When the Church Calendar is explained, it is often accompanied by a circular diagram, with the various seasons marked in order around the circle. There’s nothing wrong with this visual, but it occurred to me one day while out riding my bicycle that the Church Calendar could perhaps better be understood as having two wheels.
The big idea behind the Church Calendar is that it orders our time around Jesus Christ. Using a two wheel model, we can think of the hubs of those wheels as the beginning and the end of Jesus’ time on earth. So the hub of our front wheel will be the Birth of Jesus, or the Incarnation, to use a theological term. The hub of our second wheel will be the Death-Resurrection-Ascension of Jesus, or the Paschal Mystery.
Radiating from these two hubs of the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery are the seasons associated with them, which have a certain rhythm. First, a season of anticipation and preparation, followed by the season of fulfillment, and finally a season of response to the event.
Applying this rhythm to our first wheel, we can see that Advent is a time of anticipation and preparation for the coming of the Messiah. Christmas is the season of fulfillment, when God’s promises of a Savior are enfleshed. And the season of Epiphany is a time of responding to the news that the Light of Christ has come to all nations.
Turning to the second wheel, Lent is our season of preparation for the Passion of Christ. Holy Week and Easter carry us through Jesus’ death and Resurrection, all the way to his Ascension, when he leaves this earth in bodily form. Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, and Corpus Christi Sunday challenge us to take the news of God’s victory over sin and death to all the world.
So we have two wheels, spinning around the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery. Connecting these wheels is Ordinary Time. In our common use, the word “ordinary” refers to things which are not special or important. The reason these weeks of the Church Calendar are referred to as Ordinary Time is that they have been numbered, or ordered. So we speak of the First Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, etc. The idea behind this language is that we need to order our lives according to the great events of the Incarnation and Paschal Mystery. Weeks of fasting and penitential preparation give way to feasting and celebration, followed by focused challenge to share and transmit our joyful news. And then we move into stretches of Ordinary Time when we go about the work of living our lives as Christians, or “little Christs”, ordering our time according to the Lord and his work among us.
Finally, here is why I really like thinking about the Church Year as a bicycle. When I am riding my bike, I don’t just ride my front wheel. Nor do I ride my rear wheel, or my seat post, or my pedals in isolation. I ride the entire bicycle. Every component is part of the whole. So it is with the Church Calendar and the way we interact with it. The events of the Incarnation are not just things we consider and celebrate at Christmas. Nor is the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ relevant only at Easter. These are realities that permeate every day of every week, of every season of every year.
My encouragement to all of us is to enter into the Church Calendar more deeply, more aware of the riches of our Faith that are expressed through it as we live together in Jesus Christ each and every day. – MJM