One of the purposes for Christ’s Incarnation was to reclaim for God the Father and His holy purposes the entirety of God’s creation which in the beginning He called “good.” Part of this creation, of course, is time. In Ephesians 5:16, St. Paul exhorts Christians to “redeem the time because the days are evil.” The Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit developed a Liturgical Calendar for this very purpose of redeeming the time. “The liturgy of the Church takes time seriously because the Christian Faith takes time seriously. Just as our ordinary daily tasks and activities are regulated by clocks and calendars, so also our spiritual life and growth are ordered by ‘times and seasons.’ By means of the prayers and praises of the daily offices, the recurring cycle of the Christian Year, and the occasional rites of dedication and of blessing, the liturgy helps us to ‘redeem the time.’ And the things that are temporal become sacraments of the things that are eternal” (The Worship of the Church, Massey H. Shepherd, Jr., pp. 98-99).
“The liturgical year is divided into two halves. The first half focuses on the life of Christ; the second, on the life of Christ’s body, the Church. All of our highest holy days—Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost—occur within the first half of the year. Within the first half of the year are two cycles, which center on the holy days of Christmas and Easter. These cycles are comprised of a season of preparation (Advent and Lent), a season of celebration (Christmas and Easter), and a special day of rejoicing (Epiphany and Pentecost).
In the first cycle, Advent is the season of preparation for Christmas, which is the season of celebrating the birth of Christ. This cycle concludes with Epiphany. In the second cycle, Lent is the season of preparation for Easter, which is the season of celebrating the resurrection of Christ. This cycle concludes with Pentecost. After each of these two cycles is a season called Ordinary Time.
Looking at a secular calendar, the church year would be structured like this: it begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, in late November or early December. This is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent stretches across four Sundays, inviting us to mindfully prepare and joyfully wait for Christmas. Christmas begins on December 25, when we celebrate the birth of Christ, and lasts twelve days. On January 6, we celebrate Epiphany—the coming of the Magi and Christ’s manifestation to all people. Following Epiphany is a short season of Ordinary Time that lasts until Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the six-week season of fasting and penitence that precedes Easter. Easter is the fifty-day season— outside of Ordinary Time, the longest season of the church year—of celebrating Christ’s resurrection and triumph over sin and death. On the fiftieth day after Easter we celebrate Pentecost, rejoicing in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church. Following Pentecost is the second season of Ordinary Time, which corresponds to the second half of the church year and focuses on living out the Christ-life (through which we have just journeyed) in the midst of our daily lives” (“Redeeming Time” in Christian Reflection, 2010).
In an article written by Kimberlee Conway Ireton, Ms. Ireton asks three compelling questions that some of us may have after reading the above – “Why do I choose to embrace the church year? What about this particular ordering of time is so compelling? And what effect does living according to the church calendar have on my moral and spiritual formation?” Ms. Ireton’s answer is – “Embracing this way of marking the year has formed my faith and my character, in large part, because I am repeatedly thrust back into the life of Jesus through the stories told and retold each season. These stories place Christ daily before my eyes and point me back to the One whom I am all too prone to forget in the busyness and bustle of my life. Because each season has a special emphasis, I have opportunities to focus on specific areas of spiritual growth as I live out that season. Like any spiritual discipline, living the church year is most meaningful, most formative, and most transformative when we keep at it, embracing its seasons and their rhythms, allowing the life of Jesus to speak again and again into our own lives, seeking always to follow in the way Jesus leads us, year after year” (“Redeeming Time” in Christian Reflection, 2010).
One of the major aspects of my vision for parish ministry is to help develop the liturgical life of the parish and to help all parishioners to incorporate the Liturgical seasons and celebrations into their lives. I call this plan collectively, “Redeeming the Time.”
“Redeeming the Time” means planning for the themes, moods, and liturgies of the Christian Year, and also includes special reinforcing festivities to help make it all an active and anticipated part of life as a Christian. Because this is part of my vision for parish ministry which I would like to implement at St. John’s, I would very much appreciate your input at every stage and level. If you know of traditions or activities that would be meaningful to incorporate into this plan, please do not hesitate to make suggestions. Next week, we will discuss “Redeeming the Time and the Eucharistic Liturgy for Advent.”