The Church has ordered the liturgical year in a particular way, with seasons and feasts, which gives shape to the year and guides us as pilgrims on our journey. In our liturgical year we are currently in “Epiphany Season” which began on January 6, the day of the Epiphany of the Lord (this year transferred to Sunday January 5) and this season lasts until Ash Wednesday.
The color of the altar hangings and priest’s vestments reflect the nature or mood of the season: for example, Epiphany itself starts off as white and then, following the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, the liturgical color changes to green. White or gold are the colors of joy; green is the color of hope and growth.
In Lent the color changes to purple, symbolizing penitence. This season prepares us for the great Feast of Easter, the most important event in the Church’s calendar. In the Episcopal church there is the option in Lent to use “Lenten Array”, a coarse, plain fabric which emphasizes penitence and simplicity. Easter brings a return to white or gold, reflecting the joy of resurrection.
The color red is seen on Palm Sunday, Pentecost, Holy Cross Day or on the feast day of any Church martyr. It can represent the Holy Spirit, as at Pentecost, or the blood of Christ or those who died professing their faith in Christ. When we come to celebrate St Barnabas Day in June, the liturgical color will be red. (Tradition holds that St Barnabas was martyred by stoning at Salamis, Cyprus, in AD 61.)
The changing colors of the church year are part of a rich pattern of liturgical worship which includes music, scripture and prayer. The liturgy tells the continuing story of God’s holy people in such a way as to give glory to God and, at the same time, offer worship which is both meaningful and beautiful. This worship is an expression of the interweaving of God’s story with our own. Therefore, as we immerse ourselves in every aspect of the liturgy – the music, the prayers, the readings, the sermon, the Eucharistic prayer – the quality of our spiritual cloth will be determined by the quality of our listening and attention.
On the subject of the Eucharist, this is the most common form of liturgy in the Church’s calendar. It is the great drama of Christ’s giving of himself when, at the Last Supper, Jesus took bread and wine and handed them to his disciples, saying, “Take, eat this is my body…drink, this is my blood.” Jesus was giving his followers a specific instruction for the liturgy they were to follow after his Ascension. When we worship in the liturgy of the Eucharist, we are not simply following Jesus’ command, but we are joined to Christ and to one another by faith and through God’s grace.
One of the aims of liturgy is to promote unity. In the Eucharist we celebrate Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in a shared meal – this is how Jesus wished to be remembered. There is no better expression of the liturgy (which means “work of the people”) than to be gathered together as one in this way, as the psalmist writes:
“Behold how good and pleasant it is to dwell together in unity.” (Psalm 133)
In the joy and faith of Christ,