“The liturgical year is not an idle discipline, not a sentimentalist definition of piety, not an historical anachronism. It is Jesus with us, for us, and in us as we strive to make His life our own. It is goad and guide to the kind of personal spirituality that is worthy of the Jesus whose commitment to the Word of God led Him all the way to the cross and beyond it—to Resurrection.” (Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year)
Everyone remembers their favorite professor from college, right? Mine is an East Texas born Baptist, a scholar of Religion and Literature. I clearly remember so many of his lectures given in his big, booming voice. And I remember the painfully truthful criticism written on the first paper I turned in for his class: “My dear Ms. Payne, unfortunately, no one has ever taught you how to write.” Ouch! Followed by one of the most generous offers ever given to me: “Please let me have that honor.” When I left his class, I was a better writer and a better thinker. I have much to thank him for, but I am particularly indebted to him for introducing me to the Christian Year.
He began a lecture for our Literary Classics of Christianity class by drawing a line across the board. He then drew two upward marks evenly spaced. The first he labeled Easter, the second Christmas. “This, friends, is what most of us in the South have grown up believing are the events of the Christian year. Wait, I’ve forgotten the Fourth of July,” and added a mark in the middle of the Christian Year timeline. Growing up in the South as an Evangelical Protestant, I knew he was right. Every Sunday at church feels pretty much the same except for those three days. Easter we had lilies. Fourth of July we sang “God Bless, America,” and Christmas was the last Sunday that we had to sing “Angels, We Have Heard on High” and hear someone belt out “O, Night Divine” as a solo.
“But this isn’t the whole story,” he told us. Then our professor started to add marks to the timeline. And not just marks, but blocks of time. There weren’t just a handful of special days to add, there were entire seasons I had never known about! He started out at the beginning, which for the Christian Year isn’t January 1, but Advent, the four weeks before Christmas.
In detail, he explained what the seasons were. Why they were. What they meant. How they prepared us for the season that followed and how as a whole, they told us the whole story of redemption. He explained the darkness and the preparation of Advent with its symbolic color of purple—the color of the bruised heart. The sorrow of the world waiting for a Savior, followed by the joy of the Incarnation. God loved the waiting world enough to become a helpless child. To be born as a human baby, homeless, and naked.
And Christmas wasn’t just one day! It was a season—12 days long of feasting, celebrating, and joy. And then the season of Epiphany arrives: we remember the Wise Men traveling from distant lands and how Our Lord didn’t come for only one people group but for all. We celebrate him as the Light of the World.
Then, after weeks of preparation, then celebration and feasting, we have “Ordinary Time” with its color of green. Time to live and work and pray—a season for growing.
Then comes Lent as winter’s chill prepares to give way for spring. Again purple, for our hearts are in darkness. We fast, pray, and give, in order to see ourselves as we truly are and have true penitence for our sin. We ask to be transformed. Good Friday arrives, its color black, its complete utter darkness when Our Savior dies for our guilt. And then, the brightness of Easter after a long, cold, difficult 40 days of Lent. The joy of a Risen Savior after we stopped still to mourn the Passion of Our Lord. And there was more! Pentecost! Feasts and fasts and days to remember and celebrate! It was such a rich tapestry telling the cosmic story and I was hooked.
What a beautiful gift the Church offers us in the Christian Year! We get to wait for Christ, walk with Him, die with Him, and be raised with Him each year. We get to use food, music, and traditions to help tell ourselves what story we are really a part of. We get to live by a different calendar, one that isn’t created by Hallmark and candy companies. A rich calendar of redemptive time that makes us take a breath, slow down, grow, change, remember, mourn, and sometimes really kick up our heels and party with joy. Join me as we start this new Year of Faith the Holy Father has called us to. Live by a different watch, by holy time. Be transformed.
Do you observe the Christian Year? Is your family just learning to incorporate liturgical traditions like mine is? I am so excited to tell you about a new project to encourage and inspire each other to observe the liturgical year, deepen our families’ faith, and build up the domestic church! I’m joining forces with two other Catholic blogs (Molly Makes Do and Dualing Moms) to host a new linkup: Little HolyDays: Redeeming Time with Feasts, Fasts, Holidays, and Everyday. We’ll be linking up with posts (old or new) about feast days, liturgical seasons, and family traditions and we’d love for you to join us! Our first linkup will be December 3rd and focus on the season of Advent. More details to come!