Make a little friendly bet with your students. Ask them what comes first, New Year’s Day or Christmas?
At least on the Church calendar (also called the liturgical year or Roman calendar), “New Year’s” is the Sunday closest to November 30. This is the first Sunday of Advent and the first Sunday of the Church Year. This year it is on December 2, over three weeks before Christmas Day!
Unlike our January 1 New Year’s Day, there is no need for the Church to make a new resolution at the start of a new Church Year. Throughout every year the Church celebrates the unfolding story of our salvation told through the events in the life of Jesus Christ. Review with your students a chronology of the Church Year.
The most important day of the Church Year is Easter Sunday. The other Sundays of the year share in importance; they are sometimes called “little Easters.”
The Church Year is divided into major seasons. Advent is the beginning of the Church Year. It lasts about four weeks before Christmas, both anticipating Jesus’ Second Coming and remembering the preparations that took place the first time Christ entered the world as a human being.
The Christmas season begins on December 25. In addition to Christmas Day, this seasons also celebrates the feast of the Holy Family, the Solemnity of the Mother of god, the feast of the Epiphany, and the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
Next, the Church enters a period of “Ordinary Time” in which there is no special theme or focus in liturgies. Ordinary Time ends with Mardi Gras, the day before Ash Wednesday.
Lent is the next major period of the Church Year. It begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts until Holy Thursday. Lent is a time of doing penance and renewing baptismal vows. The Easter Triduum (“three days”) bridges Lent and the Easter season. It includes the days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.
Easter is a moveable feast, tied with the Jewish Passover. It is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. Hence it occurs sometime between March 22 and April 25. The Easter season follows this high holy day, lasting fifty days until Pentecost, the Sunday marking the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Church.
Ordinary Time resumes after the Easter season and lasts until the end of November. The final day of the Church Year (November 25 in 2007) is the feast of Christ the King. This feast was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925 as a statement against the tide of nations ignoring their Christian roots to follow secular or worldly leaders and ideas. Christians acknowledge only one King, and that is Jesus Christ.
In addition to the Sunday liturgies, the Church Year includes many other celebrations recalling events from the lives of Jesus, his Mother Mary, and the great Christian saints. These days are ranked in order of their importance from solemnities, to feasts, to memorials.
Remind the students that the way to tell the chance of Church seasons is through the difference in colors worn by the priest and used to decorate the altar. They probably know that green is the color for Ordinary Time. Help them to recall that violet is worn for Advent and Lent, white for Easter, and red for Good Friday and the feasts of martyrs.
• The feast of Christ the King anticipates the Second Coming of Christ. Present the Church’s teaching on the creedal statement, “He will come again in glory.” (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, #668 668–677).
• The establishment of Christ the King also called for an annual consecration of the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Uncover more of this devotion that originally began in the thirteenth century. Point out the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the Friday after the second Sunday after Pentecost.
• Give each student a blank calendar showing all the days of the year. Have them shade in the seasons of the Church Year with the proper liturgical colors and print the names of as many Holy Days, Saints’ Days, and other holidays that they know.
• Have the students read the parables in Matthew 13 telling them what the kingdom of God is like. Then ask them to use these images to help them write or draw their own parable telling what God’s kingdom is like. Allow time for the participants to share their ideas with the group.