The Church Year as observed by the Episcopal Church consists of a number of feast days and a number of seasons. It is designed to carry us through the major events that define our Faith in the course of each year and to remind us and engage us in our salvation history.
The Church Year, or Liturgical Year, begins with the first Sunday of Advent, which is four Sundays before the Feast of the Incarnation, or Christmas Day. Advent is roughly four weeks (depending on the day of the week on which Christmas Day falls.) It is followed by the season of Christmas – twelve days, beginning with December 25 and ending on January 5.
The Feast of the Epiphany falls on January 6, and commemorates the arrival of the Magi from the East. The weeks that follow are marked by the Sundays after Epiphany. This period, like the Sundays after Pentecost, is not a season, per se, and is called “Ordinary Time.” The length of this period varies because of the variable date of The Feast of the Resurrection, or Easter Day.
Forty days before Easter Day, the season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, when we are reminded of our mortality and are called to the observance of a Holy Lent with the Imposition of Ashes (from the previous year’s palms from Palm Sunday.) Lent is a time on self-reflection and penance in preparation for Easter. The last week of Lent is Holy Week, beginning with the Sunday of the Passion, or Palm Sunday, when we recall the triumphant entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. Holy Week includes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, all of which have special liturgies to mark the final days of Jesus’ earthly life.
The season of Eastertide begins with the Feast of the Resurrection, or Easter Sunday. At fifty days, this is the longest season of the Church Year, as it marks the most important event in our salvation history, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and his triumph over death. Forty days into this season, we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, when we remember Christ’s return to heaven.
Fifty days after Easter Sunday, we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit “descended” on the Apostles “like tongues of flame” and entered into them and all of their spiritual descendants – all believers in Christ. As mentioned above, this feast day is followed by a season of Ordinary Time until the next Advent begins. During this time, the Feast of the Transfiguration takes place on August 6. On November 1, the Church celebrates the lives of all the saints, living and dead – that is to say, all persons made a part of the Body of Christ by their baptisms – on All Hallows’ Day or, as it is better known, All Saints’ Day.
The Feasts and Seasons of the Church are noted by various colors:
Advent – Purple
Christmas – White
Epiphany – White
The Sundays After Epiphany – Green
Lent – Purple
Palm Sunday through Holy Wednesday – Red
Maundy Thursday – White
Good Friday – Black
Holy Saturday – White
Easter – White
Pentecost – Red
The Sundays After Pentecost – Green
The Feast of the Transfiguration – White
All Saints’ Day – White