Seasons of the Church

Advent
Advent comes from a Latin term meaning “coming” or “arrival.”  Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and reminds us of Jesus’ first coming into the world.  It is set aside as a season of anticipation as we prepare ourselves for the coming of the Christ Child.


The liturgical color of Advent is violet or dark blue.  Violet is the older and more traditional color of the season.  Violet is known as a “royal color”.  Just as Christ is referred to as the “Newborn King”, violet often symbolizes royalty.  Violet is also the color of Lent and reminds us of the passion and victory of Christ as “King of the Jews”.  So as to distinguish Advent from Lent, many churches are now using dark blue as the color of Advent.  Blue represents the beauty of the sky just before the sun rises.  In the same way we enjoy the beauty of the season just before the Son of God comes into our world in Bethlehem.

 

One of the most visible traditions most churches, including ours, participate in is the lighting of the Advent wreath.  An advent wreath consists of four candles in a circle with one large white candle in the center.  The shape of a perfect circle represents the eternity of God.  The four outside candles are generally violet or blue with one pink or rose candle.  One of the outside candles is lit each Sunday during Advent with the pink candle being lit on the third Sunday.  The color pink or rose has at least two meanings: Mother Mary or the half way point of Advent.  Years ago Advent was considered a rather solemn and contemplative time in the church year.  The half way point was considered a joyful time during the season of Advent.  The center candle is the Christ candle and is lit on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day to celebrate Jesus’ birth.  The color white represents the purity of Christ.  Each candle has a different name or theme.  Hope, peace, joy and love (not necessarily in that order), is one set of themes many churches use.  Another series would be symbolized as expectation, hope, joy and purity.  If this series is used, then the Christ candle symbolizes Jesus as the light of the world.  And yet another tradition holds the four candles to symbolize the following:


  1. The Prophecy Candle, a reminder of the foretelling of Jesus’ birth by the Old Testament prophets.

  2. The Bethlehem Candle, recalling the words of Micah 5:2 that the Christ child would be born in Bethlehem.

  3. The Shepherds’ Candle, a reminder of the first people (shepherds) to worship the baby Jesus.

  4. The Angel’s Candle, lit in remembrance of the angel who spoke to the Virgin Mary at the conception of Jesus and of the angels who appeared to the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem that first Christmas eve.


Epiphany
Epiphany, which comes from the Greek word epiphaneia, means "an appearance" or "a revealing."  Centuries ago, the church set aside January 6, the 12th day after Christmas, to mark the revealing of Jesus as Christ to the wise men, who were Gentiles.  Jesus' first followers were Jewish, so the revelation of the divine Christ to the non-Jewish magi reminds us that Jesus came to the earth to save the whole world.

Symbols of Epiphany include light, a star, a crown (or three crowns) and a globe or stylized portrayal of the world.  The color of Epiphany is green to symbolize life, growth, hope and eternity.

Lent

The traditions of Lent are derived from the season's origin as a time when the church prepared candidates, or "catechumens," for their baptism into the Body of Christ. It eventually became a season of preparation not only for catechumens but also for the whole congregation. Self-examination, study, fasting, prayer and works of love are disciplines historically associated with Lent. Conversion—literally, the "turning around" or reorientation of our lives towards God—is the theme of Lent. Both as individuals and as a community, we look inward and reflect on our readiness to follow Jesus in his journey towards the cross. The forty days of Lent correspond to the forty-day temptation of Jesus in the wilderness and the forty-year journey of Israel from slavery to a new community.

On Ash Wednesday, ashes are placed on the foreheads of the congregation as a symbol that we have come from dust and one day will return to dust. It is one of many Lenten and Easter customs that remind us of our historical connection with Jewish tradition. With this sobering reminder of life's fragility, we begin a spiritual quest that continues until the Easter Vigil, when new members of the church are often baptised and the entire congregation joins in a reaffirmation of baptismal vows. Most of this time of preparation is symbolized by the color Violet, though the season is bracketed by the mourning Black of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. As an alternative to Violet, some churches have begun to use brown, beige or gray (the colors of rough unbleached cloth like burlap) to reflect the season's mood of penitence and simplicity. The somber colors are a reminder of the unbleached "sackcloth" worn by mourners and penitents in the Jewish tradition. 

Holy Week

During Holy Week, the congregation follows the footsteps of Jesus from his entry into Jerusalem (Palm/Passion Sunday) through the Last Supper (Maundy Thursday) to his death on the Cross (Good Friday). Red, the color of blood and therefore of martyrs, is the traditional color for Palm/Passion Sunday and the next three days of Holy Week. On Maundy Thursday, White or Gold symbolizes the church's rejoicing in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. But at the end of the Maundy Thursday celebration, the mood changes abruptly: all decorations are removed and the Holy Table is stripped bare. The church becomes as empty as a tomb. On Good Friday, either Black or Red is customary—although the use of no color at all is also appropriate. The Red of Holy Week is sometimes a deeper red than the brighter scarlet color associated with Pentecost. 


Easter and Pentecost

Instead of finding a sealed tomb, the women who had come at dawn on Sunday are surprised by an angel who announces astonishing news: "Jesus has been raised from the dead" (Matt. 28:7). The heavenly messenger invites the mourners to see the empty tomb and then go and tell the disciples that the Crucified One is alive!

The season from Easter to Pentecost is also called the Great Fifty Days, a tradition inspired by the Jewish season of fifty days between Passover and Shavuot—the feast celebrating the giving of the Torah to Moses.

The liturgical color for this season is celebratory White or Gold. When the season ends on Pentecost Sunday, White is replaced with Red. This color reminds the congregation of fire—the symbol of the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit overpowered the barriers of culture and race. The first Sunday after Pentecost celebrates the Trinity, and the color again is White or Gold. 

Season after Pentecost

This longest season of the liturgical year is a continuation of the "Time of the Church" that began on the Sunday after Epiphany. It explores the mission of the church and uses the color of Green, symbolizing growth. During this season, the Lectionary offers two options for readings from Hebrew Scripture: the first, topical option selects readings thematically related to the Epistle or Gospel texts. The second, sequential option reads through an entire book of Hebrew Scripture in sequence. 


Other Holy Days and observances

Pentecostal Red is also the traditional color for Reformation Day on October 31. White or Gold is the color for All Saints Day on November 1 and is also an alternative to Green on the last Sunday after Pentecost—the feast of the Reign of Christ.

During other observances, the tradition is to use Red on commemorations of martyrs and other saints. As the color of the Holy Spirit, it is appropriate for ordinations. The colors of Christmas, White or Gold, are also customary on other feast days that celebrate the Incarnation or Resurrection of Christ (Holy Name, Baptism, Presentation, Annunciation, Visitation, Ascension and Transfiguration). Black for centuries was the traditional color for funerals, but in the past fifty years many liturgical churches have preferred to use White or Gold—the colors of Easter and therefore of Resurrection hope.