Christian Cyclopedia

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Church Year.

1. The ch. yr. may be divided into 6 seasons, opening with Adv. The early part of this season is devoted to discussion of eschatological subjects in the lessons and liturgy; in the latter part, esp. on and after the 4th Sunday in Adv., the Christmas theme is prominent. The Christmas Festival, December 25 in the W, is the 1st primary festival, with 2 or 3 days at times devoted to its observance (see also Christmas). It is followed by the feasts of St. Stephen (December 26), St. John the Evangelist and Apostle (December 27), and the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem (December 28). Thus the feast of the birth of the King of martyrs is followed by the “heavenly birthdays” of the first martyr in will and in deed, the apostolic martyr in will but not in deed, and the infant martyrs in deed but not in will.

Note: “Feast” and “festival” are synonymous in this context; both reflect the Lat. dies festus; “feasts and festivals” indicates only that both words are used in reference to certain special days other than fast days.

2. The octave of Christmas is the Festival of the Circumcision and the Name of Jesus; it concurs with the New Year's Day of the civil yr. In the W the festival of Epiphany, January 6, recalls the episode of the Magi*; the feast has an octave. The number of Sundays in the post-Epiphany season varies with the date of Easter.

3. The season of pre-Lent (Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima, the 3 Sundays before Ash Wednesday, take their names from Lat. words indicating that they fall resp. within 70, 60, and 50 days before Easter) partakes of some of the characteristics of Lent. See also par. 18.

4. The season of Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday, is a period of penitential reflection. It climaxes in Passiontide (the last 2 weeks of Lent: Passion Week, the 2d week before Easter; and Holy Week, also called Great Week, formerly called Passion Week, in which Palm* Sunday and the “3 great days,” Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday [also called the Great Sabbath] receive most attention. See 8.).

5. The Easter* season begins on Easter Sunday, the 2d great festival of the ch., with 2 or 3 days at times devoted to the contemplation of the resurrection of the Lord; it extends to Ascension Day (see 9). Ascensiontide is followed by Pent. (see 10), the 3d great festival of the ch., at times observed with 2 or 3 festival days. See also Judaism, 4.

6. In the 2d part of the ch. yr., the post-Trin. season, there are no festivals of the 1st rank. The number of Sundays after Trin. (or after Pent.) varies with the date of Easter. See also par. 18.

7. The ch. yr. developed slowly. At first the Good Friday-Easter event was thought of as being commemorated every week. The 1st festival commemorated annually was Easter. An early controversy about the date of Easter was settled 325 by the Council of Nicaea,* which decreed that Easter be celebrated on the 1st Sunday after the 1st full moon on or after the spring equinox, or one week later if the full moon falls on Sunday. See also Easter Controversy.

8. From early days Easter was preceded by a period of preparation called Lent. The custom of fasting* during this time was gen. at an early date, but the length of the fast varied. Finally the fast was extended to 40 days (excluding Sundays), after the analogy of the period of the Lord's temptation, Mt 4:2. Ash Wednesday (so called from the custom of daubing the foreheads of worshipers on that day with ashes of the previous yrs. palms, in token of penitence and human mortality) has been the 1st day of Lent since the Gelasian* Sacramentary. The season of preparation for Easter closed with the Great Week, also called Holy Week. Wednesday of Holy Week was formerly call Spy Wednesday by some because of the preparations of Judas for betraying Christ. Thursday of Holy Week commemorated the institution of the Lord's Supper; it was called Holy Thursday by some; its Ger. name is Gründonnerstag* (Green Thursday); since the Gospel of the day was Jn 13:1–15, the day was also known as the Day of Foot Washing; its present Eng. name, Maundy Thursday, is derived either from the words of Jn 13:34 (Lat. Mandatum novum do vobis) or from the custom of carrying gifts to the poor in maunds (hand baskets) on that day. Good Friday (Ger. Karfreitag, a name expressing sorrow) was a day of deep mourning, with a complete fast till 3 or 6 o'clock in the afternoon.

9. Forty days after Easter (Acts 1:3) came the Festival of the Ascension, which seems to have originated in the 4th c.

10. Pent. (from Gk. pentekostos, “fiftieth”), the 50th day after Easter, can be traced to the 3d c. It is also called Whitsunday (very likely from white garments worn on that day), esp. in Eng. Tertullian* calls the whole time from Easter to Pent. by the latter name and gives each day of the entire period the importance and dignity of a Sunday

11. In the early ch. less stress was laid on the birthday of the Lord than on the fact that the Son of God became man (Jn 1:14). Accordingly we find a festival celebrating this fact as early as Clement* of Alexandria (beginning of the 3d c.). The 6th of January was the accepted date for the Festival of Epiphany, or the Manifestation of the Lord, at the end of the 3d c.; it commemorated not only the birth of Christ, but also His baptism and, in some cases, His first miracle, thus expressing very well the gen. idea of the revelation and manifestation of the divinity of Christ in His humanity.

12. Just as Easter had its special season of preparation, so a similar period was set aside before Christmas. The length of the Adv. season varied according to the ancient Comites (see Comes), Milan observing 5 Sundays, Rome only 4. Finally the custom of having 4 Sundays was gen. accepted.

13. After the 5th c. the number of festivals in the ch. increased rapidly. With increasing veneration of Mary her festivals gained ground. The Feast of the Annunciation (also called Lady Day), celebrating the conception of our Lord, was fixed for March 25, and that of the Presentation of Our Lord and the Purification of Mary for February 2; the latter festival is known in Eng. as Candlemas, from the custom of blessing candles, carrying them in procession, and holding them lighted during the reading of the Gospel and from the Sanctus through the Communion. Mary's meeting with Elizabeth is commemorated on the Feast of the Visitation, July 2. See also Mariology.

14. Naturally the feasts of Apostles and Evangelists were soon celebrated, esp. those of Peter and Paul. With the rising tide during the Middle Ages came the many saints' and martyrs' days. All Saints' Day, November 1, commemorated all the saints together and All Souls' Day, November 2 (November 3 when November 2 is a Sunday), commemorated the faithful departed. Many of the Sundays of the ch. yr. are known by special names, usually after the first words of their resp. introits, the names of the Sundays in Lent being: Invocavit (Ps 91:15 in some old Lat. versions; Vulgate: clamabit); Reminiscere (Ps 25:6); Oculi (Ps 25:15); Laetare (Is 66:10); and Judica* (Ps 43:1). The name Palm Sunday is derived from the traditional use of palms in ceremonies of the day. The first 4 Sundays after Easter are Quasimodogeniti (1 Ptr 2:2), or Low* Sunday, or Dominica* in albis; Misericordia(s) Domini (Ps 33:5); Jubilate (Ps 66:1); Cantate (Ps 98:1). Rogate precedes the Rogation* Days, from which it takes its name. Exaudi (Ps 27:7).

15. The Luth. reformers of the 16th c. gen. retained the ancient festivals in honor of Christ and the Triune God as a matter of course, preferring also to regard Marian commemorations as Christ festivals. Relatively few commemorations of extra-Biblical saints survived. Economic considerations played a prominent role in reducing the number of saints' days. The Festival of the Reformation, October 31, commemorating the posting of the 95 Theses,* goes back to the 17th c.

16. The historic Luth. ch. calendar includes the following Sundays, feasts, and other special days: A. Movable. Four Sundays in Adv.; Septuagesima; Sexagesima; Quinquagesima; the Sundays after the Epiphany, ending with the Transfiguration (also kept August 6); Ash Wednesday; Invocavit; Reminiscere; Oculi; Laetare; Judica; Palm Sunday; Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week; Maundy Thursday; Good Friday; Holy Saturday; Easter and the 2 days following; Quasimodogeniti; Misericordia(s) Domini; Jubilate; Cantate; Rogate; Ascension; Exaudi; Pent. (or Whitsunday) and the Sundays after Pent.; Trin. (and the Sundays after Trin.) B. Fixed. St. Andrew, November 30; St. Thomas, December 21; Christmas, December 25; St. Stephen, December 26; St. John the Evangelist and Apostle, December 27; Holy Innocents, December 28; Circumision and the Name of Jesus, January 1; Epiphany, January 6; Conversion of St. Paul, January 25; Presentation and Purification, February 2; St. Matthias, February 24; Annunciation, March 25; St. Mark, April 25; SS. Philip and James the Less May 1; Visitation, May 31 (or July 2); Birth of St. John the Baptist, June 24; SS. Peter and Paul, June 29; (Visitation, July 2 [or May 31]); St. Mary Magdalene, July 22; St. James the Elder, July 25; St. Bartholomew, August 24; St. Matthew, September 21; Michaelmas, September 29; St. Luke, October 18; SS. Simon and Jude, October 28; Reformation, October 31; All Saints, November 1.

17. Other commemorations observed by Luths. have included: St. Nicholas,* December 6; Christmas Eve, December 24; the Baptism of Our Lord, Sunday after New Year; St. Gregory I (the Great), March 12; the Presentation of the AC, June 25; St. Lawrence,* August 10; the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, August 29; the Birth of Mary, September 8; Holy Cross Day, September 14; St. Martin of Tours (see Celtic Church, 2), November 11; St. Catherine* of Alexandria, November 25. The Festival of Harvest (Harvest Home) is often kept on the Sunday after Michaelmas, a Day of Humiliation and Prayer on the Wednesday before the last Sunday after Trin., Thanksgiving* Day on the 4th Thursday in November in the US and on the 2d Monday in October in Can., and the commemoration of the Faithful Departed on All Souls' Day, November 2 (November 3 when November 2 is a Sunday).

18. In the 1970s a movement arose to extend the Epiphany season to the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and to have the 2d part of the ch. yr. more gen. recognized as an “after Pent.” rather than “after Trin.” season. ACP

See also Christ the King, Feast of; Departed, Commemoration of; Name of Jesus, Feast of the; Post-Pentecost Season; Quadragesima; Rorate Masses; Tre ore.

A. A. McArthur, The Evolution of the Christian Year (Greenwich, Connecticut, 1953); L. Eisenhofer and J. Lechner, The Liturgy of the Roman Rite, tr. from the 6th Ger. ed. by A. J. and E. F. Peeler, ed. H. E. Winstone (New York, 1961); G. Rietschel and P. Graff, Lehrbuch der Liturgik (Göttingen, 1951); G. Kunze, “Die gottesdienstliche Zeit,” Leiturgia, I (Kassel, 1954), 437–534; E. T. Horn III, The Christian Year (Philadelphia, 1957); L. D. Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, rev. ed. (Philadelphia [1960]).


Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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