A-Z: General definitions: Liturgical Calendar


The Christian year evolved gradually around the two feasts of Easter and Christmas which in the 4C became fixed on Dec 25 (coinciding with the pagan winter solstice). The annual pattern of worship which emerged was made up of two overlapping cycles: the Temporale, which was based on the life of Christ and incorporated some variations in timing according to the date of Easter, and the Sanctorale, the feast-days of saints which had fixed dates. The following outline is based on the Temporale but includes some of the most important additional feast days (marked with an asterix).

Advent. From the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day until Christmas  Eve. Preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ as a baby at Christmas and for his Second Coming as Judge at the end of the world.

Christmas. Celebration of the birth of Christ. Festivities lasted for 12 days.

*St Stephen. 26 December.

*St John the Evangelist. 27 December.

*The Holy Innocents. 28 December.

*St Thomas of Canterbury (Thomas Becket). December 29 (After 1173).

Epiphany. 6 January. In the West celebrates the manifestation (Gk. epiphaneia) to the Magi and hence to the Gentiles.

*Candlemas. February 2. The purification of the Virgin Mary and Christ's presentation in the Temple (Luke 2:22-38). Candles carried in procession to symbolize Christ, "a light for revelation to the Gentiles" (Luke 2:32).

Septuagesima (seventieth day). The Sunday nine weeks before Easter. The beginning of the penitential season.

Quinquagesima (fiftieth day). Sunday before Lent.

Shrove Tuesday. Day before Ash Wednesday on which the faithful were expected to go to confession (shriving).

Lent. Forty-day season of penitence and fasting leading up to Easter. Reflects Christ's forty days in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-2).
Ash Wednesday. First day of Lent. Ashes were placed on the heads of clergy and laity as a sign of penitence.

Quadragesima (fortieth day). First Sunday in Lent. Also used of the whole season of Lent.

Passion Sunday. Two weeks before Easter.

Palm Sunday. The Sunday before Easter, marked by the blessing of palms and a procession commemorating Christ's entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11).

Holy Week. (week before Easter Sunday):

Maundy Thursday (Lat. mandatum, commandment). Thursday before Easter Sunday. Commemorates the Last Supper (Christ's sharing of the Passover Meal with his disciples) at which he instituted the Eucharist, washed the disciples' feet and commanded that that they should love one another as he loved them.

Good Friday. The Crucifixion of Christ.

Holy saturday. A vigil was kept in preparation for Easter day. The Paschal candle was lit.

Easter Sunday. The Resurrection of Christ.

*Rogation days. Days of prayer and fasting in early summer chiefly for the harvest. Major Rogation, April 25. Minor Rogations, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Ascension Day.

Ascension. The fortieth day after Easter. Celebrates Christ's return to heaven (Acts 1:9).

Pentecost (Whit Sunday). Seventh Sunday after Easter. The Jewish feast of Weeks (harvest). Day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples (6[Acts 2:1-476]).

Trinity Sunday. Sunday after Pentecost. Celebrates God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Very popular in England.

Corpus Christi. Thursday after Trinity Sunday. Feast celebrating the institution of the Eucharist, introduced in 1264. Associated with medieval religious drama.

*St Peter and St Paul, Apostles. 29 June.

*Mary Magdalene. July 22.

*Lammas (loaf-mass). 1 August. Consecration of bread made from first corn harvested.

*St Michael, Archangel (Michaelmas). September 29.

*All Saints' Day. November 1 (in West from 8C). Celebration of all Christian saints, known and unknown.

*All Souls. November 2. Commemoration of the souls of the faithful departed.

* St Andrew, Apostle. November 30.

Feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

Purification. February 2

Annunciation. March 25.

Assumption. August 15.

Nativity. September 8.

Conception. December 8.


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