The Liturgical Year, Week, and Day
Living the Church’s year of grace calls for an understanding and devotion towards the year, the week, and the day. The year has been developed according to two cycles: the temporal and the sanctoral. The temporal cycle includes: (1) the Advent-Christmas cycle, or, in the Byzantine Churches, Philip’s Fast-Christmas, (between November 10th -14th), and (2) the Easter cycle, Lent, Passiontide, Easter and its extended celebration, Ascension, Pentecost. The Sundays after Pentecost to the Christ the King belong to Ordinary time. The sanctoral cycle celebrates feasts of the Mother of God and the saints according to the calendar year.
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 (Is 11). The day, every day, brings with it its own ups and downs when we unite with Christ in his Paschal Mystery.
Liturgical Life in the Middle Ages
In medieval times, the Church year guided the lives of the faithful and united them in a spiritual bond. From Baptism to the Eucharist to the Last Anointing, from processions and pious devotions to blessings of crops, animals, and boats, the church 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, 11-46). As a way of making sacred the French countryside, churches and cathedrals dedicated to the Mother of God were built in strategic locations to resemble the constellation Virga. The French cities that formed the constellation of Virga are: Amiens, Evreux, Rouen, Bayeux, Spica, Chartres, Paris, Reims.
Liturgical Life in Nineteenth-Century American Parishes
With the arrival of immigrants to the United States in the nineteenth century, the prospective Americans sought a familiar religious atmosphere in their parish churches which became part of family life. Parish activities lightened their encounters with anti-Catholicism and cultural bias. They comforted the faithful living and working in wretched conditions, and served as magnets that drew families together for liturgical feasts. Their beauty lifted people whose lives were otherwise marked by squalor. Anticipating one feast after the other, families 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 be lived and cherished by the next generation.
The Parish Church Today
Today, the American Church faces new challenges to universalize the Church in the particular, the local parish. The parish supports not just a program of religious education; it has also become the nerve center for the religious education of the family. In John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, “Catechesi Tradendae,” catechesis is intimately bound up with the whole of the Church’s life. Nothing in life escapes the Church’s concern. In all that is human, it has a pastoral concern: from global affairs to social justice, from science to the arts, to sports and care of the environment, to the media. Moral questions about human sexuality and that of marriage and the family call for concentrated attention. The Church is committed to strengthening the family, and where public morality has broken down, the parish assumes virtually all aspects of Christian formation. Comprehensive religious education begins with externals, from clean and well-cared churches to attractive bulletins to the care with which the sacraments are celebrated to concern for our children and the most vulnerable.
The Catholic School
Catholic schools, and not just in grades 1-8, afford a splendid opportunity to celebrate the liturgical year. Both the temporal and sanctoral cycles bring with them many ways in which our students can joyfully celebrate the liturgical feasts. These will remain as unforgettable memories as children mature. From school, they can bring the practices into their homes where perhaps their parents are not familiar with liturgical customs.
October, the Beautiful
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The quiet month of October is resplendent with its welcome of fall iridescent colors. For years, October claimed center stage from which to primp her changing foliage before our very eyes. Freshly-harvested hay bales, fall vegetables like corn, squash and pumpkins still recall grateful harvesting by our first colonists in Massachusetts. Garlands and wreaths of fall colors are still proudly displayed on many a doorpost. It’s a glorious time of the year—October, when man and woman seek communion with the earth and give thanks for its good things.
Halloween, the Creepy; Hallowe’en, the Christian
Sadly, over the years, the culture has steadily pushed aside the pageantry of spectacular fall colors for black and orange worn by witches, devils, dry bones, and oversized cats. More about this below.
October 31st: the Christian Celebration of All Hallows’ Eve
The story of All Hallows’ Eve is filled with twists and turns. Hundreds of years before Christ, the pagan Druids of Celtic lands, prompted by the long nights and early dark of winter months, made mischief by heckling others with mean tricks and scaring them into offering fruits and sweets. In contrast, Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruits and gardens, was celebrated on November 1st. In the Roman Empire, the custom of eating or giving away fruits, and especially apples, became popular.
From the seventh or eighth century, October 31st was marked on the Church calendar as a Christian feast, All Hallows’ Eve, the eve of All Saints’ Day, the feast of all those unnamed men and women who had joined the heavenly Blessed. It resembled other “Eves,” Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. By the eleventh century, the day after All Saints was dedicated to the commemoration of all the departed faithful, All Souls Day. All Hallows’ Eve was then linked to the two feast days. In Ireland and Great Britain, the end of October marked the end of the fall harvest and the beginning of the barren winter; the faithful were reminded of the call to sainthood as well as the reality of death and Purgatory.