What are the Liturgical Seasons?

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The PC(USA) Directory for Worship says:

God has provided a rhythm of seasons which orders life and influences the church’s worship. God’s work of redemption in Jesus Christ offers the Church a central pattern for ordering worship in relationship to significant occasions in the life of Jesus and of the people of God. The Church has thus come to observe the following days and seasons:

Advent, a season to recollect the hope of the coming of Christ, and to look forward to the Lord’s coming again;Christmas, a celebration of the birth of Christ;Epiphany, a day for commemorating God’s self-manifestation to all people;Lent, a season of spiritual discipline and preparation, beginning with Ash Wednesday, anticipating the celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ;Holy Week, a time of remembrance and proclamation of the atoning suffering and death of Jesus Christ;Easter, the day of the Lord’s resurrection and the season of rejoicing that commemorates his ministry until his Ascension, and continues through the Day of Pentecost, the celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. The church also observes other days such as Baptism of the Lord, Transfiguration of the Lord, Trinity Sunday, All Saints Day and Christ the King.

Human life in community reflects a variety of rhythms that also affect Christian worship. Among these are the annual cycles of civic, agricultural, school and business life; special times of family remembrance and celebration; and the patterns of a variety of cultural expressions, commemorations and events. The church in carrying out its mission also creates a cycle of activities, programs and observances. While such events may be appropriately recognized in Christian worship, care should be taken that they do not obscure the proclamation of the gospel on the Lord’s Day (W-3.2002 – W-3.2003).

Liturgical colors can orient us to the season of the church year and help to engage the sense of sight in worship. White and gold symbolize days and sea-sons of joy and mark pivotal events in the life of Christ. Red symbolizes the work of the Holy Spirit and the sacrifices of martyrs. Purple (and sometimes blue, in Advent) designates a season of penitence and preparation, such as Lent.

This was not always the case. For the first thousand years of the church’s history, little thought was given to liturgical color. White vestments were most common, with more elaborate garments and paraments (of whatever color) reserved for important festivals. The 12th through 16th centuries brought localized experiments with liturgical color, but no standard practices prevailed until 1570, when the Roman Catholic Church established a normative sequence of colors to accompany the church calendar. Calvinists in the sixteenth century eschewed these rubrics, however, preferring black vestments. The past two centuries have seen a resurgence in the use of liturgical colors, propelled by a new appreciation for the aesthetic dimensions of worship, as well as the marketing efforts of church supply stores.

Here is a typical schedule for the use of liturgical colors:
• Advent: purple or blue
• Christmas (12 days) to Epiphany (Jan. 6): white and gold
• Ordinary Time (Jan. 7 through the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday): green, with the exception of Baptism of the Lord and Transfiguration of the Lord, both white
• Ash Wednesday through the first five weeks of Lent: purple
• Palm / Passion Sunday: red and/or purple
• Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week: purple
• Maundy Thursday: purple (until the church is stripped bare)
• Good Friday: no color; church remains stripped bare
• Easter Season (including Ascension of the Lord): white and gold
• Day of Pentecost: red
• Ordinary Time (Monday after Pentecost through Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent): green, with the exception of Trinity Sunday, All Saints’ Day (or first Sunday in November), and Christ the King, all white.
• Additionally, white is used for funerals. Red is sometimes used for ordinations, installations and church dedications and anniversaries. Baptisms, communion services and weddings should retain the color of the season.