What is the Liturgical Calendar?

By Father Edward McNamara, Professor of Liturgy,  Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University

Liturgical Calendar Chart

In the early Church the readings were usually organized on a simple basis of continuity; that is, they took off from where they had finished the previous Sunday.

As the liturgical year developed, certain readings began to be reserved for certain feast days and seasons and so a thematic cycle developed.

When the Second Vatican Council asked for the selection of readings used at Mass to be increased, the experts took inspiration from the two ancient methods of continuity and thematic readings.

For Sundays they developed a three-year cycle, one for each synoptic gospel: A for Matthew, B for Mark (with five readings from St. John, Chapter 6, inserted after the 16th Sunday), and C for Luke. So during Ordinary time each Sunday Gospel continues on from the previous week.

The New Testament readings also follow this continual system, the Letters of St. Paul and St. James being read during Ordinary time because those of John and Peter are read during Christmas and Easter.

This continuous system is why they do not always seem to fit in well with the Gospel.

The Old Testament reading (or the Acts of the Apostles during Eastertide) and the responsorial psalm are chosen so as to somehow relate to the Gospel text.

During Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter and on solemnities all three readings are chosen so as to highlight the particular spiritual message of the season.

With respect to the daily readings: during Ordinary time all four Gospels are read using a semi-continual system during the course of the year. Mark weeks 1-9; Matthew 10-12; and Luke 22-34.

St. John’s Gospel is read semi-continuously, above all, during part of Lent and almost all of Eastertide on both Sundays and weekdays.

Thus almost all of Mark 1-12 is read, then the texts of Matthew and Luke that are not found in Mark.

The first daily reading, taken from either Testament, also uses a semi-continuous system organized in a two-year cycle for odd and even numbered years.

The New Testament readings offer the substance of almost all the letters whereas the Old Testament readings offer a selection of the most important elements of each book. Almost all of the books are represented except some brief prophets and the Song of Songs.

Toward the end of the year the reading come from Revelation and Daniel, which fit well with the apocalyptic sermons from Luke.

Unlike the readings for ordinary time the daily readings of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter have been chosen to relate to each other and to reflect the liturgical season.

A special characteristic of Eastertide is the reading from the Acts of the Apostles as first reading every day.

They also repeat the same readings each year and are not divided into an even-odd cycle.

Seasons of Church Year

[Originally posted on Zenit]

Early Christian Doctrine

I’m trying to learn more about Church history from James Hitchcock’s one volume work.  The historian gathered some quick points about early Christian doctrine that night be interesting to you.

Angels and Devils

Jews and Christians believed in angels.  Three angels are known by name: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.  There are angels assigned to nations and individuals.  

Satan appeared in the Old Testament to accuse men of sin and test their fidelity.  He was even permitted by God to test Jesus.  Christians thought it was the serpent in the Garden who tempted Adam and Eve.  The name Lucifer also referred to Satan.  The Book of Revelation says that Satan originally was responsible for earth, but rebelled out of resentment because he foresaw the Incarnation of Christ.  Satan didn’t like a human overthrowing his angelic authority.

Both angels and devils fight over the souls of men.  We still have free will and can’t be coerced by spiritual powers, but struggle to follow the light given our broken nature (concupiscence).

The Kingdom

Christians expanded the Jewish idea that God is the Lord of history.  God acts through human events and history is really an unfolding of God’s Kingdom.

The ways of the Kingdom are… the reverse of those of human society—triumph emerges only from defeat, suffering is the necessary prerequisite to glory, he who would save his life must lose it, the humble will be exalted, to give is better than to receive.  (Page 24)

Continuity with Judaism

The Christians saw fundamental continuity between their own faith and that of the Jews, because Jesus revealed the one true God—the God of the Jews—to the entire world. Beginning on Pentecost, the followers of Jesus proclaimed that He alone fulfilled the promises of the Jewish prophets. Thus the sacred books of the two religions fit together harmoniously. Christians insisted that the Old Testament could be ultimately understood only in the light of the New, although most Jews did not recognize that unity. (Page 24)

Paul and the Law

[Paul] made a subtle and profound analysis of human nature as enslaved to the inherited sin of Adam, a slavery which the Law exposes but which in itself it is powerless to overcome.  Christ conferred freedom, but it is a paradoxical freedom—not self-will but the conquest of self-will, which is the very instrument of bondage. (Page 25)

The New Adam

Jesus was the New Adam who destroyed the sinful inheritance of the Old. When they accepted baptism, therefore, Christians did not merely join a community but through that mystical action were “baptized into Christ’s death” and thereby enabled to participate in His Resurrection, overcoming the slavery of sin. Men had to crucify their own natures and die to sin in order to become the adopted children of God. (Page 25)

The Mystical Body

The reality of Christ’s one body is difficult to see not because it is supernatural, but because, I think, of the divisions we see in the Church.  I’m not just referring to our Protestant brothers and sisters, but also to the divisions within the Catholic Church.  The Church is nothing less than Christ’s own body!  “All believers are members, organically linked to one another and to Christ as their Head.”

Held Together by the Holy Spirit

Thanks for stopping by, again.  I pray Our Lord has blessed your day and will continue to give you the graces you need to do His will.  This post continues my exploration of Church history.  You can find my first post here.

Have you experienced conflict with another Christian in your parish?  Are you tired of the tension between groups in your Church community?  Are you disappointed that we’re not more charitable – or, at least, forgiving towards one another?

When the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost, He could not have found a more diverse group of people.  They were not like-minded: there was a tax collector, a few fishermen, and even a Zealot (a radical Jewish group known for its violent tactics).  “On Pentecost, the Spirit molded a collection of deeply flawed men into a force that would transform the world” (pg. 20).  Can you imagine what it must have been like to be among the original Apostles?  It wasn’t all campfires and singing “kum bay ah.”  Remember James and John jockeying to be at Christ’s right and left side when he comes into his kingship?  They had no idea what they were asking for.  We read in Acts of the Apostles how the early Jewish Christians formed a faction to require Gentile converts to observe circumcision.  Paul and others disagreed, arguing that this was an unnecessary burden.  This issue was so serious that it could not be settled until the first ecumenical council (the Council of Jerusalem).

Conflict is a part of human nature.  We see even the first Christians experience this in their community.  What sets them apart from the pagans, and what should set us apart from the world today, is love.  Obedience to the Holy Spirit, who has bestowed authority to certain persons, is an act of love.  I may not like that person, but he or she has been chosen by the Holy Spirit to hold the small group or team or committee together.  I exercise its virtue and show love for the Holy Spirit when I obey rightful authority.  This is how the Holy Spirit holds large, diverse groups together.

Part of the genius of Christianity was that it did not shrink from the horrible way in which Jesus’ public life ended but actually placed it at the very center of the faith. The symbol of the cross did not become ubiquitous for several centuries, but St. Paul already boasted that, even though the cross was an obstacle to nonbelievers, “We preach Christ, and Him crucified.” (page 23)

I think the Holy Spirit holds groups together also by reminding us that Jesus loved us even before we truly converted.  He loved the very people who were torturing and humiliating him.  He loved even his friends who betrayed him.  Christ died for us on the Cross first.  Whether we love him or reject him comes second.  Our response to his sacrifice opens or closes the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

If you’re experiencing disunity in your parish, don’t be discouraged.  Don’t disengage, either.  That’s what our Enemy wants.  Stay involved and pray even more.  Fast and offer alms.  Those are the spiritual weapons we have to fight the forces that want to break us apart.  Remember that there is no problem that personal holiness cannot solve.

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