Book Review — The Liturgical Year

I received The Liturgical Year from Thomas Nelson as a complimentary copy for review. I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

But I can’t help but be positive about the two books I have read in this series called The Ancient Practices Series.

Joan Chittister walks the reader through the meaning of the liturgical year. I have grown up Pentecostal, so it is only in the past few years I have looked into the ancient practices regarding liturgy. This book is a tremendous help. Her writing style is completely accessible and almost conversational.

The center of the Christian life should be the Christian calendar, not our civil calendars. The beginning of that year is Advent. The necessity of following the liturgical calendar every year is not to keep repeating things. The purpose is to grow.

This book is about growing wiser, growing holier, growing more embedded in the essentials of life as the years go by rather than simply moving from one time of life to the next.

As we go through these seasons year after year, there is a new depth we can find. There is a new height we to which we can climb. I have understood this for years about studying the Bible. I could study the Book of Ephesians every year and not plunge the depths fully. Yet, when I’ve looked at the liturgical year in the past all I have seen is repetition. It does not need to be that way.

We come to the liturgical year and look at what we already know… year after year. Yet, we can then look deeper and climb higher. We can be surprised by something every year.

Chittister breaks down the liturgical year and then takes the reader on a journey through that year. She discusses the four major kinds of celebrations:

1. Sundays. It is a “little Easter” every week. We remember the death and resurrection of Jesus.

2. Seasons of the year. Advent and Lent are the obvious major observances. Lent came very early in the Church. Advent came much later. (By later, we’re talking late 3rd Century.) The Christian church is rooted in Easter. It is the high point of the year. She walks the reader very carefully through both celebrations, but especially through every component of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. It is a powerful journey.

3. The sanctoral cycle. This is the commemoration of individuals noted for living out the kind of personal holiness they saw in Jesus. There are the feast days of the saints that have been commemorated for centuries. This gets uncomfortable for Protestants. The explanations are refreshing to me. It’s not about the worship of saints. It is about seeing the great examples of godliness and emulating them. I write this on Martin Luther King Day in the United States. We may barely notice this day, but it IS a day to commemorate a great man with a passion for Christ and the cause of equality.

4. Ordinary Time. Between Easter and Advent and then again between Christmastide and Lent there are these passages of time. There is the dailiness of life we deal with all the time. Ordinary stuff. This is where true life is found.

This book is a great primer for the novice. I will access this book all through the coming year so I can learn more of how the Church cycles. I want to draw from this ancient well and learn.

Chittister uses the word “religion” in this powerful statement. I don’t have a problem with it, but maybe substitute “Christianity” or “relationship” if you like. This statement is incredible:

Religion celebrates what the rest of the world forgets — the inherent goodness of life itself. Religion knows that life unadorned and raw is the ultimate high. Everything else is a pale shadow of the real thing. All the excesses in the world — sex, alcohol, drugs, gambling, greed — are simply substitutes for the real thing.

This is a book worth utilizing for at least one entire year.


Epiphany, Christmas, the Eastern Christmas…

In the Church, December 25 isn’t the end. In the Western Church it’s over. We’re done. Get back to work. Get to the gym.

For the Church, it is just the beginning. Through the celebration of Christmas and Epiphany, the East and West emphasize some strong points in the life of Christ:

He is the heavenly Son of God.

He is King of the nations.

He is Lord of creation.

He is the human child. The Word became flesh.

The is what the liturgical year focuses us on at the beginning of the year: the clear manifestation of the One we follow through this rehearsal of the life of Jesus year after year. The feast of Christmas/Epiphany attests to the entire arc of Christology. This one is both the God who reaches down to us and the human who raises us up to God. (The Liturgical Year)