To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.-Eccl 3:1-8 (KJV)
The Seasons in My Life
One of the topics I teach in our parish RCIA program just before the start of Advent is the Liturgical YearCalendar. After this year’s talk, there was a lively discussion that highlighted the two worlds we live in – the secular and the religious.
Having grown up without any religion until attending a Lutheran high school, I had a secular view of the rhythm of the seasons. There was Christmas and New Year-hockey and basketball seasons. There was Easter-the start of baseball and track season. Summer was construction jobs, more baseball, beach, and beer. Fall was football. Interspaced through the seasons were family birthdays and national holidays, like the 4th of July and Thanksgiving.
Even after becoming Lutheran, the rhythm of a religious life wasn’t always present. Only Christmas, a little Lent, Good Friday, Easter and Reformation Day were on my radar. But in all honesty, I wasn’t very concerned or devout in my faith at the time. On becoming Catholic, one of the first things that struck me was the number of solemnities, saints’ feasts, and holy days of obligation that were mentioned at weekly Mass. The first time I looked at a yearly liturgical calendar put out by the Church I was amazed that every day of the year there was “a liturgical event.”
The Nature of Calendars and the Liturgical Year
The calendar we use today is a solar calendar based on the seasons, phases of the moon etc. and is the internationally accepted civil calendar. It has also been known at various times as the Western or Christian calendar. It is structured around the workweek or the school week by secular societies and not around the Christian faith. However, I discovered that was not the original intent.
Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 commissioned a new, more accurate calendar because the old calendar (the Julian) was off by 10 days and thus affected the accurate celebration for Easter and other religious feasts. Because it was established by the Catholic Church, it took some Protestant countries until the 1700’s to accept the Gregorian calendar. It is also important to recognize that each year’s number is based on the year 1 being the birth of Jesus Christ. So, no matter how far the world has been secularized or how many professed atheists and agnostics there are, the world still recognizes that basic event (even if some don’t believe in it).
Road Map / Physical Map: Secular Calendars/ Liturgical Year Calendar
The liturgical calendar can serve as an overlay to the secular calendar. An analogy is a physical or topographic map (the liturgical calendar) as an overlay to a road map (the secular calendar). Whereas a roadmap (the secular calendar) shows the roads in an area, it does not show the physical nature of the area-the streams, hills valleys etc.-as does the physical map (the liturgical calendar). The liturgical calendar shows the faith overlay to our secular life.
Our day to day lives by necessity often revolve around work, school, parental responsibilities, etc. So one foot of our life experience is always in terms of secular time from New Years until December 31st. However, as Catholics, we have an additional time frame that starts with Advent and ends with the Solemnity of Christ the King. Daily Mass events that are on the liturgical calendar between those two-time periods-feasts, remembrances, etc.-provide us with signposts for our journey through faith. At the beginning of the liturgical year we start with the anticipation and need for God to become man (Advent), and at the end, we come to the ultimate celebration and declaration that Christ is our King.
Our Faith Calendar
The Catholic Church celebrates the liturgy of the sacrifice of the Mass every day, 24/7, throughout the world. And so the liturgical calendar can lead us to meditate and reflect more fully on the daily liturgy – on what is being celebrated on any given day. By providing the “waypoints” that gives a sense of order and harmony to “time,” the calendar gives meaning to our faith. The numerous elements of the liturgical year have been designed by the Church to provide a harmonious sequence for understanding our faith.
In the liturgical calendar we see remembrances of the works of Christ, Mary, and the saints, as examples we should imitate. By reflecting on each day of the liturgical calendar we are able to insert Christ’s life and teachings into the day to day life we lead. It gives a daily connection and dialog with our faith beyond just Sunday Mass.
Strengthening Our Counter-Culture
The mainstream culture of modern society is becoming less healthy spiritually or morally for those of faith. As Catholics, we are outside such trends because in many respects our beliefs are counter-cultural. Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia provided a detailed perspective on this in his book, Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World. Whether it be the cultural push for abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, aggressive atheism or religious persecution, we are becoming at odds with our culture. The noise that we are constantly bombarded with in civil society leaves little room to just stop, to look around us, to listen, to think and reflect. Being aware of each day as a day of “liturgy” can give us a “time out” to see the bigger picture of our existence in light of God and our faith in Him.
The Church has defined six liturgical seasons that cover the year: Advent, Christmas, ordinary time, Lent, Easter and another ordinary time. We can be faithful in attending at least weekly Sunday Mass and Masses for the holy days of obligation prescribed by a seasonal calendar. To experience the totality of the liturgical year would involve attending daily Mass. Even though attending daily Mass might not be practical for most of us, we do have some other aids: the Catholic Daily Missal from the USCCB; the Laudate app; the USCCB daily Mass readings. The first two, which give scripture readings for a given day, summaries of saints of the day and daily prayers, can be used for cell phones or tablets.
In the World, But Not of It
For better or for worse we are part of and live in the secular world. I believe we are not called upon to retreat from it but to make that world better. To do so requires spiritual support that will sustain our faith and enable us to practice it fully. Following the liturgical calendar provides a rhythm that can help us to perceive the world around us in the light of faith. As a consequence, it serves as a bastion that enables us to fight the negative aspects of the secular culture in which we live.