Spiritual Seasons of the Catholic Church Calendar
The liturgical year, or Church calendar, of the Catholic Church is as different from the calendar year as the fiscal year is for most people. The Catholic liturgical year revolves around two feasts: Christmas and Easter. They’re high holy days because they commemorate the birth and Resurrection of the Church’s founder, Jesus Christ.
The Church calendar begins on the first Sunday of Advent, which is four Sundays before Christmas. The last Sunday of the year, the Feast of Christ the King, is the Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent.
Celebrating Christ Our Light in the first half of the liturgical year
According to the Catholic Church calendar, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, and the Baptism of the Lord all form the Christ Our Light theme.
During each week of Advent, the season before Christmas, a candle is lit in an Advent wreath to remind the faithful that Jesus is the Light of the World. The three purple or violet and one rose or pink candles correspond to the vestments the priest and deacon wear on the Sundays of Advent.
Advent is a time for the faithful to prepare for Christmas spiritually, in the midst of all the shopping, decorating, baking, and parties. Advent tones down the festivity for Catholics so the real celebration can take place on the birthday of Jesus, Christmas Day.
Usually, by December 25, people have been saturated with Christmas music, Christmas parties, and Christmas carols. In Catholic parishes, though, no Christmas hymns or music are sung or played until December 25. Then they’re sung all the way through New Year’s, Epiphany (January 6 — when the Wise Men or Magi came to worship the Christ-child) and ending on the Baptism of the Lord (the Sunday after Epiphany — when John the Baptist baptized Jesus at the River Jordan).
No one knows the exact day of Jesus’ birth, but the Church picked December 25 (close to the winter solstice and after the shortest day of the year) to celebrate the birth of Jesus by using a calendar date that coincides with the increase of daylight. The birthday of St. John the Baptist is celebrated on June 24, shortly after the summer solstice and after the longest day of the year, when daylight begins to decrease.
Celebrating Christ Our Life in the second half of the liturgical year
According to the Church calendar, Lent, Easter, Ascension (40 days after Easter when Jesus ascended into heaven, body and soul), and Pentecost (50 days after Easter when the Holy Spirit came upon the 12 Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary) form the Christ Our Life theme in the liturgical year.
Lent, the season before Easter, occurs in the spring when new life appears after the death of winter. Easter takes place on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the equinox, which means Easter floats every calendar year (as does the Jewish Passover).
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days. Catholics are asked to do modest mortifications and acts of penance during Lent for the purification of the body and soul. Lent is a time of confession, fasting, abstinence, more prayer, more Bible and spiritual reading, and more spiritual and corporal works of mercy. It culminates at Easter when Christ rose triumphant from the dead.