Praying the Days, Feasts and Seasonsby Victor Hoagland, C.P.
"In the fullness of time God sent his Son."
At every moment, God blesses us in time. In the hours, days and years of our lives, God sows seeds of grace unceasingly. God enlivens our souls, though we may be hardly aware of it. How can we recognize divine activity within and around us, unless we live each day in prayer and faith? "Today if you hear God's voice, harden not your hearts." (Psalm 95,7-8)
Christian tradition, rooted in Jewish spirituality, recognizes how slowly we learn the mysteries of God. (cf. Luke 24,25) Only little by little, as time goes by, does awareness come. For this reason, each day, as well as special days and seasons, must be lived prayerfully. Only thus can we grow to appreciate the treasures hidden in our lives and, as poet W. H. Auden writes, "ransom the time being from insignificance."
I rise before dawn and cry for help,
Keeping our days and year holy
In a society increasingly preoccupied by material things, we easily lose sight of human and spiritual values. We need to take concrete means to keep these values before our imagination and memories. Daily prayer, the celebration of feasts and seasons, customs and devotions, helps us keep our perspective. They inculcate true values, a sense of our spiritual dignity, and nourish our souls and bodies for the tasks God give us to do here on earth.
Certain days in the course of the year are blessed in a special manner. First among them is Sunday, holy because it is the day of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. From earliest times Christians celebrated this day, "waiting in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ."
Sunday is the first Christian feast, a day to meet Jesus Christ in Holy Scripture and the Lord's Supper, the Holy Eucharist. On this day, our Risen Lord lifts up our hearts and calls us to rejoice, just as he did his first disciples long ago. Sunday is a "day of the Sun," a new Sabbath day, a day of light and warmth, which we celebrate as a holy day each week.
Easter is Christianity's most ancient and important yearly feast commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the "Sunday of Sundays." By the 3rd century, Lent, a season of forty days preparing those who were to be baptised at Easter, had developed.
Modeled after the great yearly Jewish feasts of Passover and Pentecost, which recall God's covenant to free his people from slavery and give them life, the easter season celebrates the mystery of Jesus' death and resurrection, the fulfillment of the covenant. The easter celebration takes place, not simply for one day, but for a season, in accordance with the Jewish manner of celebrating God's great blessings over an extended period of time.
Lent and Easter are seasons to hear "Good News" again, to remember and celebrate the mysteries of Christ's death and resurrection. During the days of Lent and Easter Jesus invites us to share his great journey from death to life and to renew our union with him through Baptism. These are days especially blessed by God for the renewal of his people.
Today Lent and Easter are still periods for initiating men and women (described by the ancient Christian name "catechumens") into the church through the mystery of baptism.
The Roman Catholic Church celebrates the lenten season from Ash Wednesday to the Mass of Holy Thursday. The Easter feast is celebrated from Holy Thursday evening till Easter Sunday, then through the Easter season which lasts till the feast of Pentecost.praying through Lent and Easter
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The seasons of Advent and Christmas were added to church calendars a few centuries after the early feasts of Sunday and Easter. Celebrating the mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus, they center around the great question often asked in gospels "Who is Jesus?" Their answer is: He is God's only Son, true God and true man, born of a woman, revealed to all people, who came to save the world. "He will come to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end."
Two great feasts mark these seasons, the feast of Christmas and the feast of the Epiphany.
Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, originated historically in the western church, most likely in the 5th century, as a period of preparation for the feast of the Epiphany.
Today, " the season of Advent has a twofold character. It is a time of preparation for Christmas when the first coming of God's Son to us is recalled. It is also a season when minds are directed by this memorial to Christ's second coming at the end of time. It is thus a season of joyful and spiritual expectation. (General Norms for the Liturgical Year, 39)
The scriptures and celebrations of the season echo the cries of the ancient prophets of Israel calling us to rekindle our hope in the coming of God's Kingdom and to await the coming of Christ. Customs, such as the Advent wreath, have become a part of the Advent celebrations.
Feast of Christmas
It is not easy to pin-point the origins of the Christmas feast, today the more important feast of the Christmas season in most western Christian churches. One can only say for certain that the birth of Jesus Christ was being celebrated in Rome by the year 336 A.D.; afterwards the feast was celebrated in other Christian churches throughout the world.
Why it was celebrated on December 25th is another question. No date for the birth of Jesus can be found in the New Testament, which is concerned more with the question "Who is Jesus?" than the date of his birth. Early Christian speculation about his birth date was influenced by the symbolism of the changing seasons, then popular in religious thought, which paid careful attention to the equinoxes and solstices of the sun. Christian scholars speculated that Jesus was conceived at the spring equinox (March 25th ) and therefore was born on December 25th, the date of the winter solstice.
In many of the Christian churches, March 25th is still the Feast of the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was to be the mother of Jesus.
Possible impluse for the feast of Christmas may have came too from the establishment of the pagan feast of the "Unconquered Sun-God" by the Emperor Aurelian in 274 A.D. to be celebrated on December 25, the day of the winter solstice in Rome and throughout the empire. In response, Christians could celebrate the feast of the "Sun of righteousness" (Malachi 4,2), Jesus Christ, who called himself " the light of the world." (John 8,12)
The Feast of the Epiphany ( Epiphany means "manifestation", "revelation") is the oldest of the Christmas feasts and is still celebrated on January 6th as the major feast of the season by the eastern Christian churches. The feast probably began in those churches in the Middle East strongly influenced by the Gospel of John, who proclaimed of Jesus Christ:
And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth. (John 1,14 )
As "the true light, which enlightens everyone" come into the world, Jesus came not only that we might see his glory but also that we might share in it. "From his fullness we have all received, grace for grace." (John 1,16) His baptism in the Jordan and his presence at the marriage feast of Cana in Galilee ( two themes from John's gospel still closely connected with the Feast of the Epiphany) portray Jesus revealed as God's Son and uniting humanity to himself.
From earliest times the Feast of the Epiphany, like Easter, was a day for baptising those who believed in his name. To them, "he gave power to become children of God." (John 1,12) The story of the Magi, from Matthew's gospel, celebrates the call of God to all peoples to share in the grace of Jesus Christ. "The Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Jesus Christ through the gospel." (Ephesians 3, 5-6)
Historians see the Feast of the Epiphany originating from early Jewish-Christian celebrations of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, which celebrated God's glory in covenant, light and water. In John's gospel this same Jewish feast often becomes the setting for the question: Who is Jesus Christ? ( cf John 7-10 ) The gospel affirms, as does this feast, he is God's divine Son.
In some regions the Feast of the Epiphany is also called the Feast of the Holy Kings or Three King's Day. Gifts are given, in memory of the Magi's gifts of gold, frankinsence and myrrh. Homes are blessed with holy water, in remembrance of that blessed home where the Magi found the Child and his mother. The Feast of the Baptism of Jesus usually follows the celebration of this feast in the western church.
God uses people to bring blessings to our world. On certain days throughout the year, the Church reminds us of those holy men and women whom God raises up as signs of his manifold and ever present grace in human history. Remembering them on their feast days, we draw strength from their example and their prayers. Each age, each nation has them. They are examples of God's constant blessings that support us always.
First among the saints is Mary, the Mother of Jesus. The church celebrates the mysteries of her life in feasts throughout the year.
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