The Liturgical Calendar
What Is the Liturgical Calendar?
For Catholics, the liturgical calendar marks the Church year, a sequence of seasons and feasts celebrated in the liturgy during a year’s time. The liturgical calendar uses terms and measurements similar to a typical calendar. However, the liturgical calendar’s purpose is to celebrate and understand the mystery of Jesus Christ and the expectation of his return in glory. In each liturgical year, we celebrate the entire life and paschal mystery of Jesus Christ. Liturgies celebrated during different seasons have distinctive music and specific readings, prayers, rituals, and colors.
Why Do We Use the Liturgical Calendar?
- The liturgical calendar helps us celebrate and understand more fully the entire mystery of Jesus Christ, from his Incarnation and birth until his Ascension, the day of Pentecost, and the expectation of his return in glory.
- The liturgical calendar tells us what Scripture readings the Church has designated to be used for each day.
- The liturgical calendar names the special feasts and commemorations celebrated during each season.
What Are the Seasons of the Liturgical Year?
The liturgical calendar leads us through the seasons of the liturgical year. The first season of the liturgical year is Advent. During Advent we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth and await Christmas, the celebration of the coming of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The color violet in Advent helps us to remember that we are preparing for the coming of Christ. The color rose may be used on the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, to express the joy of anticipation for Christmas.
Christmas is the season in which we celebrate that God is with us always. The Christmas season begins on Christmas Day. White, the color of joy and victory, is used for the season of Christmas.
Ordinary Time is the season in which we celebrate the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and what it means to be his disciple. The name of this season is derived from the word ordinal, meaning “to count.” We call Ordinary Time ordinary because the weeks are named in number order. Ordinary Time is divided into two parts. The first falls between Christmas and Lent. The second occurs between the seasons of Easter and Advent. Green, seen everywhere in plants and trees, symbolizes life and hope and is the color used during Ordinary Time.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. During Lent we remember that Jesus suffered, died, and rose to new life. We pray, give alms, and fast in order to grow closer to Jesus and to one another. During Lent, we support those preparing for the Sacraments of Christian Initiation. Lent, the season of penance and renewal, also uses the colors violet or purple, except for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday, when the color rose is used to express the joy of anticipation for Easter.
Triduum is the Church’s greatest celebration. Triduum lasts three days (from Holy Thursday evening until Easter Sunday evening) and we remember and celebrate in the liturgy, with many traditions and rituals, the suffering, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Red (the color of blood) is used on days when we celebrate the passion of Jesus on Passion Sunday and Good Friday.
Easter begins on Easter Sunday evening and continues until Pentecost Sunday. Though the color for Easter is white, the color of joy and victory, red (the color of fire) recalls the Holy Spirit and is used on Pentecost. During the Easter season we rejoice in Jesus’ Resurrection and in the new life we have in Jesus Christ.
In every liturgical season, Catholics celebrate the whole life of Jesus Christ. The liturgical year reminds us that all time is sacred and celebrates that all time is a gift from God. When the Church celebrates the liturgy through the liturgical year, the Church is rejoicing in God’s love and presence at all times!
The season of Advent begins the liturgical year. This year, Advent begins on November 28, 2021 and ends on December 24, 2021, Christmas eve.
The word Advent comes from the Latin word advenire, meaning “to come.” Advent, which lasts four weeks before Christmas, is a season of waiting. During the season of Advent, Catholics prepare for the coming of the Son of God. Advent is a time of great hope but also a penitential season. Advent emphasizes prayer, penance, and spiritual things that help bring us closer to Christ. The exception is the third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete Sunday, a joyful celebration during which we remember that Christ’s coming is near, and we should be joyful. An Advent wreath helps us to mark the Sundays of the Advent season: A ring of greens has three purple candles and one rose-colored candle (for Gaudete Sunday), lit on the Sundays of the four-week season. We also sometimes use a calendar to mark the days of Advent.
In the Gospel readings during Advent, we are reminded that John the Baptist called people to prepare for Jesus’ coming. John called people to repent, to “make straight” our lives for Christ (Matthew 3:1–3) by praying, listening to God’s Word, and turning back to God. Our prayers during Advent express our desire to prepare for Christ’s coming through penance but also our hope.
The Advent season is a time to pray to God, seek his forgiveness, and work for peace. Children and families can strive to help other people see God’s love each day during Advent with activities to help them reflect on the spirit of the season and the feast days it includes, like that of Saint Nicholas and Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The Christmas season begins on Christmas day, December 25, 2021, which is known as the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord. The season celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. It ends with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord and includes other important feasts. The upcoming Christmas season ends on January 9, 2022.
During Christmas, we celebrate in a special way that God is with us today, now, and forever. The entire season rejoices in the Incarnation, the truth that the Son of God became man. People all over the world celebrate Christmas and the feasts of the Christmas season, including the feasts of the Holy Family and Epiphany, with special traditions and customs. Though they may be different, all are reminders that Jesus is the Light of the World.
During the Christmas season, we hear the account of the birth of Jesus in the Gospels and we hear Jesus called by the name Emmanuel, which means “God with Us.” We pray and sing with great joy.
The Christmas season is a time to rejoice and celebrate that God is with us. Support children and families with activities as they celebrate the Christmas season and its feasts.
The season of Ordinary Time is the longest liturgical season and it is divided into two parts. The first part of Ordinary Time begins on January 10, 2022 and ends on March 1, 2022. The second part begins on June 6, 2022 and ends on November 26, 2022.
The season of Ordinary time celebrates every aspect of the life of Christ. The purpose is to celebrate Christ in every way: his life, his teachings, his parables, his miracles. The Sunday celebration of the Eucharist is the key element of Ordinary Time. We celebrate the saving love of God expressed in our everyday lives.
Sunday after Sunday during Ordinary time, we listen carefully to Scripture and learn from Jesus Christ and his teachings and learn from the examples of the saints.
Ordinary Time is an extraordinary opportunity to help children learn about the life and teachings of Jesus and celebrate Jesus’ love and presence in the context of everyday life.
The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and concludes on the evening of Holy Thursday, the beginning of the Easter Triduum. It lasts forty days. Lent begins on March 2, 2022.
Lent is a season to prepare for the celebration of Christ’s death and Resurrection at Easter. Lent is a time to do penance, pray, fast, and give alms. Catholics often celebrate the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation during this season.
During Lent, we listen to Scripture stories about the great flood, which lasted forty days, and the forty years the Israelites wandered in the desert. We also hear the story of the forty days and nights Jesus spent in the desert to prepare himself for his public ministry.
Activities during Lent help children to participate in the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in age-appropriate ways. They may take part in a Stations of the Cross practice, participate in service projects, renew their Baptism, and live out Lent with love in other ways.
Triduum is a word that means “three days.” The Easter Triduum begins on Holy Thursday evening, April 14, 2022, and ends on Easter Sunday evening, April 17, 2022. The Triduum is a total of three consecutive days from sunset to sunset.
The three days of the Triduum are the most important days of the liturgical year. On Holy Thursday, we recall Christ’s giving of his Body and Blood at the Last Supper. On Good Friday, we remember that Jesus Christ suffered and died. On Holy Saturday, we reflect and pray about Jesus’ death and then celebrate the Easter Vigil through special prayers and rituals.
During Triduum we hear the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper and the Passion of Christ. The Scripture readings during the Easter Vigil encourage us to meditate on the wonderful things God has done for his people from the beginning.
Each day of the Triduum has a different celebration and focus. Activities can help children and families learn what we celebrate as Catholics each day.
The Easter season lasts from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday. The Easter season begins on April 17, 2022. Pentecost is celebrated on June 5, 2022.
The entire Easter season celebrates the Resurrection of Christ. The waters of Baptism are an important sign for the Church during this season of new life. Bells ring and churches are filled with flowers.
The joy of the Easter season is expressed by singing “Alleluia” before the Gospel reading. Also during the Easter season, the first reading from the Bible is from the Acts of the Apostles, the book that records the life of the Apostles after Jesus’ Ascension, and not the Old Testament as in other seasons.
The joy of the Easter season is reflected in the activities that children and families participate in, which focus on the Resurrection of Jesus. This joy is also visible in the signs of new life that we see emphasized during the season and the joyful prayers we pray.