Dear St Paul’s family,
On Sunday we held our quarterly newcomers’ brunch and one of our guests mentioned that he had noticed this week that our worship went through some changes. He wondered why. So here’s a primer on the seasons of the church year and how we mark them with color.
The first season is Advent, which means Arrival or Coming. We observe Advent for four weeks leading up to Christmas, and the theme is preparation for the coming of Jesus into the world, both his first coming as a human baby and his second coming which will mean judgment for the world. We mark this season with one of two liturgical colors: purple, signifying both repentance and royalty, or blue, a color traditionally associated with Mary and used in the English tradition at this season of expectation.
Christmas season, celebrating the birth of Jesus, is very short, just 12 days, starting at sunset on December 24 and ending January 5. In this joyful time of celebration and feasting we wear white and gold.
The feast of the Epiphany (remembering the revelation of Jesus to the world represented by the Wise Men) on January 6 introduces a season of “ordinary time”, which lasts until the day before Ash Wednesday. After wearing white on the first Sunday for the Baptism of Jesus, we wear green in ordinary time, symbolizing our spiritual growth through learning about the ministry of Jesus in the world.
Ash Wednesday, which we observed last week, is the first day of Lent (from an old English word meaning springtime). Its date is determined by counting back 40 days plus six Sundays from the variable date of Easter. Lent is a time of repentance, prayer, fasting, and generosity, preparing us for the solemn days of Holy Week when we will remember how Jesus suffered for us. We can wear penitential purple as in Advent, or unbleached linen or sackcloth (a “Lenten array”). You can find various references in Scripture to people wearing sackcloth as a sign of repentance.
Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, the last week of Lent, when we dive deeply into the somber story of the betrayal, crucifixion, and burial of Jesus. If we have oxblood colored vestments (a dark red), we wear those, otherwise we wear a bright red. We may switch to white for Maundy Thursday, three days before Easter, when we commemorate the first Eucharist. Some churches have splendid black vestments for Good Friday.
Sunset on Holy Saturday marks the arrival of Easter, and we celebrate our first Easter service at the Great Vigil on Saturday night (some churches celebrate it at dawn on Easter Day). The Easter season lasts for 50 days, and we wear white and gold in this most joyful of seasons.
The day of Pentecost (meaning “feast of 50”) is on the 50th day of the Easter season, and we wear red as we remember the coming of the fiery Holy Spirit on the apostles.
The season after Pentecost, approximately half the year, is Ordinary Time like that after the Epiphany, and we wear green until Advent rolls around again.
Along the way we may wear white to celebrate a saint or for a funeral, or red for ordinations and martyrs.
A blessed Lent to you all.
Your sister in Christ,