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The Church of St. Cyprian

Seasons Of The Church Year



The first season in the Church Year is ADVENT. The word "ADVENT" is derived from the Latin, which means 'coming' or 'arrival.' This season was developed in the Western church as a preparation for the festival of the Nativity.

The First Sunday in Advent is the beginning of the Christian Year (Church Year). The period begins with the Sunday closest to St. Andrew's Day (November 30). The Season of Advent has to do with the Coming of the Lord and His Kingdom, which is "at hand." Themes for sermons for the four Sundays in Advent have historically been the four last things - death, judgement, hell and heaven.

In earlier times, Advent was seen totally as a penitential season. Like the Season of Lent, during the Advent Season, marriages were not solemnized in the Church and the faithful were asked to abstain from public amusements. However, in modern times, this custom has changed and the Season of Advent has taken on a different character - one of hope and anticipation. It is a season given to the preparation and anticipation of the First Advent, the Feast of the Nativity; and the anticipation of Jesus' Second Advent again in glory to judge both the living and the dead and to establish a kingdom for all eternity.

The colour of the season was traditionally 'purple,' as is in Lent due to the theme of solemn preparation and penitence. However, the colour 'blue' is used in some churches. This colour originated at Salisbury Cathedral in England and is sometimes called "Sarum Blue," from the ancient name for Salisbury. The colour is also used in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary who, through her obedience to God's calling anticipated and prepared for the Advent of the Incarnate Son of God.



The main symbol associated with the Season of Advent is the "Advent Wreath." Like the Christmas tree, the Advent Wreath has its origin in pre-Christian festivals of lights, which celebrated the winter solstice. In recent years, the Advent Wreath has become widespread in many Christian churches in the Western Hemisphere. It serves as a reminder of our time of preparation for the Coming of Christ, both at Bethlehem and at the end of the world.

The Advent Wreath, which is circular, is made of evergreen boughs on which are placed four candles. The wreath is placed or hung in or near the chancel (sanctuary) and a candle is lighted each Sunday in Advent, a visible reminder of the long period of waiting the Hebrews experienced before the Advent of the Messiah promised of God. Three of the candles are blue and the other is rose (pink). The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent indication that the light of Christmas draws nearer.

The symbolism of the candles is widely varied but they are sometimes said to have the following significance:

  • The first is the "prophecy candle," announcing the period of waiting
  • The second is the "Bethlehem candle," symbolic of the preparation being made to receive and cradle the Christ's child.
  • The third is the "shepherd's candle," signifying the act of sharing Christ
  • The fourth is the "angel's candle," heralding Christ's love and imminent coming

    If desired, a fifth candle, always white (sometimes referred to as the "Christ Candle" or "Christmas Candle" is placed in the centre of the wreath and is lit on Christmas Day. It would be lit until the Epiphany, after which the wreath is put away.

    The Advent Wreath reminds us of the eternal nature of God, as well as His intentions, which we share in that we will be part of a kingdom, which has no end.



    The second season in the Church (Christian) Year is CHRISTMAS. In Egypt, around 1996 B.C. the calendar recorded the winter solstice as being on January 6. However, by the time of Alexandria was founded in 331 B.C. the inaccuracy of the calendar meant that the winter solstice was on December 25. Nevertheless, the dates of the Christian festivals of Christmas and the Epiphany are both linked with the winter solstice. The Light of the World (Jesus) comes so as to add light to the longer days of darkness during the winter solstice.

    It would appear that at Rome around A.D. 336 we find firm evidence of the celebration of Christmas. Some scholars and persons would argue that Jesus was not born on this day, but it is not the day that is important but what happened on the day and what it means for humanity.

    THE FEAST OF THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST fills every Christian heart with joy for God has come to us in human form. The long awaited and promised Messiah has arrived and therefore there is reason for celebrating and rejoicing. The liturgies of this period revolve around the infancy narratives from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, together with all those passages in the Old Testament that are seen to anticipate the coming of the Messiah and expound its significance in the New Testament. The words:

    "...and she gave birth to her first born son...and laid him in a manger..."
    are familiar and dear words to the heart of every Christian.

    This twelve day Season (December 25 - January 5) remains the most widely observed and celebrated of all Christian festivals. This is probably so because of its festive nature, the music, family and friends coming together and the exchanging of gifts. However, Christmas is the second most important festival in the Christian calendar. (Easter is the most important).

    The colour of the season is 'white' or 'gold' symbolising purity, joy and happiness. Christmas is one of the seasons that the faithful are expected to receive their communion.



    Though little is known about the development of the "Christingle," it had its' origin in a children's service held on Christmas Eve 1747 in Marienborn, Germany. A bishop named John de Watterville conducted a service for children belonging to a group of Moravians whose families held devotions in a room in the castle in Marienborn. The service was free from formality with Christmas hymns being sung, and Christmas solos, songs and poems were done by the children. The Bishop de Watterville spoke to the children of the happiness we possess as a result of Jesus' birth, how his coming "Has kindled in each little heart a flame which keeps ever burning to his joy and our happiness."

    This "Candle Service" as it was called became very popular in Moravian Churches throughout the world. But in Great Britain, around the end of the 19th century, a 'Christingle replaced the candle tied with a red ribbon The name probably derives from the German 'Christ-engle' (Christ Angel) or 'Christ-kindl' (Christ Child).

    Although some of the things that the Christingle consisted of varied according to culture, in our society, the Christingle consists of:

  • an orange which symbolises the world,
  • the red ribbon or tape symbolises the blood of Christ;
  • four toothpicks represent the four corners of the earth;
  • the raisins and cherries stand for the people of all races
  • the lighted candle symbolises Christ who is the light of the world.

    Christingles are used in the Christingle Service held in all Moravian Churches in Great Britain on the Sunday nearest to Christmas Day or on Christmas Eve. Children participate as they did at Marienborn and the climax of the service comes as each child is given a lighted Christingle. At this point the church lights are extinguished and by the twinkling flames of the Christingle candles, the children sing the traditional Christingle hymn: "Morning star, O cheering sight!" or a more modern children's hymn is sung.

    In recent years, the custom of holding Christingle services at Christmas time has spread to churches of other traditions.



    The origin of the Feast of the EPIPHANY lies in the eastern celebration of the Incarnation, and its fundamental concern is the epiphany, or theophany, the manifestation, the revelation of God to the world in Jesus Christ. This is what the word Epiphany means.

    This third season in the Church or Christian Year always begins on January 6. This is possibly so because this was the original date of the winter solstice in the East. However, it would appear that originally the Eastern epiphany on January 6 celebrated two things, the birth of Christ (all aspects of it including the visit of the magi), and the baptism of Jesus, and that this remained the case until the late fourth century. But by 380 it was clear that Christmas was being celebrated on December 25 in Constantinople, a copying of the Western celebration and so it spread rapidly all over the East in the last quarter of the 4th century. So the incarnation was separated from the baptism in liturgical celebration.

    Epiphany commemorates first, Christ's manifestation to the Gentiles as the promised Messiah, symbolised by the visit of the Wise Men; second, the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist (celebrated on the First Sunday after the Epiphany), and third, the marriage feast of Cana, the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. Thus, in Epiphany we celebrate Christ's divine power and glory revealed for all people. We see Christ as the "Light of the World."

    Despite that in the modern West, the celebration of Christmas Day now totally overshadows the Epiphany (January 6), the season of the Epiphany is a time to ponder on the coming of light to the whole world in Jesus Christ. It is also a time for rededicating ourselves to our missionary tasks, spreading the light of Christ's forgiving and redeeming love. The colour for the actual Feast Day of the Epiphany and the Sunday commemorating the Baptism of Our Lord is 'white,' however, for the remainder of the season, the colour is 'green' symbolising life and growth.



    The English word LENT means "Spring," but there seems to be no significance between this and the period of spiritual discipline before Easter. The fourth season in the Church Year, the origin of LENT probably lies in the period of preparation of candidates for baptism at Easter; coupled at a later time with 'would-be' penitents observing Lent as a means of preparation for re-admission to communion at Easter.

    However, as adult baptisms decline due to the growth of infant baptisms, Lent lost its association with baptismal preparation and became a general penitential season as one prepares for the celebration of the coming Easter.

    Initially, the period of Lent was variable in length, but six weeks seemed to be more common in many places from the fourth century onwards. The season started on "Quadragesima Sunday" (the Latin word for 'forty days'). However, the desire arose to keep the Lenten fast strictly to forty days, excluding Sundays from the total, since traditionally Sunday was never a fast day but a 'feast day'). This meant that the days of the six weeks before Easter provided thirty-six days. Thus, Lent became extended by four days prior to Quadragesima Sunday to make up the total and therefore now started on "Ash Wednesday." The observance of forty days was partly in keeping with devotional identification with Jesus' fasting and temptations in the wilderness for forty days. The period of Lent therefore started on Ash Wednesday and ended on "Holy Saturday" (the day before Easter Day).

    Various liturgical observances became associated with the Season of Lent. The scrutinies were services concerned with examining and praying for candidates preparing for baptism. However, when baptismal preparation was no longer associated with Lent, these services were discontinued.

    Stational Masses were another liturgical observance during Lent. In Rome, the principal mass on a particular day often presided by the Pope as Bishop of Rome was celebrated in a particular church. On certain days, the Pope would ride to the stational churches in solemn procession to celebrate the mass.

    Probably, the main liturgical provision for Lent consists of the ordinary liturgy provided with appropriate lessons and propers, and with vestments, furnishings and music suitable for the penitential nature of the season. In addition to this, many churches would have special services, series of addresses, study groups and the like.

    The colour of the season is 'purple' symbolising penitence.



    The first day of Lent is called "Ash Wednesday." It is the Wednesday of the seventh week before Easter. However, Ash Wednesday was not always the first day of Lent, Quadragesima Sunday was.

    The day got its name from the ceremonial imposition of ashes on the foreheads of worshippers in the service of the day. The Imposition takes place in the Eucharist after the Gospel and Sermon, although the Eucharistic context is not obligated. The ashes are made by burning the palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday, followed by the imposition on the forehead accompanied by words which either reminds us of human mortality or an exhortation to faithfulness to the gospel or both. Thus the words:

    "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return" and "Repent and believe in the gospel"
    are used in the liturgy.



    It would appear that the celebration of services during "HOLY WEEK"came into being around the end of the fourth century. The week before the Pasch (the Christian Passover) was of unique significance in the Christian year since the middle of the third century, but there is no evidence that observances were of this great intensity. Thus, at the latter part of the fourth century, Palm Sunday and Good Friday came into being. What Christians were doing was to link the events of the ministry of Jesus with the occurrence and the places where they happened. Jerusalem became the place where these services in Holy Week took place since the city was the prime location where the process of change could go forward quite naturally. After all, it was in Jerusalem that the events of the first Holy Week took place. Nevertheless, the rest of the church soon adopted these services as well.

    In the celebration of Holy Week, four great services highlighted the main events being celebrated: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. For the rest of the week, normal Eucharist and Offices with appropriate lessons and other seasonal materials were held.

    "Palm Sunday," the first day of Holy Week reminds us of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem with people waving palms branches. Today, the church blesses and distributes palm crosses and branches, hold processions and the reading of the Gospel of the Palms at the beginning of the Eucharist. The colour on this day is either 'purple' or 'red.'

    "Maundy Thursday" is a day of great liturgical complexity, with three quite distinct acts of liturgical celebration. These are:

  • The public reconciliation of penitents prior to their re-admission to communion at Easter and which is no longer practiced.
  • The Chrism Mass, the service at which oils are blessed by the bishop in the cathedral for use in baptism, confirmation, ordination and the anointing of the sick.
  • The Evening Mass (The celebration of the Last Supper) - giving thanks for the institution of the Eucharist. This service also has the associated ceremonies of the Washing of the feet, the Sacrament of Repose, the stripping of the Altar and the Watch. The colour used on this day is normally 'white' although some churches may use 'purple.'


    "Good Friday" commemorates the Passion and Death of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is also linked to fasting on the Friday before the Pasch. Traditionally, the service for this day was the Three Hours Devotion, which was invented by the Peruvian Jesuits. This service consisted of a series of addresses usually based on the seven words of the cross, interspersed with readings, prayers, silence, psalms and hymns in whatever combination is chosen by the Officiant of the service.

    In recent years, the Good Friday Liturgy is becoming more prominent. This service comprises mainly of four parts:

  • The Liturgy of the Word
  • The Solemn Prayers/Intercessions
  • The Veneration (Meditation) of the Cross
  • The Reception of Communion The colour for this day is normally 'red.'



    The Pasch, the Christian Passover, the transformation of the Jewish Passover, was the great festival of redemption. The fifth season of the Christian calendar, EASTER is the principal feast day and season in the church's year. It is on this day that we celebrate the resurrection of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The key to the Christian faith is found in the fact that Jesus Christ is risen. Sin and death have been vanquished and God's power over our spiritual enemies is acknowledged and accomplished.

    Easter is the transformation of the Jewish Passover, celebrating with joyfulness and thanksgiving the central event of the old covenant, that of God's deliverance of his people out of Egypt from tyranny and oppression. But in his cross and resurrection, the central events of the new covenant, the Lord Jesus was to accomplish a new and supreme deliverance for all humankind, the redemption from sin and death. The cross and resurrection, seen as a unity, constituted the new exodus. The renewal of Baptismal Vows is done at Easter and persons may be baptised at Easter.

    Being called the "Queen of the feasts," the date of Easter is determined by the Jewish lunar calendar. Easter Day is always the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or after the spring equinox on March 21. Therefore Easter cannot be earlier than March 22 or later than April 25. The Easter season includes Ascension Day and lasts a full fifty days, ending with the Day of Pentecost.

    The Easter message gives us confidence and hope. The colour for the season is 'white' or 'gold.'



    The lighting of a large and special candle on its own stand or candlestick forms one of ceremonies in the vigil service on the eve of Easter day, all candles and lamps having been extinguished on Maundy Thursday. The rekindling of fire and light, including the lighting of the Paschal Candle, symbolise the triumph of the resurrection over darkness and sin. The lighting of the Paschal candle is accompanied by the singing of a special chant known as the Paschal Praeconium or the Exultet sung by a deacon standing next to the Paschal candle. In the words of the exultet there are allusions to the Passover and the crossing of the Red Sea which are types foreshadowing the new Passover effected by Christ's cross and resurrection. It is not certain but it is believe that this rite started as early as the fourth century but certainly by the seventh century since they were used in the presbyter churches of Rome.

    The Paschal candle is in use from the eve of Easter until Whitsunday (The Day of Pentecost). Sometimes five grains of incense are inserted in the candle, signifying the five wounds of Christ. The date of the year may also be inscribed in the candle.



    "Ascension Day"is the fortieth day after Easter Day and always falls on a Thursday.

    During the period of Christ's appearance to the apostles and prior to his disappearance from their sight, Jesus ordered the apostles to remain in Jerusalem and to await the gift of the Holy Spirit, which would empower them to carry out their divine commission. The collect for the Sunday after Ascension Day is filled with expectation because in it we ask God not to leave us comfortless but to send us the Holy Spirit as a strengthener.

    The colour for the day is 'white.'



    The Day of PENTECOST used to be a united festival commemorating both the Ascension of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit. But this eventually changed with Ascension Day becoming a part of Easter.

    In Jewish custom, the Passover was brought to completion some seven weeks after Passover at the Feast of Weeks, one of the pilgrim festivals of the old covenant celebrating the wheat or grain harvest). This was called Pentecost, meaning 'fiftieth day' in Greek. In earliest Christian custom a christianised Passover remembered the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit as a single story over fifty days, celebrating the mystery of our salvation through Jesus Christ.

    The Day of Pentecost is commonly called Whitsunday (white Sunday) in English speaking countries, the name being derived from the white garments worn by those to be baptised at Pentecost.

    On the Day of Pentecost we celebrate the fact that our Lord sent the Holy Spirit, the strengthener, to reinforce the faith of the Apostles. Upon receiving this gift the Apostles went out into the world to preach, teach and baptise in Christ's name. On this sixth season of the Church's Year, we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit as the birth of the church.

    The colour for this day is 'red' symbolising the tongues of fire.



    The First Sunday after the Day of Pentecost is called "Trinity Sunday." Subsequent Sundays are numbered 'after Pentecost' until the First Sunday in Advent.

    Trinity Sunday is the day on which the doctrine of the Trinity has been celebrated since the late middle ages. It is the only day of the liturgical cycle, which does not call to mind one of the mighty acts of God. It stresses a balanced understanding of the mystery of God's self-revelation.

    With Trinity Sunday we see the culmination of our Lord's teachings as set forth in the creed. The word "growth" best sums up the purpose of the six month long season of Pentecost.

    The colour for Trinity Sunday is 'white.' However, the colour for the remainder of the Sundays after Pentecost is 'green.'