– Miguel Augusto (*)
With the arrival of the new Liturgical Year – Year A – last Sunday (December 1), we are called to reflect on how the Church organizes the Liturgy of the Word within its various cycles, which alongside with the Eucharist form the vital “organs” to the living of the Catholic faith. Contemporary theologian Scott Hahn has stated in many of his lectures that: “Catholics do not live a religion of the book, but a religion of the Word and that Word is Christ Himself!”
The Liturgy goes through three cycles. Each of these cycles, also called Liturgical Years A, B, and C, has its own sequence in Old and New Testament readings. Year “A” employs mainly the Gospel of St Matthew, Year B the Gospel of St Mark, and Year C the Gospel of St Luke. The Gospel of St John is reserved for special occasions, especially major Feasts and Solemnities, with an emphasis on Holy Week.
The Liturgical Year commemorates the remarkable events in the History of Salvation. It begins on the 1st Sunday of Advent and ends on the last Saturday of Ordinary Time, the eve of the 1st Sunday of Advent, differing from the Civil Year.
The four Sundays before Christmas are said of Advent, a word meaning “coming,” “arrival.” Here the teaching of the Catholic Church is directed to the announcement of the coming of the Messiah. It recalls the expectation of humanity – slave of sin – for the Savior. A time of penance and conversion. The predominant colour is purple, but rose is recommended on the 3rd Sunday of Advent. Advent ends on the afternoon of December 24th. This is followed by the Solemnity of Christmas, a time of joy – hence the use of white – as we remember the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. We celebrate the humanity of Jesus Christ and celebrate the salvation that has definitely entered our history. The Christmas season begins with the Christmas Vigil on December 24th and extends until the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism.
Epiphany is a feast that recalls the manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God. It is celebrated every year on 6 January or the Sunday after 1 January. On this day, the Magi – representing the Gentiles – appear, to show that this manifestation is for all nations of the earth.
In addition to the Solemnity of the Epiphany, there are other feasts celebrated in the Christmas Cycle, such as the Solemnity of the Holy Mother of God (January 1). The Feast of the Holy Family is also celebrated, which will be on a Sunday from December 26 to 31. If there is no Sunday in this period, the Holy Family Feast is celebrated on December 30th, any day of the week.
The Feast of the Lord’s Baptism ends the Christmas cycle. The date of its celebration depends on the Solemnity of the Epiphany. If the Epiphany is celebrated by January 6th, then the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on the following Sunday. If, however, the Epiphany is celebrated on 7 or 8 January, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord will be celebrated on the following day.
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord marks the beginning of Christ’s public and missionary life. The predominant color is White.
The beginning of Ordinary Time, in its first part, begins on Monday after the Baptism of Jesus and ends on the eve of Ash Wednesday. The Church then instils hope and insists in attentive listening to the Word. The colour of this time is green, a symbol of Christian hope.
Next comes the period of Lent and Easter. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and extends to Palm Sunday and the Passion of the Lord. Being a time of penance and conversion, the Church especially appeals to fasting, charity and prayer. In this period, the song of Glory in the Eucharistic Celebration is omitted. It is the preparation for the Lord’s Passover.
The Forty Days of Lent unite us with the forty days of Our Lord in the wilderness – “By the solemn forty days of Lent, the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 540). The colour used is purple as in Christmas time. The color rose can be used on the fourth Sunday of Lent, representing joy. The high point of this time is the Holy Week. The teaching is directed towards God’s Mercy.
The Easter Triduum begins with the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. On this day the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood is celebrated. The color used is white, which represents the Resurrection, victory, purity and joy. It is the color of the baptized. In the morning there is the Mass of Confirmation, which gathers everyone around the bishop. On Friday, the Passion and Death of Jesus is celebrated, and the colour used is red. It is the only day of the year when we do not have the Eucharistic celebration in the Church, just a Celebration of the Word.
On Saturday we have the solemn Paschal Vigil. The Joy of the Risen Christ constitutes the spirituality of Easter. The teaching is on the Resurrection and eternal life, for Christ has conquered death! The colour used is white. The word Passover means “passage,” which means to Christians the passage from sin and death to grace and life.
The season of Easter extends to the Feast of Pentecost whose celebration takes place fifty days after Easter. The Risen Jesus has returned to the Father (Ascension) and sends us the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit who animates the Church as we walk toward the Father’s house. The color used is red, reminiscent of the fire of the Holy Spirit, which gives us the strength to witness the truth and help us with his gifts.
After Pentecost Sunday begins the 2nd part of Ordinary Time until the eve of the 1st Sunday of Advent, in all, it’s 34 weeks. The color is green. Note that Ordinary Time is not an empty time, it is a time when the Church commemorates the life and work of Christ.
The Liturgical Colors
Colours in the Church have something to communicate to us. In fact, the color used on one day is valid for the whole Church, which obeys the Liturgical Calendar. But what do the colors symbolize?
Green – Symbolizes the hope that every Christian should profess and is used in the Masses of Ordinary Time.
White – Symbolizes Christian joy and the living Christ and is used in Christmas and Easter Masses. In the great solemnities, it can be replaced by yellow or, more specifically, gold.
Red – Symbolizes purifying fire, blood and martyrdom and is used in Good Friday, Pentecost and Holy Martyrs.
Purple – Symbolizes preparation, penance, or conversion and is used in Lent and Advent Masses.
Rose – Rarely used today, it symbolizes a brief “break” in the sadness of Lent and the preparation of Advent.
Blue – Used for solemnities of Our Lady.
Black – Also in disuse, symbolizes death and is used in funerals, has been replaced by the color purple.