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We are familiar with the civil or calendar year, which is based on nature.  We count twelve months or, alternatively, four seasons -- spring, summer, autumn, winter.  The church year, too, has its own format, helping earthly people to notice God's horizons and be more aware of the spiritual world.  The events of salvation and the Bible's account of these events give form to the liturgical year.  This mirroring of the events of salvation, in addition, calls for consistency in liturgy.  Themes evolve for each Sunday and time of celebration.  These themes are expressed in the introit, prayers, Scriptural readings, hymns and, of course, the sermon.  The focal points of the liturgical year crystallize as the most prominent events in the unfolding drama of salvation:  Christ's birth -- Christmas, Christ's resurrection -- Easter, and the descent of the Holy Spirit -- Pentecost / Whitsunday / Whitsuntide.

The church year starts with Advent.  The first Sunday of Advent is the 4th Sunday before Christmas.  Advent traditionally was a time of fasting, since people were preparing for the manifestation of Christ in our world.  We get ready to commemorate His birth as well as His Second Coming.  We also ready ourselves in anticipation of the Day of Judgment.  A sense of the end times weaves through the Bible texts read during Advent.  The church's position has been that, during times of fasting, Gloria Patri (Glory Be to the Father) not be sung.  The traditional liturgical colour of Advent has been purple, symbolizing anticipation of the arrival of a king, as well as fasting.  Recently, the Church has suggested using sky blue because this colour points to hope and the time to come.  Blue also means that the tone of Advent differs from that of Lent.

During Christmas, that is, on December 24th and 25th, and on the Sunday(s) thereafter (Christmastide), we turn our attention to the event of Christ's birth, when the Word became flesh and lived amongst people.  This is also known as the miracle of incarnation.  Christmas is a time of joyous celebration.  Its liturgical colour is white, symbolizing light, purity, brilliance and joy.  The Christmas season lasts 12 days.

In the past, Christmas was celebrated on January 6th.  This is still done in the Orthodox Church.  Beginning with the 4th century, the date of Christ's birth was accepted as December 25th.  Thus, the celebration of Christ's birth was conjoined with winter solstice.  Hence, during the darkest time of the year, the "Light of the World" is born.

On January 6th, we celebrate the Twelfth Day of Christmas -- the Epiphany of our Lord -- an event that radiates God's light. We celebrate the radiance of the kingdom amongst us, even though this radiance is, in its essence, invisible.  By following the wondrous light of the star, the wise men arrived from the east.   Epiphany and the Sundays thereafter, denoted as the Sundays of Epiphany, emphasize missionary work or the broadcasting of Christ's message.  The liturgical colour on Epiphany (the Twelfth Day of Christmas) is white.  However, on the Sundays of Epiphany, the colour is green.

With each season of the church year are intertwined several traditions.  We distinctly notice these traditions during the Sundays before Easter. One group of churches observes the Sundays of Epiphany, the last Sunday thereof being Transfiguration Sunday.  These churches observe Lent starting on Ash Wednesday.  Another group of churches observes a shorter season of Epiphany.  This second group counts nine Sundays before Easter, six of which fall within Lent.  The system observed by the second group corresponds to the Lenten period historically adhered to by monks.  It lasted seventy days.  The second system undoubtedly emphasizes that Easter is the church year's loftiest day of celebration.   The liturgical colour during Lent is purple.  During the three Sundays before Lent, the colour is green.

In Latvia's past, Prayer and Repentance Day was observed between the 6th and 5th Sundays before Easter.  Recently, this day was unified with Ash Wednesday, which is observed between the 5th and 4th Sundays before Easter.  Prayer and Repentance Day did not originate with the formation of a church year.   Caesar called for such a day in anno Domini 4 as a day of remembrance of an event in the state's affairs.  In the years of Latvia's first independence, "days of celebration of [Latvian] statehood were characterized as national days of prayer and repentance.  For Latvians in exile, however, the remembrance day of the deportations of June 14th has become Prayer and Repentance Day," as writes an unknown author in the Latvian Encyclopedia (Latvju enciklopēdija), on page 1566.

On Ash Wednesday, we commemorate that we are dust, and that we will once again become dust.  Worship centers on repentance.  Worshipers may receive a symbolic cross on the forehead.  The ashes derive from the burning of the previous year's palm branches. Ideally, the palm branches were used in last year's Palm Sunday worship procession.  The altar cloth is purple of black.

Lent is a time of fasting for 40 consecutive days, excluding Sundays.  Sundays are not meant for fasting.  The number 40 corresponds to Christ's fasting in the wilderness as the devil tempted Him.  The Bible texts read during Lent emphasize rebirth and renewal as we anticipate Christ's resurrection.  Texts also focus attention on Christ's journey to Jerusalem and give reason for His expected suffering.  The liturgical colour is purple, representing fasting.  The church's stance is that, during Lent, Gloria Patri (Glory Be to the Father) not be sung.  A number of congregations drape a black or purple mourning veil over their sanctuary's crosses.

The week before Easter is called Holy Week.  We concentrate on the final days of Jesus's earthly life and on His death.  Holy Week starts with Palm Sunday, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem with the crowds greeting Him and cheering:  "Hosanna!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!"  On Palm Sunday, the liturgical colour changes to dark red, symbolizing Christ's suffering, agony and bloodshed.

On Maundy Thursday, we observe Jesus's last supper with His disciples and the ordination of Eucharist.  On this evening, Jesus was betrayed and arrested.  Traditionally, everything is removed from the altar at the end of the worship service.  This is done while listening to the 22nd psalm.  Service ends without benediction because Thursday's, Friday's and Saturday's worship services form one unit.  A historic convention is that Good Friday's worship service be held without Holy Communion, thus reminding us of Christ's death.  The altar is bare.  (In Latvian Lutheran congregations, especially in those where Eucharist is not offered every Sunday, Good Friday is one of the "major" times of offering it.  In such cases, the liturgical colour is black.)  On Holy Saturday, a vigil service takes place, in turn, leading up to the celebration of the resurrection of Christ.  Readings during this time dwell on the drama of creation and salvation, and end with the jubilant shout:  "The Lord has risen!" to which the congregation answers:  "He has risen indeed!"

The liturgical colour of Easter is white or gold, symbolizing joy and Christ's victory over death.  The blissful call, "Gloria Patri" (Glory Be to the Father) is sung again.    Easter Sunday and the Sundays following it are, for the church, a time of celebration.  Easter Sunday is calculated by counting the first Sunday after a full moon after vernal equinox.  In the year 325, the Council of Nicaea agreed that, during the Easter Season, the congregation will not fall to its knees, but will stand upright, thus rejoicing in the miracle of Christ's resurrection.  In many congregations during the Easter Season, a special Easter candle is placed near the altar on the side of the pulpit.  The candle symbolizes the presence of the risen Christ, and burns continuously during this time.  The candle's flame gets extinguished on Ascension Day, to the reading of the gospel.  The candle is then moved close to the baptismal font.  The candle burns during baptisms.  Ascension Day is observed on the fortieth day after the resurrection of Christ.  The Easter Season lasts fifty days, ending with the miracle of Pentecost -- the outpouring of the Holy Spirit over all of creation and all peoples.  The church interprets this time as a time of strengthening.  The liturgical colour is red, reminding us of God's love and the work of the Holy Spirit.

The time period after Pentecost spans until the end of the church year and includes from 23 to 28 Sundays, depending on the date of Easter.  During this period, the liturgical colour is green, signifying the growth and development of faith. There was a time in church history when this time span was called "the Sundays after Trinity Sunday".  However, because the church year is based on the events of salvation, the church renamed this time allotment as "the Sundays after Pentecost."  Trinity Sunday is observed on the first Sunday after Pentecost. The colour is white.  The church year ends on the Sunday of the Remembrance of the Deceased or Eternity Sunday.

A variety of commemorative days are noted within the church year.  Some dates signify the remembrance of certain apostles, evangelists, martyrs and saints.  Other days honour the memory of specific persons or events in the New Testament.  The church year, as well, observes Reformation Sunday (October 31st), Bible Celebration Day (in September), Harvest Celebration (on the first Sunday after September 29th, the Day of Archangel Michael), Family / Mothers' Day (on the second Sunday in May) and other days.  The Latvian Lutheran Church also observes days significantly associated with the history of Latvia:  Rifleman Day, Kalpaks Memorial Day (March 6th), Deportation Day (June 14th), Lacplesis Day (November 11th), Latvian Independence Day (November 18th) and other days.

Sarma Eglite (translated by Vija Treibergs)

Scripture of the Month

Nevertheless I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me with honor.
Psalm 73:23-24 (New Revised Standard Version)

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