the Father, and points the way toward his Risen Glory at Easter. The Wednesday after is Ash Wednesday begins Lent and the Easter Cycle.
The Easter Cycle: The Gospel of Salvation
Lent, Easter and Pentecost together celebrate “the paschal mystery”: redemption through the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter is the foundation and the cornerstone of the Liturgical Year; the whole Christian year revolves around the date of Easter.
Lent the 40-Day Fast to prepare for Easter: Each year we are asked to prepare to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ by keeping the weeks of Lent as a time of corporate and personal renewal, through special attention to the spiritual disciplines of fasting, prayer, and works of mercy. Lent is forty days long, following the example of Christ’s fasting and temptation in the wilderness for forty days.
Ash Wednesday the first day of Lent, begins the penitential season. Ash Wednesday is a strict fast day, a day to make our own personal Confession, and to receive the sign of Ashes on the forehead to mark our own solidarity with the Church as a community always in need of repentance, renewal, and spiritual growth.
All the 40 days of Lent are to be kept as time of special observance and revival: during the season we are urged to make a retreat or attend a “quiet day,” to be regular about our own prayer life and Bible study, and to explore new ways of building up the corporate life of the Church, and to strengthen the outreach of the Church in mission among those who know not Christ or works of mercy with those in need. Each Wednesday and Friday in Lent is to be kept as a day of fasting or special discipline. The Lenten fast ends at sunset of Holy Saturday, when Easter begins.
Holy Week is the last week of Lent, commemorating the last week of our Lord’s life leading to his Passion, Death on the Cross, and Burial.
Palm Sunday begins Holy Week. The Palm Sunday Liturgy is one of the most beautiful of the whole year, beginning with the blessing of Palms and procession with Palm Branches and moving to the reading or enacting of the story of the Passion. Each weekday Holy Week is commemorated with a special Eucharist and with “Tenebrae,” the service of gathering darkness.
Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper and celebrates the gift of the Eucharist and Christ’s presence with us in the Sacrament. Often there is an all night Vigil before the Sacrament to commemorate the hours of his Agony at Gethsemane and the hours of his Passion.
Good Friday is a day of solemn thanksgiving for the sacrifice and death of Christ for us and for our salvation. Good Friday is a strict fast day, observed by the preaching of the Passion and the pilgrimage of the Way of the Cross.
Holy Saturday marks the days when our Lord’s body rested in the Tomb. Many visit their family burial place on Holy Saturday and decorate for Easter.
All Christians are expected to observe Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday with care and devotion. Any kind of social celebration during Holy Week is always inappropriate.
Easter Day, the Sunday of the Resurrection, is the “queen of feasts,” the foremost holy day of the Christian year, and begins the season of celebration and thanksgiving for Christ’s triumph over death and the grave. Every baptized Christian is required to join with the Church and receive Holy Communion on Easter or at least during the Easter Season.
An all-night vigil begins Easter Sunday, the Great Vigil. The Vigil is the Christian “Passover,” when Jesus passed over from death to life, and celebrates both the glory of his sacrifice and the joy of his rising from the dead. Each Sunday in Easter commemorates one of the gospel narratives of the Risen Christ.
Ascension Day is the fortieth day after Easter marking the final appearance of the Risen Lord to the apostles. There are fifty days in the Easter Season, which ends at Pentecost.
Every Sunday of the year derives from Easter Sunday, “the Lord’s Day,” and is to be kept holy in honor of the sacrifice and Resurrection of the Lord. Every Christian is expected to keep Sunday as a holy day, a day set apart for God. All Christians are to gather with the Church to offer the Eucharist each Sunday, “the Lord’s Supper” on “the Lord’s Day.” Faithfully observing Sunday is a mark of being Christian and honors God and the resurrection of Jesus; willfully failing to keep Sunday except in urgent necessity violates one of the Ten Commandments and should be confessed as a matter of sin.
The Day of Pentecost, also known as “Whitsunday,” is the last Sunday of the Easter Season, the “fiftieth day” of Easter. Pentecost Sunday celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church, and Christ’s presence with us in his Holy Spirit and His Church day by day until the end of time. Pentecost is one of the principal feast days of the Church’s year, along with Easter, Christmas, and All Saints’.
Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost, celebrates the whole Christian experience of God, who we know to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God.
The Sundays after Pentecost are the long “ordinary season” of the year, during which one of the gospels is read through in Church, unfolding the teachings and work of Christ.
Holy Days and Saints’ Days are scattered through the Church year. Some, like the feasts of the Transfiguration or the Holy Cross, honor an event in the life of Christ; others commemorate one of his saints. The lives of the saints are the work of the Risen Christ and the signs of his Holy Spirit at work in the world. Usually the saints are commemorated on some significant day of their lives, especially the date of a martyr’s death bearing witness to faith in Jesus.
All Saints’ Day on November the first each year, celebrates the whole “communion of saints,” and with All Souls Day following prays for all the faithful departed. Christians receive Holy Communion on All Saints to commend to God’s keeping their own loved ones among the departed. All Saints Day, along with Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas is one of the four principal feast days of the year.
The Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday after Pentecost every year, celebrates the Kingdom of God and looks forward to the final victory of Christ. Christ the King marks the end of the Church Year and looks forward to the beginning of another with Advent.