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The Liturgical Year explained

The Church’s liturgical year began with the first week of Advent and a new cycle for the liturgical calendar. We’re in Year A (see the Mass page on 9).

There’s a whole lot of history behind how the liturgical year was decided. Did you know it didn’t always begin at Advent? Chair of the Liturgical Commission Msgr Michael de Verteuil broke it down in simple terms — he had to; hundreds of years are involved! And I wouldn’t like my Editor to give me the look for exceeding my word count…again.

Why does the Church’s liturgical year begin in Advent? Msgr de Verteuil said in around the fourth century there was a period of preparation in Spain and Gaul (present-day France, Belgium, Luxembourg and parts of the Netherlands), territories named by the Romans where Celtic Gauls lived (source: www.ancient.eu).

It was a penitential time when fasting took place in preparation for the day of the Lord. A couple hundred years later a season of preparation to celebrate Christmas developed in Rome.

Circa the eighth century, it was accepted that there should be a time of preparation for Jesus before Christmas. Msgr de Verteuil said, “By the 11th century the more penitential Advent from Spain and France was absorbed into the Roman celebration—so now you had two things, the preparing to celebrate Christmas which is the Roman tradition, and preparing for Christ by seeking forgiveness, preparing for His coming.”

He explained the combining of the “two strands” led to the Gloria being suspended from the liturgy during Advent and priests wearing purple as a sign of repentance.


Is there a Year D?

The division of the liturgical calendar into A, B, C came out of the Second Vatican Council. Msgr de Verteuil said, “One of the themes of the Second Vatican Council was the importance of scripture so for example, infuse scripture into the celebration of all the sacraments and they said the people of God should be fed a richer fare of God’s Word.”

Before the introduction of the first edition of the new lectionary (1969), the same gospel readings were used for every Sunday of every year.

A three-year cycle was developed to provide the faithful with “a richer fare, more scripture readings”. Msgr de Verteuil continued, “So over three years on a Sunday, we get through the gospels so Year A: Matthew, Year B: Mark, Year C: Luke”. The Gospel of John is proclaimed on particular Sundays in each of the years.

Why isn’t there a year D using John? Msgr de Verteuil explained Matthew, Mark and Luke see Jesus with “one eye”, with “different shadings on the stories and parables”; they are called synoptic gospels. He clarified that John is more “theological in its intent” and did not deal specifically with the Nativity and birth of Jesus but ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us…’

Matthew, the source of the gospel readings for this current year, differs from the other gospels in the way it is written; scholars believe it was likely written for a Jewish community.

Msgr de Verteuil said for example, Luke was probably not written for Jewish community because there are translations and explanations of Jewish words. “Matthew does not do this; he mentions Jewish terms without any translation and because he uses a lot of the Old Testament to refer to the coming of the Messiah, as it was written, and Jesus fulfils this. He shows in a number of cases how the life of Jesus fulfils the promises of the Old Testament”.

He added the Jewish people would have been familiar with the promises of the coming of a messiah.


Day of Obligation

Ordinary Time is the longest period in the liturgical year, 33 or 34 complete or partial weeks. It begins the First Sunday after Pentecost and ends with the Sunday observance of Christ the King.

Msgr de Verteuil said, “The liturgical year as the Church tells us is the whole mystery of what they call the Christ event, His whole life and birth, death, Resurrection, the sending of the Holy Spirit, His whole life and the fact that He will come again.”

Advent focuses on Christ’s coming, Christmas that He came once in flesh, Lent and Eastertide on His death and Resurrection, ending with His Ascension and sending forth of the Holy Spirit.

Msgr de Verteuil said at Ordinary Time, the whole life of Jesus, His miracles, teachings etc are covered. He however, said each season within the year has a focus on “one aspect of the Christ event” and we are supposed to be formed by each observance.

“In celebrating Advent we’d be formed as people who look forward to the Second Coming of Christ …and how that will affect our lives, not putting all our hope into this life, trusting that the Kingdom will be fulfilled and so on. Every season should not only be celebrated but the celebration should form us also as better disciples of the Lord…”.

There are days of obligation in the liturgical year, i.e. all are required to attend Mass. These may vary by country but Msgr de Verteuil said for T&T it is Sundays, Christmas, New Year’s Day-the Solemnity of the Mother of God, and the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ-Corpus Christi. —LPG