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Episco-Fact #22
November 20, 2016

Why does the Church keep a calendar that begins the year at the end of November or the beginning of December, rather than at the beginning of January?

The quick answer is that it has do with the development of the major Feast cycle of Christmas and Easter, with Easter being the predominant one theologically and chronologically.

As Christianity developed in the 2nd century, and the Parousia (Second Coming) had not yet happened, the Church became interested when it lived in time, God's time versus the world's time. The church, growing out of Judaism, which had the same concern in the period just before and just after Jesus' lifetime, wanted to mark time in God's way, the most important point being Easter, followed by the observance of each Sunday as the day on which the Lord was raised.

Over time, time concern for the Incarnation came to take hold of the imaginations of Christians. The two major feasts also became associated with a time of preparation or wakefulness, Lent being the time for Easter and Advent the time for Christmas. The other major feasts, All Saints Day and Pentecost the remembrances for the Evangelists, Apostles, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene, quickly filling in around the two annual cycles of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter.

Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican Christians structured their worshipping cycles around these seasons and over time mapped out an annual chronology based on the year proceeding from embodiment (Christmas) to Resurrection (Easter). This went against the earlier history of Easter being the central moment in Christian time reckoning, but it seemed natural in parallel to other forms of story-telling. It also meant that annually, as the end of the season after Pentecost drew near, the focus of the readings was Eschatology (end times), the ending of time as we know it, or the transitioning to Godly time.

During the 19th Century the Roman Catholic Church added to its calendar a feast wherein Christ's authority as King was remembered and proclaimed. This remembrance was initially in October but was moved to the Last Sunday of Pentecost during the 20th Century, using the natural transition of the end of the season of Pentecost to proclaim the fulfilment of all things in Christ. Each Gospel year has a reflection on what that Kingship means, with Luke, this year's Gospel, being one of the more dramatic reflections as Jesus is seen hanging on the cross between two bandits.

Although the Church and culture existed parallel to each other, they never completely overlapped. This being out of kilter seems to work theologically. The kingdoms of this world and God's kingdom are not yet in alignment.

 

 The Rev. David Lucey

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