The cycle of the Church's traditional liturgy - like the astronomical
cycle - is completed within one year. While the calendar year always
starts on January 1st, the Church begins her year on the first Sunday of
Advent - the date of which varies between November 27 and December 3.
While the calendar year has four seasons (spring, summer, autumn and
winter), the Church has six seasons - Advent, Christmastide, Septuagesima,
Lent, Paschaltide and the time after Pentecost. These six seasons vary in
length, depending on the date of Easter (which always falls on the first
Sunday after the first full moon in spring.)
The four weeks of Advent precede the feast of Christ's birth, which
falls on December 25th. The period between Christmas and Septuagesima
Sunday is known as Christmastide. Septuagesima Sunday can fall anywhere
between January 16th and February 22nd, depending on the date of the
following Easter Sunday. (Its name comes from the Latin word for
"seventy", marking the number of days until the Saturday after Easter.)
The season of Septuagesima is a preparation for Lent (just as Lent is a
period of preparation for Easter, the feast of Christ's resurrection.)
Lent is the most ancient of the Church's seasons and is a period of
self-denial, fasting and good works in preparation for Easter. It consists
of six full weeks, plus the four days which follow Ash Wednesday.
Excluding Sundays - which are never days of fasting - it lasts 40 days, in
imitation of Christ's fast in the desert (recounted in the Gospel of the
first Sunday of Lent).
The last two weeks of Lent - Passion Week and Holy Week - are not
separate liturgical seasons, but form an integral part of Lent. The last
three days of Holy Week (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday),
together with Easter Sunday, comprise the most important days of the
Church's liturgical year, since they recall the crucifixion and
resurrection of our Saviour.
Paschaltide, which begins on Easter Sunday, runs for 50 days and is
followed by the feast of Pentecost (or Whitsunday), which marks the start
of the Season after Pentecost. This season, which may last as long as 28
weeks, ends on the day before the first Sunday of Advent, when the
Church's year begins all over again.
Every day of the year has its own special liturgical readings. The
Epistle is normally taken from one of the letters of the New Testament.
The Gospel reading is always taken from the writings of one of the four
Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Because of the difficulty of obtaining Tridentine Missals nowadays,
Massgoers may have no option but to use Mass leaflets or booklets which
contain only the Common of the Mass and do not include the readings of the
day. The following list of readings enables Catholics to use their Bible
to follow the readings every Sunday and on the major feast days during the