How the “Liturgical Year” came about
The natural world that surrounds us experiences a continual changing of seasons, ranging from Spring and Summer, to Fall and Winter.
It is actually a marvelous sight to behold and it gives enough variety to our soul that we do not become bored with the monotony of an unchanging environment.
So, it is not surprising that a similar occurrence is experienced in the liturgical year of the Catholic Church.
During the days of the Early Christians, they followed the Jewish calendar, but it quickly became evident that they wanted to set themselves apart.
They actually did this by choosing Sunday as their “sabbath” first and then by commemorating the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ annually.
This became the most important time of the year for Christians and all other feasts were instituted in relation to the paschal events.
However, Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit was likely instituted next, as it coincided with other Jewish feasts. Then, the birth of Jesus received its own celebration. So, this was developed slowly over time and varied according to local traditions.
But what we have now in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church is the culmination of roughly 2,000 years of development, which punctuates the year with the life of Jesus Christ.
Here’s a break down of the current liturgical year as experienced in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite according to USCCB:
The liturgical year is characterized with six seasons:
Firstly, Advent which is four weeks of preparation before the celebration of the birth of Jesus.
The second season is Christmas. This season recalls the Nativity of Jesus Christ and his manifestation to the peoples of the world.
The third season is Lent. This a six-week period of penance before Easter.
The fourth and the most essential season is Sacred Paschal Triduum. This is the holiest “Three Days” of the Church’s year, where the Christian people recall the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
The fifth season is the Easter season. This constitutes of 50 days of joyful celebration of the Lord’s resurrection from the dead and his sending forth of the Holy Spirit.
The last but not the least season is the Ordinary Time. This season is divided into two sections which is “a span of 4-8 weeks after Christmas Time” and another lasting about “six months after Easter Time”, where which the faithful consider the fullness of Jesus’ teachings and works among his people.
The mystery of Christ, opened through the cycle of the year, thereby calling us to live his mystery in our own lives.However, this liturgical calendar varies according to the particular rite of the Catholic Church.
For instance, Eastern Catholics do not follow the exact calendar, though their year is still focused on the birth and resurrection of Jesus.
Though, what Roman Catholics call “Ordinary Time,” many Eastern Catholics call it “Time after Pentecost.”
Moreover, their liturgical year often starts on September 1, while Roman Catholics don’t start their year until the end of November.
Lastly, no matter the rite, Catholics can always experience an annual spiritual renewal which is similar to how the earth is renewed according to the seasons.
Actually, this is not a coincidence and it corresponds to an interior desire left by God himself which is designed to lead us closer to him.
Indeed, we need variation, both in the natural world and in the spiritual world. So, through this liturgical year, we are deepened into the life of Christ and are renewed.