Liturgy through the Church’s Year: an Introduction

The liturgical year provides a structure for the Church’s collective memory, a way of consecrating our human experience of time in celebration of God’s work in Christ.

Through the seasons of the Liturgical Year, beginning with Advent, when we look forward both to the coming of the Christ Child in the Nativity, and the return of Christ in glory at the end of all things, through Christmas, to the Manifestation of Christ at the Epiphany, to our sharing our Lord’s fast in the wilderness in Lent in preparation for Easter, to his Ascension and sending of his Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we move also through two periods of ‘Ordinary Time’, and the Church’s year ends on the Feast of Christ the King, for the cycle to begin again in Advent. 

The Liturgical year offers us a Christian understanding of time as a context of God’s grace, instead of a purely functional reckoning of time. This act of Christian remembering has proved, over time, to have an extraordinary depth. Through the structuring of our Christian memory, the past is able to come into our present, in a process called anamnesis (only weakly translated by our English ‘remembrance’):
Paschal Lamb, thine Offering, finished
once for all when thou wast slain,
in its fullness undiminished
shall for evermore remain.
(G. H. Bourne)
This creative remembering has deep roots in Jewish tradition, and especially in the Passover meal, through which God’s redemptive power in the past act of the Exodus can be freshly experienced in the present.

The rhythm of the Church’s times and seasons is also one of the primary ways in which Christians deepen their understanding of the story of Christ. We imagine ourselves, in our act of worship, to experience events in the past as present reality or future hope. We speak naturally at Advent, for example, of looking forward to the birth of the Christ-child, and we experience the joy of his birth as a present reality, though we know in our minds that it is an event in the past. The Church’s Year is also interspersed with a number of Festivals and Feasts, that interrupt the rhythm and add a different ‘flavour’ to it.  

At St Faith’s, which both has a Catholic tradition and belongs to the Church of England, we observe the Church’s year using the Church of England’s Liturgy, Common Worship.  It is so called because it is ‘Common’ to everyone, our way of belonging to a common life in the Universal Church.  It derives from a number of ecumenical agreements with both the Roman Catholic Church and the Free Churches.  The word ‘common’ also picks up on the Church of England’s historic liturgy, the Book of Common Prayer.
The first BCP was compiled by Thomas Cranmer in 1549, though it is the 1662 version with which many people are familiar.  Cranmer insisted that it be ‘understanded of the people,’ that liturgy should be vernacular –something everyone can understand.  It is still part of Common Worship, and we use it monthly at St Faith’s for a Choral Evensong.

At St Faith’s, the Common Worship texts are presented in a series of seasonal booklets that reflect this journey through the year as an exploration of God’s grace.  Certain aspects of the liturgy stay the same all the time, but some things change to reflect the particular themes of the season.
The Liturgy Booklets are to be found via the link below in seasonal order, and the weekly Bulletin explains which booklet is being used at any one time.  The Ordinary Time Booklet also contains a commentary on the Liturgy, and explains some aspects of our Anglo-Catholic practice at St Faith’s, for example the reasons behind the ‘Smells and Bells’!

...... Seasonal resources and archives
        ...... The Liturgy Library: booklets for the liturgical year