Church Year Spirituality

By Chaplain Mike

Next Sunday is the final Lord’s Day in the Church Year. Christians who follow the liturgical calendar will begin a new year of living in the Gospel with the commencement of Advent on Nov. 28.

The diagram on the right gives an overview of the annual Church calendar.

  • Advent is the season when we prepare for Christ’s coming. (4 weeks)
  • Christmastide is the season when we celebrate Christ’s incarnation. (12 days)
  • In Epiphany, we remember how Christ made God’s glory known to the world. (up to 9 weeks)
  • The Lenten season leads us to the Cross, the climactic event in Holy Week, which concludes Lent. (40 days plus Sundays)
  • Eastertide (the Great 50 Days) celebrates Christ’s resurrection, new life, and his ascension to glory. It concludes on the 50th day, Pentecost, the day of the Spirit’s outpouring.
  • The Season after Pentecost (or Trinity, or Ordinary Time) is the time of the church, when by the Spirit we live out the life of the Gospel in community and in the world. (up to 29 weeks)

I don’t know why so many Christian groups think they need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to “discipleship programs.” This time-tested annual pattern for the life of individual believers and the Church together that is focused on Christ, organized around the Gospel, and grounded in God’s grace, is sheer genius. It is simple enough for a child. It offers enough opportunities for creativity and flexibility that it need never grow old. Each year offers a wonderful template for learning to walk with Christ more deeply in the Gospel which brings us faith, hope, and love.

My favorite book on church year spirituality is Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year. Here is his summary of the subject:

Ancient-Future Time presents the historical understanding of the Christian year as life lived in the pattern of death and resurrection with Christ. This spiritual tradition was developed in the early church and has been passed down in history through the worship of the church. It enjoys biblical sanction, historical staying power, and contemporary relevance. Through Christian-year spirituality we are enabled to experience the biblical mandate of conforming to Christ. The Christian year orders our formation with Christ incarnate in his ministry, death, burial, resurrection, and coming again through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost. In Christian-year spirituality we are spiritually formed by recalling and entering into his great saving events. (p. 21f)

In today’s post I will merely list five primary reasons why I think it advantageous for Christians to form their spiritual lives — their walk with God through Christ — around the liturgical year. Then, throughout the week, we will take these four points and expand upon them. We will continue exploring and discussing this over the next two weeks as we prepare for our new Church Year to begin on Nov. 28.

Five Reasons to Practice Church Year Spirituality

  • It enables us to live in God’s Story. Church Year spirituality forms Christian people around the story of redemption in Christ. It does not focus on “principles” or “steps” or “programs” for spiritual growth. It is thoroughly Jesus-shaped and uses the biblical story to conform our lives to his. As Israel was shaped by their story of slavery, redemption, covenant, and Promised Land, so the New Israel is formed by the story of Messiah.
  • It keeps the main thing the main thing. Church Year spirituality is Christ-centered. It is shaped around the events of his incarnation, ministry, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of his Spirit. At every turn we see Jesus, we hear Jesus, we follow Jesus.
  • It recognizes that one’s calendar forms one’s life. Church Year Spirituality is down-to-earth, utterly realistic about the day to day, season to season patterns of life that shape our behavior. All our lives we have developed habits by the way we mark and use our time. A spirituality formed around the Church Year is designed to form our habits around following Jesus. We take the place of disciples, and walk through the same experiences they had as they lived with Jesus day in and day out, season after season, over the course of three years.
  • It links personal spirituality with worship, family, and community. Church Year Spirituality recognizes both the individual journey and the corporate pilgrimage. What happens on Sundays is of a piece with what happens during the week as our corporate worship and our daily lives as individuals and families are shaped around the story of Jesus.
  • It provides a basis of unity and common experience for Christians everywhere. Our unity with other Christians is in the Gospel story. This is summarized in the Apostles’ Creed and the other creeds of the church. Propositional doctrinal statements have their place as ways to express more detailed understandings of the meaning and significance of God’s saving acts, but our unity with other believers is in Christ. We celebrate this throughout the year when churches of various traditions and denominations celebrate the Church Year and conform their worship and congregational lives to it.

This is by way of introduction. In the days to come, we will examine these points and other matters related to marking the Christian Year.

When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” (John 1:38-39)

It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (Col 1:28)

119 thoughts on “Church Year Spirituality

  1. Especially as the only reference to “Eostre” that anyone can find is – wait for it – in an 8th century manuscript by an English monk, the Venerable Bede, who talks about a goddess who was venerated by the pagans in a festival at around that time of year.

    It would seem to be a case after that of early philologists and historians going “There was a goddess named Eostre? Well, that probably comes from ….” and enthusiastic early nationalists half-inventing folklore about Germanic customs:

    “Eostre is really Astoreth” is on a par with mediaeval attempts at re-discovering Latin etymology, which involved some pretty convoluted twisting of the words to find the real ‘meaning’ (which, of course, was nothing like what the scholars’ game attempts came up with).


  2. *looks innocent*

    Dastardly villainy? Moi? Whatever do you mean, Ted?

    *hastily kicks black cloak and bloody stiletto under chair*

    I cannot conceive of what you mean.



  3. That should read, “By the time anyone who had ever encountered references to the religion to which Astarte/Ashtoreth belongs also encountered Germans or Anglo-Saxons, that religion would have been all but extinct!”

    If there is any connection it is the neo-pagans bringing Astarte into their neo-pantheon in recent times. No disrespect to neo-pagans, but much of their religious practice is much newer than some would admit. I.e. in an absence of data and details from pre-Christian times in Europe, they often have to use their best guess or come up with something completely new.


  4. The Astarte/Ashtoreth reference is definitely not historically true. If it were, it would be the only case ever of a word from near-eastern pagan antiquity somehow sneaking into German/Anglo-Saxon without first passing through Greek or Hebrew. I.e. how the heck would the pre-Christian Germans or Anglo-Saxons have known of Astarte/Ashtoreth? By the time anyone who had ever encountered the religion to which Astarte/Ashtoreth belongs, that religion would have been all but extinct! And its adherents certainly never made it all the way to Western Europe!


  5. Well, that’s good news, Isaac, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you were right. I had even heard (from a drinking-horn wielding neo-Pagan) that Eostre was a variant of Ashtoreth or Astarte. I suspect the neo-Pagan’s motivation may have been to demonstrate the universality of goddess worship, despite the obvious truth that paganism is a local affair.

    I have to admit that I have never come across Eostre in any Anglo-Saxon writings I’m familiar with, but of course most of the stories and poems that survive in written form were written down after the arrival of Christianity.


  6. I remember the resources I looked at suggesting it was due to a 19th Century trend in Germany among folk historians who were trying to revive the pre-Christian ethnic identity of Germany. They latched onto an obscure reference by Bede and then embellished and imposed it on German folklore and mythology. If I remember correctly, the Grimm brothers (yes, THOSE Grimm brothers) were at the forefront of the movement.

    If I remember properly, the only references to Easter in Anglo-Saxon writings are in specific reference to the Christian celebration, and it’s likely etymology is based on the sun rising in the East being symbolic of Christ’s resurrection (or something like that). The pre-Norman-Invasion English apparently tended to adopt Anglo-Saxon words for their ecclesiastical language rather than use “Anglified” Latin. And since they were the primary missionaries to Germany, the Germans used their term rather than the “Latinized” Greek term “Pascha.”

    Let’s face it, the English Church always tended to march to a slightly different beat, even when it eventually fully submitted to Papal authority. But, let’s face it, they had several centuries of independent development prior to Rome re-establishing contact.


  7. I love this stuff. Thanks for the fix.

    But the last time I heard somebody say “I live to serve” it was a dastardly villain in a Disney cartoon movie: “My life is but to serve, my liege.”

    Not sayin’ there’s a parallel. But I thought you’d be flattered.


  8. “Missons Offering” as in “Fundraiser” as in “Gimme Money”?

    What a thing to associate with Easter & Christmas…


  9. Regarding “Easter” having etymological roots in the name of a pagan goddess, there’s some debate in the regard lately, mostly based on the fact that no one can find historical records of anyone worshiping a goddess named “Oestre” or whatever.

    Could this be another case of Victorian “Creatively Reconstructed History”?


  10. Like I said, it’s the time of year when suicides, divorces, and domestic conflict peak.

    Helped along by the “Constant Forced Cheerfulness” Chesterton wrote about in his Father Brown Mystery “Three Tools of Death.”



  11. Regarding “Easter” having etymological roots in the name of a pagan goddess, there’s some debate in the regard lately, mostly based on the fact that no one can find historical records of anyone worshiping a goddess named “Oestre” or whatever. That and some more recent understanding of Anglo-Saxon language. I’ll have to look up my resources on that issue again. It’s been a couple of years.


  12. Yes, I find it difficult to adjust to the notion that the day after Christmas Day (St. Stephen’s Day), everyone in America gets up and goes back to work like normal. It seems too abrupt an ending to the festivity, somehow, particularly as the pre-Christmas rush gets ever more frantic each year, and the advertising and the selling starts earlier and earlier (first it crept into November, then October, then September and now the first stirrings of ‘book your Christmas party early at our hotel’ are starting in JULY!!! over here).

    As you say: two months of frenzy for one day, and then – nothing. Doesn’t work, somehow.


  13. If you don’t like the term “Easter”, then feel free to use an alternative, such as the Irish name for the season of Easter which is “Cáisc” or “An Cháisc”, etymology as follows:

    Third declension feminine proper noun, An Cháisc. From Old Irish Cásc, from ecclesiastical Latin pascha, from Ancient Greek πάσχα (paskha), from Aramaic pasḥa, from Hebrew פסחא (pasḥa).

    Roughly pronounced “Cawsk”. I live to serve!



  14. JoanieD, as an unrepentant Mediaevalist-lite and purchaser of way too many art history books, I tend to take it that but of course all you cultured, intelligent, elegant IM followers out there know all about this stuff 🙂

    You probably do, only you don’t realise it. If you’ve ever seen any of those “activities for the months” images, especially when talking about astrology, then you’ve seen the illustrations from the Limbourg Bros.


  15. So much for Revelation chapter seven!

    “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.”

    Obviously, what St. John the Evangelist meant to write was “I beheld a great multitude, all Americans, clothed in Old Glory, and the Declaration of Independence in their right hand and the Constitution in their left” while all the rest of us go howling down to Hell, right?


  16. Yes, I have been lurking for a short time and agree that the contributions of Martha and Damaris are always worth reading.


  17. Martha writes, “Everybody’s heard of the famous expensive volumes, like the “Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry” produced by the Limbourg Brothers (you’ve all heard of this, yes?)”

    Sure, Martha, I got them right here on my shelves, next to my dictionary and atlas. 😉


  18. I love the fact that we ended up debating the etymology of the various terms for the Feast of the Resurrection. HISTORY FTW! 😀


  19. I just went to Amazon and read the reviews of Evangelical is Not Enough. It does sound very interesting. Some of the reviewers talk about how distressed some folks were that Tom Howard became Catholic. I wonder if it was a bigger deal when he did that or when Francis Beckwith became Catholic (or, in Beckwith’s case, returned to his Catholic roots)?

    I find it interesting to hear of the journey that people take as they walk in their Christian faith.


  20. guilty. a number of years ago, maybe 10, in an LCMS church, during communion, the choir sang this song, as July 4th fell on a Sunday. It was not a formal chancel choir, but we sang it. I expressed my reservations to the director that we were singing it during communion. She told me I should thank God for my country, that I was American, everytime I knelt at that altar. I am thankful, but that still gives me the willies thinking about that.


  21. If I may be picky here — Pascha, or Pasch, is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word for Passover. The word Pascha was never used in Classical Latin and was only introduced into Medieval Latin through Greek. It’s true that “Easter” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for a goddess, and some Christians don’t like having the great Christian holiday named for a pagan deity. Traditionally (someone correct me if I’m wrong) the Roman Catholic church has not objected to using the word Easter; it’s generally the Eastern Orthodox church that calls the celebration after the Hebrew Passover. As Fr. Ernesto notes, the Orthodox tradition remains faithful to many of its Jewish roots.

    I hope that any objection you have to the word Easter is its pagan origin and not its English etymology. “God,” for example, goes back to pagan Old English and Germanic roots. “Deus” or “Theos”, from the Latin or Greek, might seem holier than “God” if we elevated those languages above our own, but of course the Romans and the Greeks used those words orginally for pagan gods.

    I don’t mind using “Easter.” There’s nothing we can’t mess up, and nothing that God can’t redeem.


  22. And since we’re coming up on Advent, I’d like to compare the Liturgical Calendar’s version of Christmas with our present-day version:

    Present Day:
    One to two months of Holiday Shopping, Holiday Parties, and Forced Holiday Cheer (“HO! HO! HO!”) until by the time the Big Day (Xmas) rolls around, you’re too burned out to do anything except stuff yourself and crash out in front of the TV. And oh, yeah, report for work the next day. (No wonder suicides, divorces, and domestic violence peak around this time…)

    A four-week solemnity and preparation (Advent), resting and preparing for a Twelve-Day Party (Christmas to Epiphany).

    Which makes more sense?


  23. I’m glad to hear that, HUG. Tom Howard was a professor of mine in those days before he crossed the Tiber. But even while he was an Episcopalian he used to make Catholic-sounding quips in class. I’ll look for the book.

    He’s also an authority on C.S. Lewis, for you fans out there.


  24. One thought that I had is that it could be necessary to continue doing some stuff the way that you have always done it during a tragedy. It provides a foundation that not everything has changed. I’m all in favor for adjusting/adding to help the situation, but eliminating comfort and stability is never a good idea.


  25. Rev. Dave,

    When I was a Southern Baptist, it used to irk me to no end that the preparation for Easter was the Home Missions Offering; for Christmas the Foreign Missions Offering. It almost seemed that Easter and Christmas were after thoughts. (Except for the choir, we always had big performances connected with the seasons.)


  26. In Latin, Easter is called Pasch. It is only in English that the word Easter is used. The “true’ Roman Catholic desgination is Pasch.


  27. The Lutheran Liturgical Prayer Brotherhood website (not posting link, due to moderation rules) also has daily rubrics oriented to the church calendar. They even have chanted psalms in mp3 format. They also publish the text in a paper-back version.


  28. Apparently the confessors and martyrs of the Early Church must not have been sensitive enough to public tragedy…

    If they had, they would have just sat on their butts being “Sensitive” and never accomplished anything or gotten anywhere.


  29. I would love to hear from folks about how the calendar year might, at times, feel binding or forced.

    More like Providing Needed Structure and Scheduling instead of “feeling binding or forced”.


  30. Is Schmuel coming from a Mormonesque view of Church History, i.e. that the Church went apostate early on (i.e. “state-sponsored” Popery) and everybody was Deceived and actually Worshipping Satan until Our Church Got It Right As It Was in New Testament Days?


  31. Not so much for the Church calendar, but I have found Evangelical is Not Enough by Thomas Howard to be a good “beginners guide” to Western-Rite Liturgical Church practices in general.


  32. Don’t you know God is a Tea Party Republican?

    (I had to call my writing partner again and once more ask the question “Did we go crazy, or did everybody else?”)


  33. Treating the “alternative Christianties” as heresies.

    That would be because they were heresies. Or if someone really wants to argue with me about the Heinz 57 variety of Gnosticisms out there, never mind all the really interesting and wacky heresies the first five centuries brewe d up – don’t bother.

    I’m not interested.

    Historical development? Great, I do love history, and it’s educational. Trying to get me to agree that everyone and his goat having their own opinion on what or who Jesus was, which is the best way to go, and it was only the Mean Old State Church (or Church Councils, or the Emperor, or the Pope, or the Greeks) who imposed orthodoxy with fire and sword? Don’t give a fig for it.


  34. Are there any resources available for a recovering evangelical to personally participate in the church year on a daily basis?


  35. If we can’t blend in our lives – joys and sorrows – with Easter and Pentecost, then we may as well not celebrate the seasons at any time.

    If we demand that the big planned function goes ahead unaltered, regardless of what has happened to the members, then that’s wrong. But saying “Forget about this service, because something really real has actually happened” makes our corporate worship just a ritual we go through without any genuine connection to our lives as Christians or as people living in an imperfect world.


  36. Speaking of the Daily Office, the “Books of Hours” which developed as a simpler version of the monastic prayers for laypeople (and which are the roots of the Daily Office) are a fascinating subject.

    Yes, I’m defending mediaevalism once again 🙂

    For a historical overview, I can heartily recommend Eamon Duffy’s “Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers, 1240-1570” who looks in great detail at these books, particularly as evidence of personal devotion by the owners. Everybody’s heard of the famous expensive volumes, like the “Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry” produced by the Limbourg Brothers (you’ve all heard of this, yes?) but there were cheap mass-produced versions costing only shillings which means that even the poorer people were able to have prayer books for personal daily devotions. They are also very much the property of women as well as men, so it’s a side-light onto the place of women in the church or the devotional life of women – certainly not a male preserve.

    You can easily look it up on Amazon if anyone’s interested.


  37. Advent calendars are great for kids (especially the ones with chocolate under the little windows, which I suppose rather defeats the point of the penitental aspect to Advent, but you could always save up the sweeties for Sunday?)


  38. Ah, so that’s why there’s English references to the Martinmas Goose! A big celebration before beginning the fast – like Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras)!


  39. Which can be very difficult in practice, as the traditional rites and whatnot for celebration are obviously not focused on Christ. In my 15-or-so years in Messianic circles, this was always a difficulty in the congregation I attended. You end up having to rewrite the rites or come up with your own. Often, it seemed to me much more trouble than it was worth. I frankly prefer the Church Year for that very reason.


  40. “church calendar is not a circle but an ascending spiral staircase”

    I like that, dumb ox. Thanks for sharing it with us.


  41. Josh, most people and churches I know who have started to explore the Church Year have started with marking Advent. There are many resources out there to use with families—Advent calendars, Advent candles, Advent devotionals, the Jesse Tree, using the manger scene to build anticipation throughout the season, etc.


  42. In my view, extraordinary events can and should be incorporated into our worship; in our Lutheran church there would certainly be enough freedom in the liturgy to accommodate that. There is also no reason special services could not be called to deal with important issues or events. At the same time, some level of continuity would remind us that we should look at all events through the big picture of God’s Story.


  43. Ah, but Schmuel-
    who says we’ve stopped celebrating those festivals? That which was but a shadow is now illumined in Light. That which was but a type has been fulfilled.

    Passover; Day of Atonement= Good Friday
    First Fruits= Easter
    Pentecost (the giving of the Law)= Pentecost (the giving of the Holy Spirit, who writes the Law upon mankind’s hearts)

    I could go on, but I think these are good and relevant answers.

    Of course, if there are those whom still celebrate the Levitical feasts, more power to them I suppose. However, it should be done with the understanding that Christ has fulfilled the meaning of these feasts.


  44. “There was never an “undivided Church of antiquity.” To claim such a thing means dismissing as heretics all those ancient Christianities which differed from the state-sponsored version–an odd stance for a Protestant.”

    Dear Schmeul-
    So heretics are only those who departed from the “state-sponsored version” of Christianity? You do know that Christianity wasn’t made the “official” religion of the Empire until the Edict of Thessalonica in 380?

    In any case, heresy is not about differing from the State religion. Heresy is departing from truth; or, perhaps it is better to say that heresy is the absence of Truth, just as darkness as the absence of light.

    In a sense I suppose one could make the argument that there were a variety of “ancient Christianities”- however, I would ask you to elaborate on such a statement, lest I put words into your mouth. I admit that I am slightly confused by the statement “all those ancient Christianities which differed from the state-sponsored version”. Could you perhaps give an example of whom you are referring to?

    As for having “an odd stance for a Protestant”- who says I’m Protestant? I certainly made no such claims. 😉

    Perhaps I am not quite qualified to respond to your remark- indeed, I’m convinced I’m not. I hope somebody of better knowledge and eloquence can give an answer worthy of your comment.

    In any case, I hope that what little I said contributes to the conversation somehow.



  45. There was never an “undivided Church of antiquity.” To claim such a thing means dismissing as heretics all those ancient Christianities which differed from the state-sponsored version–an odd stance for a Protestant.


  46. Messianic Jews and some like-minded Gentiles follow the same festivals of the Jewish calendar which Christ himself would have observed.

    Just sayin’.


  47. I will simply point out that the Church, in the midst of the persecutions of the first, second, and third centuries never gave up the celebration of Pascha (Easter) in spite of the frequent deaths of the martyrs and the torture of the confessors. The celebration of the Resurrection, every Sunday, and most especially the Feast of Feasts, that we call Pascha (Easter) and the coming of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost), is the declaration that regardless of circumstances we shall have the victory.

    Apparently the confessors and martyrs of the Early Church must not have been sensitive enough to public tragedy, particularly the death of people they would have known well.


  48. I don’t know if they publish stuff for other parts of the Church year, but Trinity School for Ministry in PA usually publishes a Lenten devotional written by its faculty and grad students. They’re an “evangelical seminary in the Anglican tradition.”

    I find just going through the Daily Office Lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer is a good church year devotional, especially when combined with the Daily Office services themselves. There are some interesting changes throughout the church year in the 1979 version.

    In Lent I’ve made it my personal tradition to include a reading from the Church Fathers each day, according to the readings found at They’ve got lots of resources.


  49. Well, let’s just say I disagree with much of what you said. Saint Paul mentions that he is eager to celebrate Pentecost (I will leave you to find the reference, GRIN.) In Colossians Saint Paul specifically mentions that Christians are already celebrating various feasts. His argument is that you need not let other Christians judge you for the feasts you celebrate that they do not or the feasts they celebrate that you do not. In the books of Galatians and Acts there are recorded arguments about both liturgical and matters of practice.

    In other words, there were no arguments as to whether there were feasts and whether there were special celebrations. The arguments where about how the coming of Our Lord Jesus and the New Covenant affected the transition from the Jewish Year and its celebrations to the Christian Year and its celebrations.

    Was there development? Of course there was development, just like there was development in the Old Testament. God did not give all the Old Testament feasts at once, there was a period of development. In the New Testament, which is written over a very short period of time compared to the Old Testament, there is evidence of the beginnings of a Church Year and of trying to think through what it meant liturgically to go from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.

    It may be true that Pascha and Pentecost were the first feasts to be celebrated by all, but even in the New Testament there is evidence of other feasts that were being celebrated by various Christians, we simply do not know for sure what all they were.


  50. In many parts of South America, the bonfires are still lit on 24 June, which is in winter. Firecrackers will also go off like mad, and in certain valley areas of Bolivia they had to try to tone down the celebrations because of the smoke haze that caused problems for people with asthma.


  51. The calendar didn’t originate with “Catholicism”. It originated in the undivided Church of antiquity.

    Originally the only feast that was celebrated was Easter (or Pascha, for all our Eastern friends). Slowly but surely, other festivals were added, commemorating various events in Christ’s life. Soon after, various Saint Days were added, as honoring the martyrs had been a long-standing tradition. Preeminent among the various saint days were feasts of the Virgin Mary, due to her intimate connection with Christology. Also, various miraculous events- for example, God protected city X from enemy Y, and delivered Y into X’s hands, and then Y converted to Christianity.

    After the Great Schism, the Western and Eastern calendars developed each in their own way. But, as has been said, the point of the calendar is to ground us in the Life of Christ, which is our salvation. The reason “other days” (like a Marian feast, or God saving city X) are commemorated is to show that God works through all manner of people and events, and His work didn’t just stop after Pentecost. We’re still living in the New Covenant, dont’cha know.


  52. I would love to hear from folks about how the calendar year might, at times, feel binding or forced. I think about when there where public tragedies within our church body that affected a widespread group of people. It felt disingenuous to be celebrating corporately just because a non-biblical calendar told us to. It seemed there was undue pressure to play down the tragedy in order to observe the season at hand. I suggested maybe we could hold off on celebrating Easter and Pentecost in light of the tragedy. But that suggestion seemed to most folks to be equivalent to calling off church services all-together. But why? Why not just hold off for season out of sensitiviy to the ethos of the church body?

    I think that freedom to just hold-off or re-direct when necessary is part of the protestant tradition. The protestant Reformation has historically been pretty hesitant to add holy days and seasons to the Church. Reformers like Calvin, Knox, and Baxter were pretty careful to not to tack on extra stuff to the public worship of God without the Bible’s command. That was one of the lynchpins to the Reformation. They were trying to put the focus on the 52 holy days a year we already have (i.e. Sundays). Seasons of corporate, theological focus and contemplation on different topics come not from a calendar but from preaching through the various books of Scripture. In doing this, we get to corporately focus on Jesus’ birth as a person, his baptism, temptations, sufferings, resurrection, glorification, and his sending of his Spirit to his Church — all as result of preaching through the bounty and diversity of the stories of the Bible.

    There is plenty of freedom and guidance given by the Bible for churches to celebrate seasons of fasting, prayer, repentance, feasting, and celebration. But I believe this is usually done as a local church sees fit. And it is not an iron-clad, annual occurence. The season fits the circumstances of that particular body. There is not this one-size-fits-all calendar for which there is minimal-at-best biblical warrant.

    I’ve appreciated attending churches where that model was used. I am simply curious if anyone else has had a positive experience with an intentionally Sunday-centric church calendar? Thanks.


  53. The Trappists and some Franciscans have already begun the Advent fast. Traditionally, the fast began on Martinmas–the Feast of St. Martin of Tours.


  54. If you’re looking for a good devotional guide that follows the Christian Year and the RCL, then may I suggest the Upper Room Disciplines 2011 (there is a new one each year). I find it to be a tremendous help.


  55. I was in a service yesterday (not where I’m a member) that ran a very militaristic film on the screen during the service, featuring, among other things the enemy getting the hell blown out of them by missiles and bombs. I’m not anti-military, but war is never a good to be celebrated. It is an admission of human failure and sin, not something that belongs in a service of worship.


  56. I’ve got to be honest. Growing up in an LCMS church, the calendar never helped me. And I can’t explain why.
    I am very glad that it helps others.

    Would anyone know where it originated? Was it in Catholicism?


  57. JeffB, if you can make a clever and catchy mnemonic out of EPOTACELH (Easter/Pentecost/Ordinary Time/Advent/Christmas/Ephiphany/Lent/Holy Week) – good luck to you!

    Hmm – maybe if we put Lent before Easter, and then we might get “First a fast (Lent) and then a feast (Easter), then fast and feast again (Advent and Christmas), with fire (Pentecost) and green (Ordinary Time) between”?

    Come on all you literary types: improve on that!


  58. Ok, first of all, Martha may be the wisest and smartest of all iMonks. She is no idiot. Listen to all she has to say.

    But here is a good resource I have found and refer to. It is on my “Bookmarks Bar.” See if this of of help.


  59. This may be way too simple a suggestion, but if you’re looking for an idiot’s guide, then I’m your idiot!

    You could dip a toe into the waters by looking up the lectionary readings for the major days of the liturgical year: what are the readings for Christmas, for Easter, for the four Sundays of Advent, for the Sundays of Lent, for Holy Week, for Easter Sunday, for Pentecost?

    There are a gazillion handy guides in the way of books and apps and downloads and I don’t know what-all for various forms of the Litany of the Hours, but I’d say (just as a suggestion) to get your feet wet with the lectionary and then plunge in with the daily Litany (or the Lutheran version, not to get too Catholic on you).

    There are easy online links; just Google. One such is the USSCB (I’ll give you the American version) website. Since today is 15th November, here are the readings for today’s Mass in Ordinary Time:

    Monday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time


  60. Oh Dave, you are so right. How long before we start singing Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud To Be An American” in our services?

    Sigh…your comment makes me very sad because it is so true…


  61. As a matter of curiosity, I’m comparing your dates with my handy calendar of feast days. I that this year, the Sunday of Christ the King is also the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin.

    I’m wagering that you mean the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8th in Western calendar) and the Assumption (Aug. 15th) as the two bracketing Marian feasts? Oops – I see you gave the Birthday of Mary as 8th September – also on my Western calendar 🙂

    29th Aug. is the Beheading (or Decollation, for the old-fashioned amongst us) of John the Baptist and 14th Sept. is of course the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. I don’t have anything on my calendar for 1st Aug. or 23rd Sept., but 18th Sept. is the feast of St. Helen, mother of Constantine, and finder of the True Cross.

    24th June is the Birth of John the Baptist and Midsummer’s Day, and used to be a much bigger feast than currently celebrated (used to be country customs of lighting bonfires and driving the cattle between them, for example). As you say, the 29th June is the feast of Ss. Peter and Paul, Apostles.

    This is fun! 😉


  62. Never was I more grateful for a celibate priesthood 🙂

    Although that reminds me in a way of the anecdote about the woman who came out from Mass after the priest had preached an enthusiastic sermon on marriage and commented “I wish I knew as little about it as he does!”


  63. Headless! You have to be careful – that kind of thing is triggering.

    Oh, no, the flashbacks are starting… the leotards.. the looping arm gestures… the bad music…the hopping and leppin’ around…

    Help! I need some John Potter sings Ambrose Field’s electronica settings of fragments by Guillame Dufay immediately to blank out the bad mental images!



  64. I would recommend “The Daily Office for Dodos”, which explains how to use the Catholic liturgy of the hours. There are longer and shorter versions. It might seem like overkill, but the church calendar without a breviery or liturgy of the hours seems incomplete.


  65. I’ll ask the iMonk audience to chime in with specific suggestions, Josh. One place to start would be with publications from the mainline churches. If you have a Cokesbury bookstore nearby, they might have some you could browse through (or check Or maybe there’s an Episcopal church nearby who could recommend something. Online, you could look at for a start, and there are many other sites out there.


  66. Thanks for the additional insight, Fr. Ernesto. I’m still very new (Pentecost ’09) and happy to know about the Jewish connections with the Eastern church. I’m all for good history – God led me to Orthodoxy in large measure through the work of N.T. Wright!



  67. I’d recommend the Wikipedia article on the subject; search “liturgical year”.

    Also, I’d recommend this article (hoping that the link goes through):

    Its a pretty simple explanation of the Liturgical Calendar, and its origins.

    Hope this helps.


  68. I was unfamiliar with the church year until I began attending a United Methodist church. It makes so much sense and seems so natural I’d feel lost in a church that didn’t follow it.

    But we are already so far into Christmas projects, collecting the Christmas shoe boxes this week and preparing for community events, I feel it is already Advent.


  69. You beat me to the post. Nice summary. Let me just add that the Eastern Church is much more influenced by the Jewish cycle than by the Roman fiscal cycle. This is particularly true since the beginning of the year was changed to January before the birth of Christ, under Imperator Julius Caesar. Neither the Eastern nor the Western Church use January as the beginning of the liturgical year. But the Eastern Church has retained the Jewish practice of having the year begin near Rosh Hoshanna just like we are not allowed to celebrate Pascha (Easter) before the Jewish passover.

    In passing, we have to stop looking at secular history for events that coincide with some church event, and then claiming that the Church was influenced by that event and adopted and changed it. It has led to some bad history. (For instance, eggs at Pascha pre-date the evangelization of the Germanic areas of Europe.)


  70. Do any of you have suggestions for a “begginers guide” to the Church calendar? I’m looking for something that I can use for family devotionals. I’ve learned that my wife and I who both grew up in the Church (grew up Baptist and now member of a Bible Church with strong ties to DTS), have missed out by not being exposed to the liturgical traditions.


  71. Not only is the Christian a useful, but widely neglected tool, but the Christian calendar is, as well.

    I think it was Ghandi that said, “I would be compelled to become a Christian, if only they spelled better, and wrote in complete sentences.”


  72. Christian groups reinvent discipleship progams because:
    (1) the church year has already been invented
    (2) it wasn’t invented here (the evangelical US)
    (3) How would you put your name on a “new and improved, life changing, miraculous, missionally purposeful” discipleship program and sell it if everyone followed the church year?
    Lifeway would go out of business if there weren’t a new, re-branded, “christian” superstar produced/endorsed discpleship program every 6 months.


  73. Well, Richard, it’s not *that* different; the basic framework is the same.

    The liturgical year in the Eastern church begins September 1 – connected to the Roman fiscal year, but also close to Rosh ha Shana, which I think actually had some influence way back when.

    Advent begins today, actually – 40 days before Christmas. Seems that the early Christians in Ireland, influenced by the desert monastics, kept this 40 day fast too. (Hi Martha!)

    Christmas and Epiphany are basically celebrated together. The character of Christmas is quieter; Epiphany strikes me as ablaze with light.

    The time between Epiphany and Lent is preparation for Lent. Orthodox Lent technically doesn’t include Holy Week, so we start a week earlier and are actually fasting for a few more than 40 days.

    Lent, Eastertide and Pentecost are pretty much as in the West, except that the Ascension is of more importance than in most of the West: it’s the celebration of the awesomeness of our very humanity in Christ the GodMan being taken to the Throne of the Most High, into the very Trinity – the theological “logical end” of the work of the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity.

    The post-Pentecost season has important feasts; there’s not “nothing” happening, but it’s too much for a blog comment.

    What strikes me most about the Orthodox calendar:
    1) The center of it, both liturgically and calendar-day-wise, is Pascha/Easter; the Resurrection is the fulcrum around which the rest of the year – and everything else! – turns.
    2) The year is bracketed by the commemoration of the birth and death of Mary, mother of Jesus, (B 9-8, D 8-15), by two memorials of miracles of the True Cross (9-14 & 8-1) and by two feasts of John the Forerunner/Baptizer (9-23 & 8-29). God has not left us in the lurch; he is preparing humanity for the tremendous work of Christ, and pointing us at the fact of forgiveness.
    3) At the beginning of “the time of the church”, we commemorate John/Baptizer (6-24) and Peter & Paul (6-29), which to me is a very sober reminder that when we follow Jesus we are signing up for martyrdom -certainly of our “inner self”, and possibly physically too.



  74. Green is the color of Ordinary Time for my (ELCA) Lutheran church as well. But Richard’s comment reflects the answer my daughter gave during a children’s sermon when asked how long the time after Pentecost lasts: “Forever!”


  75. You have to include that, so people can understand references to the dreaded green season.

    In Catholic usage, Green is the color of Epiphany and Ordinary Time.

    Other color codes are:
    Advent & Lent: Purple.
    Christmas, Easter, & Pentecost: White.
    Good Friday & (traditionally) Martyr’s days: Red.


  76. I don’t know why so many Christian groups think they need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to “discipleship programs.”

    Because the Liturgical Year and Spiritual Mentoring are (gasp) CATHOLIC!

    This time-tested annual pattern for the life of individual believers and the Church together that is focused on Christ, organized around the Gospel, and grounded in God’s grace, is sheer genius.

    Again, that’s what those Apostate Idolatrous Pagan (gasp) CATHOLICS do!


  77. Two-three years ago, this Megachurch pastor named “Grinning Ed” Young gave his infamous “Seven Day Sex Challenge” sermon — from a bed onstage, with his wife in bed beside him. This little stunt got ragged on by the original Internet Monk and most of us commenters.

    How does this relate to the Liturgical Year?
    The timing.
    On the Sunday when Grinning Ed was pronouncing the Seven Day Sex Challenge, Martha & I were attending the Mass of Christ the King.


  78. Actually, in the context of the Liturgical Year, “Over-relevant” is more likely to be:

    Cue Liturgical Dancers!

    “Gather Us In,
    Bla bla bla bla bla bla…”


  79. Thanks for this post. I am also starting a series of posts on the church year on my blog, so I will post the link to your post on my blog (blogger doesn’t seem to support trackbacks yet).


  80. Appreciate the book suggestion. I am an associate pastor of an Evangelical Church who grew up with a typical evangelical understanding of the church year. I used to view the liturgy and church year, not with suspicion, but with an assumption of boredom. After your post about The Treasury of Daily Prayer, I purchased it on my kindle and using it to follow the church year in my personal devotion. I have found more consistency in my prayer and reading since doing that.


  81. Of course, the opposite is often seen in American protestantism: completely ignore the church year (except for Christmas and Easter) but but obessively overplay the secular calendar. Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving all get overblown “I’m Proud to be an American” services where the One who rules all and has all things under his feet is ignored.


  82. Just a few points: the are variations of this scheme. This post describes the basic layout shared by those Western churches which use a liturgical calendar, but they differ in detail. The Eastern church’s calendar is quite different.

    Colors! The seasons are color coded. You have to include that, so people can understand references to the dreaded green season.

    Finally, that pie chart is seriously skewed. Advent lasts over twice as long as Christmas, but you would never know it from that chart. Yes, Christmas rather stands out in the church year. But still…


  83. It might be worth noting that the church does not view time as circular; a Christian world view of time is linear, with a distinct beginning and end. The best explanation I have heard is that the church calendar is not a circle but an ascending spiral staircase. It truly is a tool meant for discipleship and growth, not vain repetition.


  84. My church secretary put a nice diagram of the liturgical year in our church newsletter this month – and I’ve been talking about it with our catechism students. It’s good to always be reminded of how the life of the Church connects with our everyday life!


  85. I like your five points (if only you had a clever mnemonic like TULIP!). Well said and couldn’t agree more.


  86. No disrespect to the man, but two words guaranteed to make my heart sink are “contemporary relevance.”

    Because that means in as few as ten years later, the up-to-the-date programme is as outmoded as flares and platform shoes.

    Less contemporary, more eternity!


  87. “I don’t know why so many Christian groups think they need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to “discipleship programs.” ”

    Probably because two continents and three hundred years down the line, they have no idea this is out there. Or if they do, it’s as a vestigial understanding of “Romanism” which eveyrone knows is bad 🙂

    Yep, coming up to the Feast of Christ the King on Sunday, and then into the penitential and preparatory period of Advent. Time enough to start thinking about Christmas then, though if it’s the same over there as it is here, you’ve had the advertisements started for the Christmas shopping/book your Christmas party from September onwards.


  88. Love the Robert Webber book. Sister Joan Chittister’s “The Liturgical Year” is also a great resource. The Christian is such a useful, but widely neglected tool. Thanks, IM, for the disussion.


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