Seasons of Worship


The preface to the Alternative Service Book (ASB), page 10, says this

Christians are formed by the way in which they pray, and the way they choose to pray expresses what they are.

Prayer here refers not just to our private prayer but also to our corporate prayer, our worship Sunday by Sunday, week by week. It embraces all the ways in which we pray together - in the Eucharist, at Morning and Evening prayer, through meditation and at Prayer in the Day.

This article introduces a year long series of articles about aspects of worship. The articles will look at the major holy days and festivals of the church's year, at the changing seasons and the ways in which the words and symbols of worship (liturgy) enable us to enter more deeply into the life of Christ and into richer communion with God. The first article in November will concentrate on All Saints and All Souls Day and Advent; December brings Christmas and Principal Holy Days; January Epiphany and so on.

This year (1996-97) the Last Sunday after Pentecost falls on October 20th and the church's new liturgical year begins on October 27th. At present we are reading the ASB readings for Year 2 but on October 27th we will change to Year 1. The readings are laid down in The Lectionary. This prescribes readings for all services so that the whole Church of England follows the same pattern and thus the same focus of prayer. The Sunday Lectionary is unique to the Church of England, but the weekday lectionary follows in the main the Roman Catholic pattern. A lectionary also helps to ensure that a wide range of bible readings are used to give a full and balanced picture of Christ and his life.

The readings are chosen to reflect the season in which they are read. So here is a brief overview of the emphasis in the choice of readings appointed for the seasons of the Church's Year.

The Nine Sundays before Christmas (which includes Advent)

If there is only one reading other than the Gospel at the Eucharist, the Old Testament reading takes precedence. The readings trace the story of Creation, Fall, and the saving purposes of God leading to the Incarnation. The place of Abraham, Moses and Elijah are clearly illustrated. Advent readings emphasise the coming of Christ both at Christmas and at the end of time.

Christmas and Epiphany

The Gospel reading is to the fore in this season and until Pentecost, setting out the life and ministry of Jesus in more or less chronological order. Christmas focuses on Emmanuel - God with us in the person of Jesus; Epiphany on the revelation of God incarnate - to the kings and thus the world. Sundays of Epiphany address aspects of revelation - miracles, parables and the cleansing of the Temple.

Nine Sundays before Easter (including Lent)

The three Sundays before Lent are devoted to crucial aspect of Jesus' ministry - teaching, healing and befriending sinners. In Lent the Old Testament readings are similar to those read before Advent providing a backcloth to Jesus' redemptive work in his passion, death and resurrection. In the Gospels baptism and temptation are tied together but the lectionary divides the two, focusing on baptism at Epiphany-tide and temptation in Lent. Lent opens with the struggles of the King and his Kingdom against evil and then looks towards the passion and transfiguration. With Palm Sunday the Cross comes clearly into view.

Easter to Pentecost

The Gospel reading again dominates. Year 1 readings present the resurrection appearances leading to the Ascension. Year 2 readings look at the concept of eternal life as presented in the great 'I am' passages of John's Gospel, pointing to the eternal Christ and his abiding reality in the life of the Church and the individual. The season ends with the Sunday after Ascension (Easter 6) when the ascension story is re-read.


The dominant reading at the Eucharist in this season is the Epistle. The season shows aspects of the life of God's people as they move forward in the power of the Spirit on their pilgrimage between Pentecost (new birth and life in the Spirit) and Parousia (the coming again of Christ for the final gathering of all life into the Kingdom of God). Indeed the theme of the Last Sunday is 'Citizens of Heaven' a suitable finale to the Church's year and pilgrimage towards the end of time.

Other Holy Days

The year is also interspersed with other Holy Days and Festivals - Days of Obligation and the Red Letter Days of the Book of Common Prayer.

  • Principal Holy Days include all Sundays in the Year, every Sunday is a festival of Christ. Easter Day and Pentecost always fall on Sundays, five other days are also in this group: Christmas Day, the Epiphany, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Ascension Day.
  • Festivals and Greater Holy Days provide the opportunity to enter into very important events in the life of Christ e.g. the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, and the lives and significance of Mary, Joseph, John the Baptist, Mary Magdalen, the Apostles and Evangelists, St Michael and all Angels, All Saints, St Stephen the first Martyr and the Holy Innocents.
  • Lesser Festivals and Commemorations cover the whole history of the Christian Church from Timothy and Titus to Edward King, Bishop of Lincoln who died in 1910.
  • Special Days of Thanksgiving. Readings are provided for days meriting special observance. a) Ember Days - prayer for the various ministries of the church - lay and clerical, and for those to be ordained. b) Rogation Days - their traditional meaning is of thanksgiving for God's provision and goodness but in these less agricultural days they also look to God's response to our work of prayer and daily life. c) Thanksgiving for Holy Communion and d) Harvest.

I hope this article conveys something of the rhythm of our life together and establishes the life of Christ, as revealed in the word of God, as the foundation on which our worship is built.

Helen Walker, September 1996
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 5th July 1997