The Church Year

The Church Year

Time matters to Christians. When you think about it, time matters to Christians in a way that it doesn’t to most other religions. That’s because the Christian faith is not about a set of timeless principles, a series of primordial myths that may not and don’t need to have ever taken place, or the unverifiable revelation given to some prophet alone in the wilderness.

The Christian faith is about a God who acts in time, a God who goes to work in the events of human history, reaching into our timeline and hallowing it for his purposes.

This God did not accomplish our salvation by some system unrelated to the time in which we live; he sent his Son Jesus to be born in time, to live in time—to pass his time in days, weeks, years—to die in time, and to be raised in time. And so, in a very unique way, time matters to us Christians because it matters to God.

Time Centered on Christ

So what do Christians do with our time? How do we live intentionally within the realm of time when time clearly matters to God?

We organize our days, our weeks, and even our years around the great things God has done for us.

From time immemorial, Christians have organized their days around God and his Word, setting aside times for prayer like the hours of Matins, Vespers, and Compline.

As early as the apostolic age, Christians organized their weeks around the timeline of our Lord’s death and Resurrection, meeting to hear his Word on “the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10), “the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7). And starting in the earliest centuries of the Church, Christians have organized their years around the great and mighty acts of God.

The Liturgical Year

Throughout most of Christian history, the Church’s year (often called the liturgical year) has taken a particular twofold shape as Christians have taken two of the great mysteries of our faith—our Lord’s Incarnation and his Resurrection—and made them into the high points of our year. The liturgical year, then, revolves around two cycles: the Christmas cycle centered on our Lord’s Incarnation and the Paschal cycle centered on his Resurrection.

The Christmas Cycle

Advent. The Christmas cycle governs the onset of the liturgical year. It begins with four weeks of Advent, a season that focuses on our Lord’s coming to us through the Incarnation and again on the Last Day.

Christmas. Advent ends with Christmas, a season of twelve days that focuses on our Lord’s birth in Bethlehem of Judea. Eight days into the Christmas season, the Church celebrates our Lord’s circumcision, the first time when he shed his blood on our behalf.

Epiphany. From Christmas the Church moves into the Epiphany season, when she remembers our Lord’s revelation to the Gentiles in the visit of the Magi, to the teachers of Israel as a boy in the Temple, to John the Baptist in his baptism, and to his disciples.

The Paschal Cycle

From the Epiphany season the Church turns her attention to the center of the liturgical year: the Paschal—or Easter—cycle.

Lent. During the penitential season of Lent, the Church remembers her Lord’s forty-day fast in the wilderness as she prepares herself to celebrate his Resurrection in sincerity and truth. During the two weeks of Passiontide, she rehearses the end of his earthly ministry in real time.

Triduum and Easter. The entire year culminates in the Paschal Triduum–the three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday/Easter Vigil–where the Church meditates on the Lord’s Passion, death, and Resurrection for the salvation of the world.

The great season of Easter recalls the fifty days between the Lord’s resurrection and his gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

The Sanctoral Cycle

Yet while the Church rightly centers herself around the years of her Lord’s earthly life, the events of the Gospels are not all that she has to celebrate.

Celebrating the Saints

Rather, throughout the year she sets aside days to remember how her Lord has worked in the lives of his saints throughout human history, intervening in time to work his gracious will in the lives of his people. And so the calendar offers Christians opportunities to consider how God’s grace has shown through the saints of God’s Old Testament people, the saints of the New Testament, and the saints who have followed them until our day.

By looking to their faith and examples throughout the year, Christians can be strengthened in their own faith and be reminded of God’s working not only in the time of Jesus’ earthly life but throughout all time, from the very beginning until now. This sanctoral calendar can interact in interesting and sometimes complicated ways with the two cycles mentioned before–we’ll include more on that as we go along!

The Gift of Liturgical Life

In the liturgical year, the Church has given us the gift of a calendar that centers not on passing fads or cares of this world but on the mighty acts and enduring blessings of God.

By being intentional with our time and teaching our peers and our families how to center their time around God, we can better remember the gifts that God has given to us and focus our actions around the ways that God uses time on earth to bring about salvation through his Son, Jesus. We hope that you will come on this journey with us and notice that when we use the liturgical calendar to orient our time to the things God gives us, we will constantly be reminded that our time matters to God. Perhaps that realization will make our time matter more to us, too.

Back to blog