Advent is the first season of the liturgical year. It begins with the Sunday falling on or nearest to St. Andrew’s Day (November 30), and lasts between 22 and 28 days, ending on Christmas Eve. The word Advent comes from the Latin word for “coming”. Advent means “coming” in three senses: 1) the coming of the baby Jesus 2000 years ago in Bethlehem, 2) the coming of Christ today in the Word and sacraments, and 3) His coming again at the end of time. Advent is a season of joyful expectation and preparation, and these themes predominate in the appointed lessons throughout the season.
The color of the Advent season is blue (or, in some churches, purple). Blue, like purple, is often a symbol of penitence, but it is also the color of hope. And, as the color honoring the Virgin Mary, blue reminds us that during Advent, the church waits with Mary for the birth of the baby Jesus.
Saint James Church keeps the ancient tradition of acknowledging the third Sunday in Advent as “Gaudette” Sunday. Gaudette means “Rejoice”; rejoice for, as John the Baptist says in the Gospel reading on that Sunday, “one who is more powerful than I is coming…” The color for Gaudette Sunday is rose.
THE ADVENT WREATH
Three of the candles in the Advent Wreath are blue, the color of the season of Advent. The candle that is lit on the third Sunday (Gaudette Sunday) is rose. On Christmas, a fifth candle, the white “Christ” candle, will be added in the center of the wreath.
The Twelve Days of Christmas
From 1558 to 1829, the Roman Catholic Church in England was forbidden to practice the faith openly. Members of the Church developed ways to communicate the gift of faith in a coded song known as the Twelve Days of Christmas. Listed below are various explanations for the symbols.The twelve days were from December 25 (Christmas) until January 6 (Epiphany). The “true love” referred to God. The repetition of the melody signified God’s continual renewal of His gifts.
The partridge is a symbol of Christ. The partridge will feign injury to protect nestlings, which are defenseless, just as we are before Satan without Christ. The pear tree is the symbol of the salvation of man, just as the apple tree signified his downfall. Two turtle doves symbolize the Old Testament sacrifice, offered by even the poorest of people. Three French hens, valued for their beauty and rarity, symbolize the gifts of the three Wise Men and the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. Four calling birds represent the four major prophets and the four Gospel writers, the former announcing His coming and the latter proclaiming His message. Five golden rings represent the perfect circle of faith: God’s love for us, our love for God, and our love for each other. The number five refers to the five obligatory sacraments and the five books of the Bible that make up the Pentateuch, also know as the Law. Six geese a-laying represents the six days of creation. Seven swans a-swimming are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and the seven works of mercy. The number seven is the number of perfection. Eight maids a-milking are the eight beatitudes as well as the eight times during the year that were prescribed at that time for the reception of the Eucharist. Nine ladies dancing are the nine ranks of angel choirs and the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. Ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments. Eleven pipers piping are the eleven apostles proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. Twelve drummers drumming are the twelve minor prophets of the Old Testament and the twelve points of the Apostle’s Creed. It also refers to the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles.
Observed on January 6th, the Epiphany celebration remembers the three miracles that manifest the divinity of Christ. The word “Epiphany” comes from the Greek word Epiphania, “to show, make known, or reveal.” The celebration originated in the Eastern Church in AD 361, beginning as a commemoration of the birth of Christ. Later, new meanings were added: the visit of the three Magi, Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River, and His first miracle at the wedding in Cana. While some Greek Orthodox Churches still observe the Epiphany celebration as the Nativity of Jesus, the majority of Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican Churches focus on the visit of the Magi and Jesus’ baptism. The eve of Epiphany, called Twelfth Night, is thought to mark the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem.
The Colors of Lent
Lent is a penitential season, and the solemnity of this period is reflected in the colors and ornamentation that adorn the church from Ash Wednesday through Good Friday. Purple, the color of penitence and sorrow, is the color of the Lenten season. In the hall leading to the Meditation Chapel there are six purple veils (one for each week in Lent) hanging from the ceiling to the floor in a staggered configuration. These veils form a linear maze, which causes one to slow down and walk solemnly and prayerfully to the chapel. Greens are placed on the retable during Lent instead of the customary flowers. Crosses are veiled in purple as a sign of mourning, and they remain in place (changing to black on Good Friday) until the Great Vigil.Palm Sunday, the 6th Sunday in Lent, is the start of Holy Week. Red, for Christ’s passion, is the color of the vestments on Palm Sunday. In past years, Saint James Church has used white vestments on Maundy Thursday, following old tradition of celebrating a festal Eucharist. Beginning in 2007, we will join most of the other Episcopal churches in using red vestments for Maundy Thursday. At the end of the service, the altar is stripped and all ornaments are removed from the sanctuary, leaving it unadorned for the Good Friday liturgy. The color for Good Friday is black. Commemorating our Lord’s crucifixion and death, it is the day of deepest mourning in the church year.The Easter Vigil service on the eve of Easter begins in the dark. Candles are slowly added and when the lights come on the church is seen to be filled with beautiful flowers and music and the color on the altar is white or gold, commemorating the resurrection of Christ.He is risen – Alleluia.
Holy Week and the Easter Triduum
Triduum is Latin for “three days,” and the Easter Triduum refers to the period from Maundy Thursday to Easter Day. For more on “Triduum” and an alternate way of counting the “three days”, go to the Glossary on the Saint James website.So what is the Easter Triduum? And why don’t we count it as four days? The Easter Triduum is a single “event” celebrating the mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, i.e., the basis for the Christian faith. In this, the Easter Triduum is the most significant period of the church year.The Triduum begins at sunset on Maundy Thursday and ends at sunset on Easter, so we are talking about three 24-hour periods. Why? We are counting the days as the Hebrews did, beginning and ending at dusk. The three days of the Easter Triduum, therefore, are Day #1 from dusk on Maundy Thursday to dusk on Good Friday; Day #2 from dusk on Good Friday to dusk on Holy Saturday; and Day #3 from dusk on Holy Saturday to dusk on Easter Sunday.
Day #1: The Last Supper to the Crucifixion
The first day of the Triduum begins with remembrance of the “Last Supper”, the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples in the upper room. Judas left the assemblage during the meal, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, and the remaining disciples went with him. Judas betrayed Jesus. Jesus was arrested and spent the night being tried. Sometime after daybreak, Jesus was taken to Golgotha where he was crucified and died. He was buried in the tomb just before sunset on Friday. This is why we strip the altar and the chancel at the end of the Maundy Thursday service. We take the symbols of Christ’s presence and remove them, leaving empty space. We wash the altar just as one would to prepare a body for burial. We allow ourselves to enter symbolically into the grief and emptiness the disciples must have experienced when Jesus, the symbol of their hope, was taken from them.
Day #2: The Tomb
On the second day, Jesus’ body rested in the tomb. This would have been the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday). Although there is a liturgy in the prayer book for Holy Saturday (the name given to the daylight hours), we have chosen to let the church be silent, tomblike and still. Personal prayer is encouraged while there is light but there is no formal liturgy offered, just the echo of Good Friday and the shock of earlier events.
Day #3: The Resurrection
On the third day, which the Hebrews called the “first day of the week” (or Sunday as we would know it) Jesus rose from the grave. But remember that the third day begins at sundown on Saturday. The Easter Vigil and the first Eucharist of Easter, take place Saturday night, the beginning of that third day. We move from darkness into light, from death to new life, from brokenness and loss, to triumph and life everlasting. The Easter Vigil has been called the Queen of the Liturgy because of its drama, beauty and depth. The bodily Resurrection of our Lord is the event that makes Christianity more than simply good teaching or a satisfying system of ethics. In the Vigil we are reminded that when Christ rose he pulled us up from the clutches of sin and death toward a life full of meaning and without end.
The tradition of the Easter Triduum in the church is a single celebration that lasts from the Maundy Thursday service to the Easter services on Sunday morning.At the Maundy Thursday service we hear the story of the Last Supper, the betrayal, and the arrest. At the end of the service, the altar is stripped and washed. Lights in the church are dimmed. There is no processional at the end because the Triduum celebration does not end; it will continue until Sunday.The Good Friday service begins in silence with no processional because, remember, it is a continuation of the celebration that began on Thursday. The readings are about the crucifixion. Again, the service ends with silence and there is no procession out.The Easter Vigil begins in darkness with the lighting of the Paschal candle and, from it, the congregational candles. This service includes the Baptism Ceremony and the Eucharist. The lights are turned up just before the Eucharist and the music is joyful as we remember Christ’s resurrection. This joyous celebration continues on Easter morning with the Sunday services