|CHURCH YEAR |
Although the dates of observance and specific practices of the Christian festivals developed over the centuries, the major festivals all center on the life of Christ. As the church grew and the need for ordered worship increased, the need for focusing on the central affirmations at the heart of the Christian message also increased. By the fifth century, the basic elements of the church calendar were firmly established, although modifications continued to be made throughout the Middle Ages and the Reformation. Even today, the symbols and rituals of the festivals vary according to denomination, culture, and personal preference.
The original Christian festival and the basic building block for all the church year is the Lord's day, Sunday. The earliest Christians set aside Sunday, the day of the resurrection, as a time of special remembrance of Christ. By the second century, most Christians were observing a special celebration of the resurrection at Easter. In most areas, the season before Easter, later called Lent, was a time of penitence and the training of new Christians. Similarly, the fifty-day period after Easter was one of triumph during which fasting and kneeling to pray were forbidden. This period culminated in Pentecost, which means “fiftieth day,” the celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit. By the next century, at least in the East, many churches held a special observance of Christ's birth and baptism at Epiphany. In the fourth century, most Christians began to celebrate Christ's birth at Christmas and to observe Advent as a period of preparation.
As the dates and practices for these celebrations became more standard throughout the Christian world, the dimensions of the church year were established. Advent came to be regarded as the beginning of the church year and the half-year between Advent and Pentecost, the period during which all the major festivals occurred, came to be regarded as a time for Christians to concentrate on the life and work of Christ. The rest of the year, from Pentecost to Advent, became a time for concentrating on the teachings of Jesus and the application of those teachings in the lives of Christians. The development of the church calendar helped to assure that Christian worship would deal with the entire breadth and depth of the Christian gospel. See Advent; Christmas; Easter; Epiphany; Holy Week; Lent; Lord's Day.
Fred A. Grissom