The Significance of the Church Year

Valentine’s Day is coming, so we men had better make sure we have some chocolates and roses handy, lest we end up in the doghouse for the next few weeks. Mother’s Day is just around the corner, and I can’t wait until we get to take our mothers out to eat at the local buffet. Soon we’ll be grilling out and watching fireworks on a humid 4th of July Night. So how does this relate to theology? Well, many churches faithfully celebrate these holidays (with the exception of Valentine’s Day) in their worship services. While I enjoy these holidays, and celebrate them every year, I still recognize them for what they are: secular holidays.

Many Christians are weary of living on secular time. It is not that we have a problem with secular holidays; we just want something deeper, something connected to our faith. After all, secular time is, well, secular. Let’s take February for example. Secular time offers one federal holiday, president’s day, and two other holidays: Groundhog’s Day and Valentine’s Day. None have any real Christian significance (despite the Christian origins of Valentine’s Day and Groundhog’s Day). Besides that, there are only three, yes a whopping three, holidays in February. Talk about disappointing.

However, during the same month of February, the Christian calendar celebrates the following holidays (and many more): the Presentation of the Lord, St. Polycarp, Ss. Cyril and Methodius, and often the season of Lent (this year Lent begins in March). So if we follow the Christian calendar, we are able to reflect on a major event in the life of our Lord (with an amazing candle service), learn about a great early bishop and martyr, and pray with the apostles to the Slavs. We also usually begin our 40-day period of fasting in February, when we recall the fasting Jesus did in the wilderness, as we fast ourselves.

I am not trying to force the Church Calendar on anybody. The Liturgical year is a blessing, something meaningful in which to participate, and something we must discover for ourselves. However, I think many churches need to rethink their general suspicion of church holidays and their uncritical celebration of many secular holidays. A Christian I met in college is a perfect example of this thinking. As a Methodist, I was observing Lent, and was talking about it with my girlfriend at the time. When he overheard our conversation, he said, “Lent! Are you Catholic?” in a somewhat scornful tone. He was suspicious of a Christian holiday rooted in the life of Jesus, a Christian season that helps us spiritually clean house, yet he had no problem observing Independence Day or Memorial Day in his church, clearly secular holidays. While I love my country and enjoy celebrating it, Lent is only holiday in this paragraph with clear biblical roots.

I invite everyone to explore what many of us call “holy time” or “sanctified time.” The Church Year is God’s time, cycled around the major events of our salvation and redemption, cycled around JESUS. I think you will find observing the Church Year (through prayer, worship, and reading) to be very meaningful. What can be more meaningful than time that centers around Jesus? Below is what I have written on the ChurchYear.Net page, expressing what we believe the Church Year to be:

In the course of a year, the Church celebrates the unfolding of the mystery of Christ, beginning with Advent, anticipating his first coming, and reaching a high point at Easter, the feast of feasts, celebrating Christ’s resurrection. Through the Church Year, which includes the seasonal, daily, and yearly cycles of Christian time, we live into the events of Jesus and his followers through sanctified time. Thus, we experience in symbol what Jesus and his followers did in reality. We do this through daily prayer (The Liturgy of the Hours), worship, the Eucharist, the sacraments, art, changing colors, canticles, psalms, antiphons, symbols, and other means.

The Church Year, including all liturgical celebrations and times of prayer, is one of the most meaningful dimensions of the Catholic faith. Many Christians of all traditions feel drawn to this system of holy time, and prefer to orient their lives around the Christian calendar instead of the secular calendar. Postmodern men and women feel especially drawn to many elements of Sanctified Time: mystery, connection to the past, and a multitude of religious symbols and experiential elements. Thus the Church Year is a postmodern Catholic evangelism tool, and a means of spiritual growth for all who use it.

Thanks to Chad for getting me thinking about the Church Year!