The Liturgical Year

The Liturgical Year
Today, Sunday December 3, is the first Sunday of Advent and the first day of a new liturgical year (year C in the three-year lectionary cycle).
What is the liturgical year all about? The Roman document “General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar” answers this way:Christ’s saving work is celebrated in sacred memory by the Church on fixed days throughout the year. Each week on the day called the Lord’s Day the Church commemorates the Lord’s resurrection. Once a year at Easter the Church honours this resurrection and passion with the utmost solemnity. In fact through the yearly cycle the Church unfolds the entire mystery of Christ and keeps the anniversary of the saints. (GNLY 1)
Just as we mark our lives by anniversaries, the Church celebrates the mysteries of Christ’s life in a recurrent pattern. The liturgical year, however, is not simply a biography of Jesus or a celebration of past events in the history of the church. These events are unrepeatable and we do not “re-enact” them in our liturgical celebrations. Rather, the Church engages in an act of anamnesis, or memorial, through its cycle of feasts and seasons. The act of remembering actualises the past events in the present so that we experience the mystery of salvation here and now.
The section of the “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” which deals with the liturgical year expresses this understanding very clearly:Recalling thus the mystery of redemption, 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)
Celebrating the liturgical year is more than a present reality however. The liturgy always looks to the future, to that heavenly liturgy in which we share even now. The cycle of feasts and seasons doesn’t take us round and round in one spot year after year but is always moving us forward, or upward in an ascending spiral, as we journey towards the end of time.
What we call the liturgical year is the result of a long process of development. In the earliest days of Christianity there was no such thing as a church calendar. There was a weekly cycle based on the community’s practice of assembling for the eucharist on every Lord’s Day, Sunday. But as every culture shapes a yearly cycle of anniversaries and commemorations to solidify its identity and purpose, the followers of Christ gradually developed an annual cycle of feasts and seasons.
We all live our lives in cycles – our own lifecycle; the yearly cycle of work, school and civic events; the weekly cycle of work and recreation; the daily rhythm of night and day; the movement of the moon and stars; the cycle of nature’s seasons. The liturgical year is a complex relationship between the liturgy and cosmic time, with its solar and lunar cycles, mingled with numerous cultural and traditional factors.
Through repeated celebrations, the liturgical year keeps the mystery of faith alive. As our Christian lives progress day by day, the Church’s feasts sustain our journey as a pilgrim people. We are constantly nourished by the story of Jesus and guided by the saints, our ancestors in the faith, living witness of God’s unchanging love.


Elizabeth Harrington