Seasons & Holy Days
THE MEANING OF ADVENT
Advent, a season of four Sundays, opens the church year. The season begins on the 4th Sunday before Christmas (the Sunday closest to St. Andrew’s Day, November 30) and ends on Christmas Eve. The observance of Advent originated in France during the fourth century. The duration of the season varied from four to seven weeks until the Bishop of Rome in the sixth century set the season at four weeks. In ancient times Advent was strictly observed: every Christian was required to attend church service and fast daily.
The word, Advent, consists of two Latin words: ad — venire, “to come to.” Advent’s message is that God in Christ is coming to the world. The Message of Advent is to “prepare.” The Lord is coming whether the world is ready or not. For those unprepared, his coming means judgment. For those ready for his coming, it means salvation.
How does Advent suggest that we prepare?
- Repentance — forsake the sins of the world for a godly way of life.
- Prayer – pray for the coming of Christ, for he shall save.
- Patience – his coming may be delayed. Watch and wait, for his coming may be sudden.
The Mood of Advent
- Expressed in color. The mood of Advent is expressed in the liturgical color, purple. It depicts a feeling of quiet dignity, royalty and repentance. Purple was the traditional color of a king’s robe; the coming Christ is King of kings. Advent, like Lent, is a time for solemn and sober thought about one’s sins, leading to repentance. It denotes a quiet time for watching, waiting and praying for Christ to come again, personally and universally. An alternate color for Advent is blue, the color of hope.
- Joy in hope. Advent stresses not so much fulfillment as anticipation of fulfillment: the Lord is coming! Christians have great expectations of Christ’s coming again. As a family looks forward to a son returning from a war and as a bride anticipates her wedding day, so a Christian looks forward with joy to Christ’s coming. In the quiet joy of anticipation and not the joy of celebration of a past event.
The Advent Wreath
The Advent Wreath is the widely recognized symbol of Advent. The wreath is made of a circle of evergreen branches laid flat to symbolize the endless nature of God’s love for his people. Four candles stand in the circle which themselves symbolize the four centuries of waiting between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ.
Traditionally, three of the candles are purple and the fourth, the “Joy” candle is pink. Blue candles may also be used to emphasize our hope in God’s promise fulfilled in the Nativity.
This draws attention to the anticipation of the coming of a Messiah that weaves its way like a golden thread through Old Testament history. The Israelites yearned for a return of God’s dynamic presence in their midst. And so, God revealed to some of the prophets that indeed He would not leave His people without a true Shepherd.
First Sunday in Advent – Light the first purple candle which is the candle of hope and in some traditions prophecy because it reminds us that God foretold the coming of His Son and it represents the period of waiting.
Second Sunday in Advent – Light the first and the second purple candle which is the candle of peace and in some traditions it is called the Bethlehem Candle because it reminds of that even God prepared for the birth of His Son. The manger in Bethlehem became a cradle fit for a King.
Third Sunday in Advent – light the first two purple candles and the pink candle that is called the candle of Joy and in some traditions the Shepherds’ candle. It reminds us of the poor shepherds who were the first people to see Jesus – that we all need a shepherd and that Jesus is our shepherd. God loves all people. Some are rich and famous, but others are poor and sometimes hungry. Each has very special place in the heart of God.
Fourth Sunday in Advent – light the 4th purple of love and the pink candles. This candle is also called the Angel’s Candle. It reminds us that love came into the world when Jesus was born and represents rejoicing.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day – All the candles are lit and the white candle in the centre which is Christ’s Candle – Happy Birthday dear Jesus!
Symbols of the Advent Wreath
- The Circle: God has no beginning and no end. His love is ever lasting and universal.
- Evergreens: Green is the color of hope. It is a sign of our hope and belief that the Saviour has come for us.
- Four Candles: The Chosen People of the Old Testament waited 4000 years for the coming of the Saviour. Our four weeks of Advent represent our preparation and longing for the coming of Jesus.
- Three Purple Candles: Purple is the color that symbolizes sorrow and repentance. It reminds us to return to the love and kindness of our Savior.
- One Rose or Pink Candle: Pink represents Joy. At the third Sunday of Advent we pause in the penance and rejoice in the fact that the celebration of the coming of our Saviour is almost here.
- Lighted Candle: Jesus is the Light who guides us. Each Sunday an additional candle is lit.
WHEN: December 25 to January 5
Although in the minds of many the Christmas season begins when Halloween ends, Christmas does not begin until December 25. Furthermore, Christmas is not restricted to December 25. Christmas is actually a season in the Church Year that lasts for twelve days. It last from December 25 until the Baptism of our Lord, which is always the Sunday after January 6. Sometimes Christians use the term “Christmas” to refer to December 25, and Christmastide to refer to the season of days after December 25.
MEANING: The Incarnation and birth of Christ
Christmas is the feast of the Incarnation and celebrates the entering of the eternally existent second Person of Holy Trinity into the world. It was not just a matter of God appearing in human form, it was about the Eternal Son taking on human nature and a human body, so that as the Nicene Creed says the one was “true God from true God…became incarnate from the Virgin Mary and was made man.” Although the birth of Christ is celebrated and acknowledged, December 25 is not Jesus’ birthday. Rather, it is a day on which we celebrate the Incarnation, which God accomplished by means of a birth.
ORIGIN: Fourth Century
It appears that some Christian communities began celebrating this holy day as early as the fourth century, perhaps in North Africa, and that it was common throughout the Universal Church by the fifth century.
WHEN: January 6
Epiphany falls on the day immediately after the twelfth day of Christmas. In many churches, including Saint Matthews, the full celebration of this feast is transferred to the nearest Sunday after January 6.
MEANING: Visit of the Wise Men, Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles
Epiphany means “manifestation.” This wonderful feast celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the non-Jewish people of the world. This revelation is symbolized in the event of the Gentile wise men coming from the East to worship Christ. Although much mystery surrounds the identy of the wise men (their number is not recorded in the gospels), the important point is that people who came from outside of the religion of Israel were discovering and worshiping
ORIGIN: Third Century
Epiphany has its origins in the Eastern Church traceable to the third century and was widely celebrated throughout the whole Church, East and West by the fourth century.
Lent and Holy Week
The six weeks before Easter is called the “Lenten Season.” It is a time to focus on the suffering, death and resurrection of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Because Jesus died, and thus paid for our sins, we have life. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we too will rise and enjoy heaven forever.
LENT is a process of prayer and spiritual renewal. The Lenten season emphasizes one’s need to cultivate the interior life through self-reflection, fasting, alms giving and prayer.
- The word “lent” means “lengthen” and stands for that time in spring when the days grow longer.
- The original period of Lent was 40 hours. It was spent fasting to commemorate the suffering of Christ and the 40 hours He spent in the tomb.
- In the early 3rd century, Lent was lengthened to 6 days. The 6 days grew into 36 days (36 being the tithe or a tenth of the 365 days of the year). About 800 AD it changed to 40 days – the extra days being Ash Wednesday and the three following days running up to the 1st Sunday in Lent.
- Sundays are not included in those 40 days.
Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras or fetter Dienstag) is the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Since Lent is a time of abstinence, traditionally of meat, fat, eggs and dairy products (one wonders what was left) Shrove Tuesday’s menu was designed to use up all the fat, eggs and dairy products left in the kitchen and storeroom. It is also a ‘feast’ to prepare for the time of ‘famine’ in the desert. In some cultures, it is traditional to eat as much as possible on Shrove Tuesday, sometimes up to 12 times a day.
The English term “shrovetide” (from “to shrive”, or hear confessions) is explained by a sentence in the Anglo-Saxon “Ecclesiastical Institutes” translated from Theodulphus by Abbot Aelfric (q.v.) about A.D. 1000: “In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him as he then my hear by his deeds what he is to do [in the way of penance]“.
In many traditions, Lent is a time for cleaning, in preparation for Easter and spring. First your soul, then your kitchen, then the rest of the house was cleansed and purified of the past year’s accumulations. Old clothes are mended, and new clothes purchased at this time of year. In the Ukraine, houses were whitewashed inside and out during Lent. In this way, everything was made ready to face the season of Salvation and Rebirth. Traditions of ‘spring cleaning’ stem from this religious observance.
Ash Wednesday is the day Lent begins. It occurs forty days before Good Friday and originated in the A.D. 900s. Ash Wednesday is actually its colloquial name. Its official name is the Day of Ashes. It is called Ash Wednesday because, being forty days before Good Friday, it always falls on a Wednesday and it is called Ash Wednesday because on that day at church the faithful have their foreheads marked with ashes in the shape of a cross.
In the Bible a mark on the forehead is a symbol of a person’s ownership. By having their foreheads marked with the sign of a cross, this symbolizes that the person belongs to Jesus Christ, who died on a Cross. This is in imitation of the spiritual mark or seal that is put on a Christian in baptism, when he is delivered from slavery to sin and the devil and made a slave of righteousness and Christ (Rom. 6:3-18).
Ashes are a biblical symbol of mourning and penance. In Bible times the custom was to fast, wear sackcloth, sit in dust and ashes, and put dust and ashes on one’s head. They also symbolize death and so remind us of our mortality. Thus when the priest uses his thumb to sign one of the faithful with the ashes, he says, “Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.”
The ashes are made by burning palm fronds which have been saved from the previous year’s Palm Sunday, they are then blessed by a priest — blessed ashes having been used in God’s rituals since the time of Moses (Numbers 19:9-10, 17).
Holy Week comes at the end of Lent and is the final week before Easter, Resurrection Sunday.
Palm Sunday (or the Sunday of the Passion): The palms in church on this day honor Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. Burned later, the ashes of these palms will, on Ash Wednesday of next year, symbolize our mortality and sorrow for our sins.
Maundy Thursday is the traditional English name for Thursday of Holy Week, so named because it is considered the anniversary of the institution of the Eucharist by Jesus at the Last Supper (that is, the mandatum novum or “new commandment”) and His washing of the disciples’ feet.
Washing feet was a job reserved for the lowest servant in the house. Yet our Lord of Lords humbled himself to wash his disciples’ feet. Jesus said to Peter. “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” (John 13:5). In some churches, Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet is symbolically reenacted and the altars are stripped bare until the Easter vigil mass.
As Maundy Thursday recalls Jesus’ last meal by a Eucharist with foot washing, this day is also celebrated in additional ways, i.e. Prayer Vigils, the re-enactment of the Passover Meal with Seder Suppers.
Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Good Friday along with Ash Wednesday are two designated fast days in the Anglican calendar. This marks more than a historical event, it stands for the self-offering of Christ for us, the apex of Christ’s sacrificial life.
Saint Matthew’s observes this day with a variety of acts of devotion including the Procession of the Cross and the Cyclical Service lasting from noon to 3pm, where we sit with Jesus in his suffering as we hear the story of the Passion from the gospels.
Holy Saturday is the final day of Holy Week, the final day of the traditional 40 day Lenten Fast. The morning brings Resurrection light, and a feast!
Season after Pentecost
TRINITY SUNDAY (Sunday following Pentecost Sunday) This is one of the few days of the Church year that celebrates a truth related to God’s being rather than an event or person. Falling on the Sunday after Pentecost Sunday, this is a day to turn our hearts to the mystery of the Trinity, Three Divine Persons who are One God. “Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
TRANSFIGURATION (August 6) At the height of summer, Christ, our true light, the uncreated Sun, appears transfigured on the mountain.
HOLY CROSS (September 14) The origin of Holy Cross Day is traceable to the apparent discovery of the true cross by Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine. Although this history is questionable, the intent of the day is commendable. As we consider the cross, we fix our eyes on Jesus who died for love of the world, and we say yes to his call to take up our crosses and follow him.
FEAST OF SAINT MATTHEW (September 21) Each of the Apostles have a day dedicated to them. Our parish highlights this day because it is the festival of our patron Saint Matthew.
ALL SAINTS (November 1) All Saints Day is when we remember all saints, known and unknown, official and unofficial. The eve of All Saints is All Hallows Eve, or Halloween.
REIGN OF CHRIST (Last Sunday after Pentecost) Christ the King Sunday is the last Sunday of the Church year and celebrates the rule and reign of Christ as King and Lord. Thus the Church year ends with a focus on the ultimate goal of history, the time when Christ will be all in all.