The formal name for the Christian Seasons is the Liturgical Year or Liturgical Calendar. Liturgy, from the Greek word for 'public service', means the public worship of the Church in its various forms.
The purpose of the Liturgical Year is not to mark the passage of time, but to celebrate and understand more fully the life and ministry of Christ, and to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit which led to the foundation of the early Church and to recall the ministry of the apostles and martyrs who spread the Christian faith.
The Liturgical Cycle covers a three-year period in which Year A focuses predominantly on St. Matthew's Gospel, Year B on St. Mark's and Year C on St. Luke's. St. John's Gospel is interspersed throughout the years, particularly during Easter.
The Liturgical Year provides a structure for the Church's collective memory. The Calendar tells us what readings the church has designated to be used for each day. It lays down the special feasts and commemorations celebrated during each season and it sets out the colour of the vestments to be worn by the priest during each different celebration.
Advent is seen as a time for preparation, anticipation and hope as the Church looks forward to celebrating the birth of Christ. For us, Advent falls at the darkest time of the year and the natural symbols of darkness and light are echoed through the progressive lighting of candles each week by the children in the congregation. As Christmas draws nearer, the focus falls on John the Baptist ("Prepare ye the way of the Lord") and then, finally on Mary, as she prepares to give birth to the Saviour.
The Christmas season is much more than simply a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. It reminds us of the central truth of "the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us" (John 1.14), fulfilling the prophesy of Isaiah - both readings always being included in the service of nine lessons and carols.
The church chooses white for the Feast of Christmas because it is the colour of purity and new life.
Epiphany means manifestation. For us the Feast of Epiphany (6th January) celebrates the visit of the magi (wise men) to the infant Jesus and then explores other ways in which Christ reveals himself to be the Son of God. This includes marking the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, which is the central focus point in the East, where this feast originated.
The Calendar includes two periods of Ordinary Time, which allow for a more uninterrupted reading of scripture in sequence. During the season between Christmas and Lent, the readings may focus on Jesus' early ministry of teaching and healing and the gathering of disciples. Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Tuesday) celebrations often mark the end of this season. Ordinary Time resumes later in the year.
The mark of ashes, a symbol of repentance, is given to Christians to indicate the start of the penitential season of Lent. Ashes, created by the priest from the previous year's palm crosses, are etched in the sign of the cross on the foreheads of the congregation at a special service, which symbolises the beginning of 40 days of fasting in preparation for Easter.
Lent is a 40-day fast and penance period in the church. It can be a time of self-denial, of self-examination or of making positive changes, as well as a time to go the extra mile. It is a time of preparation for and renewal of baptism.
As the time for Holy Week approaches the atmosphere of the season darkness as we begin to anticipate Christ's suffering and death. Holy Week begins with a re-enactment of Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, then progresses through the Washing of Feet and Last Supper of Maundy Thursday, the Betrayal, Trial and Crucifixion on Good Friday and Easter Saturday, a time of desolation and despair.
On the night of Easter Eve, or Holy Saturday, we begin the service around a fire in the church yard and process into a darker church, carrying candles as witness to the coming of Christ's resurrection bringing 'The Light of Christ' once more into the world. The first part of the service continues with candles only until, with the proclamation of the resurrection, the church is filled with light.
On Easter Day we gather to celebrate the risen Christ, renew our Baptism vows and welcome new communicants. The season of Easter is celebrated for fifty days, culminating in Pentecost. Christ's ascension to heaven, and the end of his earthly ministry, is celebrated at the end of forty days, while the feast of Pentecost itself celebrates the coming of the Holy spirit on the disciples, empowering them for mission.
Another, slightly longer, period of 'Ordinary Time' is entered after Easter. Here again is an opportunity for more uninterrupted reading of scripture in sequence and other themes may also be explored, such as creation and the environment, and for creative responses to the Saints' Days that occur at this time. At St. Bartholomew's we celebrate our own Saint's day during this period as well as Education Sunday and our link with St. Bartholomew's Primary School.
While not part of any liturgical calendar, Christian Aid Week is another opportunity for us to reflect upon - and help - those who are less fortunate than ourselves. Founded in the aftermath of World War II, the original name for the charity was Christian Reconstruction in Europe with the sole purpose of alleviating suffering for ordinary people, no matter what their faith.
This festival usually takes place during September/October and is a celebration of the food grown on the land. Harvest Festival is an ancient tradition, dating back to pagan times and, as such, reflecting the larger part of our history when we had a more direct relationship with the land. However, it still has huge resonance today as it reminds us of all the good things God has brought us and that we should share these with people less fortunate than ourselves.
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Call the Rev Stephen Edmonds on 020 8676 8925