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The temporal cycle

The cycle of the Church year has two main periods of sacred time: Advent, Christmas and Epiphany cycle which is determined by Christmas Day and the date of the Epiphany, both of which are fixed; and Lent, Holy Week, Easter and the time until Pentecost which is determined by the date of Easter (see Moveable Dates for an explanation).

Christmas cycle

The Christmas cycle consists of the season of Advent, Christmastide and the time after Epiphany.

Advent Sunday (the first Sunday in Advent) is the Sunday nearest St Andrew's Day (November 30) and is the Sunday following Christ the King.  There are always four Sundays in Advent, before Christmas Day.  During Advent, we use the colour purple.

The Third sunday of Advent is often known as 'Gaudete' Sunday .  The name comes from the beginning of the Introit to the Mass for that day in the Roman Rite - "Gaudete in Domino semper" ("Rejoice in the Lord always").  It is traditional to use rose coloured vestments, depending on local use, though sometimes Sarum blue is seen.

Christmastide itself starts with the vigil of Christmas.  The feast of Christmas, the Twelve Days of Christmas, runs until Epiphany on 6 of January, although the spirit of Christmastide and its focus do not end until Candlemas on 2 February.

Epiphany is on 6 January and the season, which continues the Christmas focus, lasts until the day before Septuagesima Sunday which is the ninth Sunday before Easter.

During Christmastide and the season of Epiphany, we use the colour white or gold.

Easter cycle

The Easter cycle begins traditionally with the period from Septuagesima Sunday until Shrove Tuesday,  the day before Ash Wednesday, in what is now known as Ordinary Time.  We use the colour green.

The first part of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday until the day before the Fifth Sunday of Lent.  Historically called Quadragesima, meaning 'forty', it is a sombre, penitential season that recalls Christ's 40 days in the desert.  If you count on a calendar, it seems to last for 46 days, but includes six Sundays which did not 'count' as part of Lent, as Sundays are about Resurrection. 

The second part of Lent is Passiontide.  These last two weeks begin on Passion Sunday (the Fifth Sunday of Lent).  The second week, which starts on Palm Sunday is called Holy Week.   The last three days: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Eve (Holy Saturday), are sometimes known as the Sacred Triduum (three days).

In Lent, the colour violet is used, though black was sometimes used on Ash Wednesday.  On Palm Sunday, red is used to commemorate the beginning of the Passion of Our Lord.  On Maundy Thursday, it is traditonal to use white or gold.  Good Friday uses red and sometimes violet.  On Easter Eve there is no traditional colour, unless maybe black, as churches would have had all hangings removed.  Occasionally you see 'lenten array' vestments made of ubleached linen.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent is often known as 'Laetare' Sunday and usually celebrated as Mothering Sunday.  The name comes from the beginning of the Introit to the Mass for that day in the Roman Rite - "Laetare Ierusalem" ("O be joyful, Jerusalem").  It is traditional to use rose coloured vestments, depending on local use.

The joyous, victorious season of Easter (Paschaltide) commences with the Easter vigil until the day before Trinity Sunday.   We use the colour white or gold, except for Pentecost (Whit Sunday) where we use the colour red.

On the Monday after Pentecost, Ordinary time resumes.  The first Sunday is Trinity Sunday and then we have the Sundays after Trinity, lasting until the First Sunday of Avent when the two cycles repeat.  During Ordinary Time, we normally use the colour green.  The Thursday after Trinity Sunday is celebrated as the Day of Thanksgiving for the Institution of Holy Communion (Corpus Christi).  White or gold is used on this day and also on All Saints Day (November 1).

For a complete list of the Sundays and principal days of the seasons, see the Church of England webpage.

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