The Way of Beauty Living the Church’s 'Year of Grace'

In Early Christianity, it was a crime to attend the celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy.  Such activity was outlawed under pain of death because Christians rejected the pagan cult of the state.  But they could not live without the Eucharist. They held fast to their weekly worship, met together, kept vigil from Saturday night until Sunday morning, and celebrated the Eucharist. They risked their lives for the sake of the Eucharistic liturgy.

In the Middle Ages, the Church’s liturgical life guided the lives of the faithful.  Together, they lived the Church’s feasts, which united them in a spiritual bond.  From the celebration of Baptism to the Eucharist to the Last Anointing, from the Liturgy of the Hours to processions and pious devotions, to blessings of crops, animals, and boats, the Church provided the liturgical and devotional framework that sacralized their lives. The liturgical year “shaped their perception of the world and their place in it,” and these “central moments gave Catholics the key to the meaning and purpose of their lives” (Eamon Duffy, “The Stripping of the Altars,” 11f).  In France, churches and cathedrals dedicated to the Mother of God were built in strategic locations to resemble the constellation Virga as a way of sacralizing the countryside. The cities that form the constellation of Virga are: Amiens, Evreux, Rouen, Bayeux, Spica, Chartres, Paris, Rheims.  (DVD: “Chartres Cathedral: A Sacred Geometry” (Golden Age Productions, 2000).  Available from

The Parish Church in Nineteenth-Century America

With the arrival of European Catholics to the United States in the nineteenth century, new Americans found refuge in their parish churches which became part of their family life. Parish activities lightened the immigrants’ encounter with anti-Catholicism and cultural bias, comforted the faithful living and working in deplorable conditions, and served as a magnet that drew families together for liturgical feasts.  And the beauty of these feasts lifted their spirits, otherwise marked by misery.  Families, anticipating one feast after the other, lived with a liturgical frame of reference.  Receiving the sacraments was a joyful occasion for the neighborhood, as were feast days of the Mother of God, St. Joseph, and the saints.  In living the year of grace, their faith was handed down to the next generation as a living tradition. 
In her memoir, “Times to Remember,” Rose Kennedy shares family anecdotes not found elsewhere.  Educated by the Religious of the Sacred Heart, she and other students celebrated the liturgical year as part of the academic year. They were expected to marry well and assume charge of their households.  Committed to a full and well-rounded education for her children, Mrs. Kennedy created an atmosphere in her home that buzzed with educational and religious activity.  There she cultivated the children’s faith by structuring their daily schedule around the liturgical feasts of the year (Doris Kearns Goodwin, “The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys” (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1987), 24-27).

Theology of the Liturgical Year
Throughout the course of the year, the week, and the day, the Church recalls the Lord’s life, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven.  His saving mysteries are not merely celebrated as an historical event for us to remember and admire.  God is always saving us by means of sacred signs, and particularly, in the sacred liturgy.  Because Christ is the way to the Father, in order to be redeemed, we too should experience these same mysteries in a personal way.  To explain, the creation of the Gospels consisted of three chief moments:

 1) The community’s experience of God’s working in Christ;
 2) Its theological reflection on this experience;
 3) Formulation in writing.

In Christian contemplation, whether in solitude or at the liturgy, the process is reversed:

 1) We have access to the writings of the gospels;
 2) We reflect theologically on those writings;
 3) We experience the mystery being contemplated (Attributed to David Stanley, S.J.).   The mystery happens to us in prayer.  From this process, we gain an interior knowledge of the Lord and familiarity with him. We come to live the Christ-life by putting on Christ through praying in solitude or at the sacred liturgy. 

Understanding and Living the Year of Grace
The liturgical year is developed according to two cycles of the year: the Temporal and the Sanctoral cycles. The Temporal cycle includes: (1) the Advent-Christmas cycle, and (2) the Easter cycle—Lent, Passion-tide, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, and Ordinary Time--Sundays after Pentecost, and Christ the King. In the Byzantine Churches, Advent becomes the Philip’s Fast-Christmas cycle, which begins between Nov. 10-14 takes the place of Advent.         
Following the civic calendar, the Sanctoral cycle celebrates feasts of the Mother of God and the saints. If Easter is the center of the liturgical year, then Sunday is the weekly celebration of Easter. Sunday, the Lord’s Day, symbolizes the eternal rest and joy of heaven. It points to a state of peace between man and nature and a faint resemblance of that messianic kingdom where lion and lamb lie down together and swords are turned into ploughshares.   Each day brings with it its own ups and downs, its own sufferings and resurrections.  These high and low moments are the raw material by which we live out the passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord.

Over the course of a year, the Lord’s mysteries unfold. Though sacred time is distinct from civic time, it is not separated from it but affects it.  Sacred time sacralizes civic time. In some European countries, the feasts of Epiphany on January 6th and Corpus Christi are not only religious feast days but also civil holidays.  In this way, the rhythm of liturgical time and of civil time is lived within two concentric circles. The Church exhorts us to make the year of grace our very own so that we are continually made new in Christ.  Practically speaking, when the day begins, each of us should be aware of sacred time as well as chronological time—of the Church’s feast day or liturgical season as well as the day and date. In this way, the Church unfolds to us the whole mystery of Christ from the expectation of Advent to the days of Pentecost, and finally to the feast of Christ the King.

As the liturgical year is repeated, it becomes the primary way in which the Catholic can make the day, the week, and the year a holy and beautiful experience.  In fact, Pope Pius XII in his  encyclical, “Mediator Dei” (1947; #165), wrote:  “The liturgical year, devotedly fostered and accompanied by the Church, is not a cold and lifeless representation of the events of the past, or a simple and bare record of a former age.  It is rather Christ Himself who is ever living in His Church.” 

There are many informative images available to the reader from Google/Images/Church’s liturgical year.

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