The church year is structured in such a way as to lead the worshiper through the life of Christ (as revealed in the Gospels) while also through the Bible, taking us deeper and wider in our living relationship with the living God.
There are two significant life-of-Christ cycles in the Church Year. The first is the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle and the second is the Lent-Easter-Pentecost cycle.
The Advent-Christmas-Epiphany and Lent-Holy Week-Easter Cycles
begins with Advent Sunday, which is always four Sundays before Christmas Day (December 25) and extends through Epiphany, which is always January 6 (the day after the Twelfth Day of Chistmas). The Lent-Easter-Pentecost cycle, in contrast, moves around quite a bit, because the date of Easter depends on the lunar cycle. The cycle begins on Ash Wednesday in February or March and ends with the Day of Pentecost in May or June. Easter Day itself falls in late March or in April.
The time in between these two cycles are measured in “Sundays after,” seasons which are called Ordinary Time or Green Seasons. The Sundays after Epiphany are called the First Sunday after Epiphany, the Second Sunday after Epiphany, etc. The Sundays after Pentecost are called the First Sunday after Pentecost, the Second Sunday after Pentecost, etc.
Readings from Scripture
Each year, the cycles repeat except that the readings change so that the church can make it through most of the four Gospels in a three-year Sunday cycle, called Years A, B and C. In Year A, we focus on Matthew’s Gospel. In Year B, Mark’s. In Year C, Luke’s. John’s Gospel is used in all three.
On weekdays, daily readings are organized by the Prayer Book lectionary in such a way as to read through through most of the Bible in just two years, called Year 1 and Year 2. While Sunday services will expose you to most of the four Gospels and bits of the rest of the Bible, weekday lessons cover the entire New Testament and a very large part of the Old Testament.
Punctuating all of this are various feast days, which commemorate saints and others. There are major red-letter saints, such as Mary and the twelve apostles, and there are “lesser saints” and others, ranging from Aelred to Wulfstan. They each have assigned days generally based on the date they died. When a red-letter saint’s day falls on a Sunday during Ordinary Time, we often celebrate the saint on Sunday. For lesser saints, we celebrate them when they fall on weekdays but not when they fall on Sundays.
Questions? Email us.