Bookstores abound in self-help literature, and television and radio have their share of popular shows that feature psychological answers to people’s problems. In this never ending quest for self-knowledge, a prominent theme is that of “passages” or “seasons.” There is a great deal of wisdom in describing our lives as having distinct passages or seasons, for each of us knows that life has ups and downs, and that we live our lives through various cycles and seasons.
The Church’s liturgy, on a number of levels, moves through a similar pattern of seasons and cycles. The central passage, of course, is the paschal mystery - the mystery of Christ’s life, death and resurrection , and how each of us is incorporated into the power of that mystery. The most important days of the Church year, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter, deliberately and carefully walk us through the dying and rising of Jesus, but every liturgical celebration is also a ritual celebration of the paschal mystery. Every liturgical celebration assumes the presence of the risen Christ who assures us that uniting our broken lives to his will transform all of our sinfulness and darkness into new and everlasting life.
When the Christian community celebrates feasts and seasons, it does three things. It looks to the past, to the present, and to the future. In fact, this is the way we humans celebrate anything. But Christians do this from the perspective of faith. We look to the past to remember how God has touched the lives of people, and especially how this was done in Jesus, God’s word made flesh. In remembering those past events, we believe the power of those events becomes present to us now. Thus we reflect on the present moment, on how God is working in our midst even now, and we offer praise for this saving work that transforms our present community and the rest of the world. The hope this brings then prompts us to look with joy to the future, when Christ will come again, when all creation will be transformed, and God’s kingdom, already in our midst, will be completed.
So we begin to see that there is great human wisdom in the liturgical year, with its various seasons and feasts. As believers in Christ, as a people of faith, we travel each year through the various seasons of his life. Liturgist Sr. Kathleen Hughes describes the unfolding of the Church year: “Advent and Christmas - the waiting of pregnancy and the birth of Jesus; Ordinary Time - the years of growing up when God schooled Jesus about God’s desires for all people and for the world; Lent - the moment of radical surrender as Jesus offered his life that all might live; Easter - the central moment of truth that proclaimed the ultimate victory of life over death; Pentecost - the outpouring of the Spirit of God so that all would continue the work of Christ throughout time. So, too, are commemorated in the Church year those faithful friends of God, the saints and martyrs, who by their lives professed the power of God’s love.”