The Liturgical Calendar

The church celebrates today the Feast of Christ the King which falls on the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Next Sunday, November 28, is both the first day of the Advent season and the beginning of a new year in the church calendar. On that day we move into Year B of the three-year Sunday cycle of readings and cycle 2 for weekdays.
The start of Advent this year is especially significant as it also marks the beginning of the Year of Great Jubilee 2000, when we celebrate God’s saving love made manifest through the mystery of the incarnation. “The words and deeds of Jesus represent the fulfilment of the whole tradition of Jubilees in the Old Testament. The Jubilee was a time dedicated in a special way to God. It fell every seventh year, according to the law of Moses: this was the ‘sabbatical year’, during which the earth was left fallow and slaves were set free…The law also provided for the cancellation of all debts…And all this was to be done in honour of God. What was true for the sabbatical year was also true of the Jubilee year which fell every fifty years…(The Third Millennium 12)
In some respects the church’s way of keeping time conflicts with the secular calendar. The new liturgical year is beginning just as many other things are coming to an end – students doing exams as the academic year finishes, many industries preparing for the Christmas/New Year shutdown, arts organisations holding final performances for 1999, etc. Many people also look upon this present time as the last moments of the twentieth century and the second millennium.
So what is this sometimes counter-cultural “liturgical Year” all about? The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy puts it this way:
“Within the cycle of a year the Church unfolds the whole mystery of Christ, from his incarnation and birth until his ascension, the day of Pentecost, and the expectation of blessed hope and of the Lord’s return”. (CSL 102)
However, the liturgical year is never simply a biography of Jesus of Nazareth or a celebration of past events in the story of the church. The events themselves are unrepeatable. By recalling and celebrating them, however, “the Church opens to the faithful the riches of the Lord’s powers and merits, so that these are in some way made present in every age in order that the faithful may lay hold on them and be filled with saving grace”. (CSL 102)
The text of the Exulted illustrates this sense of “now-ness”: “This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave”. Even now we experience salvation in and through the risen Christ.
But, wait, there’s more! The liturgical year also looks ahead to that heavenly liturgy which even now waits for us beyond death.
So liturgical time involves the past, the present and the future. During the course of the year we bring to mind past events and people to keep the mystery of faith alive today and we look forward to Christ’s return in glory at the end of time.

Elizabeth Harrington