The prayers at Mass and colors we wear, our devotions, and our liturgical life is covered by the liturgical calendar. So the calendar actually governs a lot of our Catholic spiritual life, but it doesn’t have to be that way. So Christians don’t use a liturgical calendar. They do pretty much the same thing at every service. The minister chooses the readings, songs, and theme for the service based on what he wants to preach on. Catholic priests don’t get to do that nearly as often, because the prayers and readings for the Mass are decided by the liturgical calendar. This means that a Catholic can go to Mass anywhere in the world and find the same colors, readings, prayers, and general themes being used. This is important to us because we are one Church throughout the world, not a lot of separate churches.
The calendar is based on the life of Christ. The year begins with Advent, when we begin to prepare ourselves for the birth of Christ at Christmas. The season of Christmas lasts about a month. Then we have a few weeks of ordinary time. Ordinary Time is the season when we don’t celebrate anything specific, and it takes up most of the year. During the season of Lent we prepare for the Crucifixion and Resurrection. It lasts 46 days. Remember, we don’t fast on Sundays, because on Sundays we celebrate the Resurrection. If we take out Sundays, we have 40 days of fasting in Lent, because Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert after His baptism in the Jordan River. The Paschal Triduum is Holy Thursday through Easter Sunday, and this is when we celebrate the death and Resurrection of Jesus. The celebration of Easter is extended for 50 days, and ends with the celebration of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles in the upper room. Then, we have more ordinary time until Advent starts again. The colors give you a clue to what the season is about. Advent and Lent are times of preparation and penance, so we wear purple. Christmas and Easter are times of celebration and joy, so we wear white or gold. During ordinary time we wear gold.
The amount of thought, time, and effort that the Church puts into the liturgy is amazing, as you can see in just this one part of it. This is because the Mass is the highest form of worship of God. In a way, offering worthy worship to God is the main job of the Church. Hopefully I haven’t bored you too much, but maybe this can help you live the liturgy of the Church a little more fully.
The website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has the liturgical calendar right on the home page, on the right hand side, and if you click on the date it will take you to the Mass readings for that day. The website is http://www.usccb.org.
Next Week: Parenthood
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.