Years ago when working for InterVarsity in Toronto, Canada, a couple of us discussed the idea of visiting a Roman Catholic church on an upcoming Sunday. Because it’s a large city, we ended up doing our visiting independently of each other, which meant going alone.
The family near where I sat down must have sensed my unfamiliarity the minute I walked in. They handed me the missal, and informed me that this was “The seventeenth Sunday of ordinary time.” Wait; the what? They told me where to follow in the two books that would provide the texts for that week’s service.
I figured the ordinary time thing was some Catholic thing, and didn’t give it much further thought. Flash forward about a decade, and I encountered Advent. Honestly, it’s not much of a stretch to say I didn’t know the difference between an Advent calendar and an Advent candle. But as I moved around the various communities of Christians, I quickly learned about feast days, Epiphany, Lent, and much more.
A few days ago, Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk provided a short crash course for the uninitiated, as well as those of you who grew up in a liturgical environment, but need some review:
Christians who follow the liturgical calendar will begin a new year of living in the Gospel with the commencement of Advent on Nov. 29.
- Advent is the season when we prepare for Christ’s coming. (4 weeks)
- Christmastide is the season when we celebrate Christ’s incarnation. (12 days)
- In Epiphany, we remember how Christ made God’s glory known to the world. (up to 9 weeks)
- The Lenten season leads us to the Cross, the climactic event in Holy Week, which concludes Lent. (40 days plus Sundays)
- Eastertide (the Great 50 Days) celebrates Christ’s resurrection, new life, and his ascension to glory. It concludes on the 50th day, Pentecost, the day of the Spirit’s outpouring.
- The Season after Pentecost (or Trinity, or Ordinary Time) is the time of the church, when by the Spirit we live out the life of the Gospel in community and in the world. (up to 29 weeks)
I don’t know why so many Christian groups think they need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to “discipleship programs.” This time-tested annual pattern for the life of individual believers and the Church together that is focused on Christ, organized around the Gospel, and grounded in God’s grace, is sheer genius. It is simple enough for a child. It offers enough opportunities for creativity and flexibility that it need never grow old. Each year offers a wonderful template for learning to walk with Christ more deeply in the Gospel which brings us faith, hope, and love.
My favorite book on church year spirituality is Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year. Here is his summary of the subject:
Ancient-Future Time presents the historical understanding of the Christian year as life lived in the pattern of death and resurrection with Christ. This spiritual tradition was developed in the early church and has been passed down in history through the worship of the church. It enjoys biblical sanction, historical staying power, and contemporary relevance. Through Christian-year spirituality we are enabled to experience the biblical mandate of conforming to Christ. The Christian year orders our formation with Christ incarnate in his ministry, death, burial, resurrection, and coming again through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost. In Christian-year spirituality we are spiritually formed by recalling and entering into his great saving events. (p. 21f)
The article then continues — click the link to read — Five Reasons to Practice Church Year Spirituality.