Friday, December 24, 2010

Advent 2010--The Beginning of the Liturgical Year; Preparing for the Coming of the Christ Child

The Liturgical Calendar

A liturgical calendar is a religious calendar that is structured around and marks major events and celebrations of the faith. In Christianity, primarily Catholicism, but also Protestantism, the liturgical year begins with Advent, the period of preparation for the coming Nativity of the Christ Child, which begins 4 Sundays before Christmas (December 25). It ends on Christmas Eve Day (December 24), and Christmastide begins.

Christmastide, or Yuletide begins on Christmas Eve Evening (December 24), includes the traditional "12 Days of Christmas" up to Epiphany Eve (January 5); Epiphany (January 6), the manifestation or appearance of Jesus as a human incarnate, particularly to the 3 magi, or wisemen; and, the Sunday following Epiphany, which commemorates the baptism of Jesus. Anglicans include Candlemas (the celebration of the presentation of Jesus in the temple), in February in this period of the liturgical year. Many Eastern Churches celebrate Christmas on January 5-6, and their Epiphany, about 12 days later falls on January 19.

An Ordinary Time, a time of ordinals or counted weeks, follows until the beginning of the period of Lent. As this period depends on the timing of Easter, which is the one remaining "moveable feast", calculated by the lunar calendar, in the Christian liturgical year, the weeks may number 3-8 Sundays. These weeks are marked by readings and teachings about Jesus Christ's ministry as a preacher on earth.

Lent, which is a time of penitence, in preparation for the death and resurrection of Christ at Easter, follows this first Ordinary Time of the liturgical year. Since Christians believe that Christ came and died for our (humans') sins, including our Original Sin (the Fall of Adam and Eve), this is an important period of reflection and penitence through fasting and prayer. Lent lasts 40 days, like the 40 days of Moses wandering in the wilderness, and the 40 days of the Devil's Temptation of Christ. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday, the Sunday of the Resurrection of Jesus (the 6 Sundays are not counted in the 40 days).

This somber time includes the Easter Triduum--Good Friday (the day of Jesus Crucifixion and death);  Holy Saturday (the day Jesus lay in the tomb); and Easter Sunday (the day of Resurrection). Each of these days begins the evening before with a vigil. Easter Sunday itself is a time of change from the sadness of Jesus' death as a human, to the joy of his resurrection as the Son of God.

Eastertide in the liturgical year begins with the Easter Vigil on the Saturday evening before Easter Sunday, and continues to the end of Pentecost Sunday. In total, Eastertide lasts 50 days. Beginning with the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter, it culminates on the 40th day with Ascension Thursday, when Jesus returned to Heaven, and ends on the 50th day with Pentecost Sunday marking the Holy Spirit being sent to Jesus' Apostles, and the beginning of the Christian Church.

A second period of Ordinary Time begins following Pentecost. These counted weeks focus on the development and spread of Christianity by the Apostles. In the final few weeks before the Feast of Christ the King the primary theme is the End of Days and the preparation for the second coming of Jesus--the themes of the final book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation (in the Protestant faith).

Advent 2010

For Western Christian Churches, and the Eastern ones following the Vatican, or Roman Rite, Sunday, November 28, 2010 was the First Sunday of Advent, and the New Year's Day of the Catholic Liturgical (religious) Year. Advent begins on the 4th Sunday before December 25, and is concerned with preparing for the arrival of the Christ Child on Christmas Day; and, for the Second Coming of Christ.  Its name derives from the Latin advenire (to come towards) and adventus (the coming).

The Feast of Christ the King falls on the last Sunday before Advent, and is a joyous end to the previous liturgical year. This Feast Day is based on the identity of Jesus in the Bible as a heavenly king to whom all owe their spiritual allegiance, and who has primacy over earthly kings. It was introduced in 1925 by then Pope Pius XI to counteract the rise of nationalism and intolerance of the Other; and, to deflect the faithful away from the earthly power of Benito Mussolini.

Other Christian faiths, particularly Anglican, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian also observe the Feast of Christ the King, and Advent. Advent celebrations are marked through religious services with each of the 4 Sundays of Advent having a particular theme. The 4 Sundays are marked by lighting the corresponding Advent candles. Each of the denominations of Christianity which celebrate Advent has their own colour symbolism for the candles.

In the Roman Catholic Church there are 3 purple candles, using the colour of royalty to symbolize Christ as the Prince of Peace, and on the 3rd Sunday a pink coloured candle to symbolize the  rejoicing of the nearness of  Christmas. Protestant denominations often favour blue candles, as the colour of hopeful expectation. Anglicans and Lutherans prefer 4 red candles, which are in keeping with the rarity of that colour in other religious celebrations throughout the year, and with the colour of the Christmas season.

The 4 candles are often set around in a wreath, with sometimes a centre white  candle that represents Christ and would be lit on Christmas Eve or Day. The wreath or decoration with evergreens symbolizes the everlasting life of Christ.

A single Advent candle marked with the days of Advent may be burned down enough to mark each day's passing and serve as a reminder in the home of the coming of the Nativity. Other homes may light their own distinctly coloured candles to mark the Advent Sundays passing.

The German tradition of the Advent Calendar to mark the days has spread around the world, and has given rise to other more secular forms, those marking the progress of the season or the "holiday countdown". Traditionally little doors for each day opened to a chocolate or toy surprise. That tradition continues and has expanded, as have the forms of the calendar from the original wooden ones to paper, cloth, and virtual ones.

For the last 3 years The Big Picture at has featured an Advent Calendar comprised of daily pictures of the universe from the Hubble Space Telescope. The Hubble Space Telescope Calendars from 2008 and 2009 are complete, and that from 2010 is near completion. Each begins on December 1 and ends on December 25.

December 24, 2010--Barred spiral galaxy NGC 1300 is considered to be prototypical of barred spiral galaxies. Barred spirals differ from normal spiral galaxies in that the arms of the galaxy do not spiral all the way into the center, but are connected to the two ends of a straight bar of stars containing the nucleus at its center. At Hubble's resolution, a myriad of fine details are seen throughout the galaxy's arms, disk, bulge, and nucleus. Blue and red supergiant stars, star clusters, and star-forming regions are well resolved across the spiral arms, and dust lanes trace out fine structures in the disk and bar. Numerous more distant galaxies are visible in the background. In the core of the larger spiral, the nucleus shows its own extraordinary and distinct "grand-design" spiral structure that is about 3,300 light-years long. NGC 1300 lies roughly 69 million light-years away in the direction of the constellation Eridanus. (NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team, STScI/AURA)

Related Posts:
Cross-Cultural Christmases: Saudi, Arab, Muslim, and Non--
Part I Cultural Traditions
Part II Interfaith Christmases
Part III The Christianity in Christmas

Your comments, thoughts, impressions?

December 14, 2010--A colourful star-forming region is featured in this image of NGC 2467. Looking like a roiling cauldron of some exotic cosmic brew, huge clouds of gas and dust are sprinkled with bright blue, hot young stars. Strangely shaped dust clouds are silhouetted against a colourful background of glowing gas. Like the familiar Orion Nebula, NGC 2467 is a huge cloud of gas, mostly hydrogen, that serves as an incubator for new stars. Hot young stars that recently formed from the cloud are emitting fierce ultraviolet radiation that is causing the whole scene to glow while also sculpting the environment and gradually eroding the gas clouds. (NASA, ESA and Orsola De Marco, Macquarie University)

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