Church year

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In Christianity, the church year ( Latin annus ecclesiasticus or annus liturgicus ; also liturgical year or gentleman's year ) is an annually recurring set of Christian feasts and festivals, according to which, above all, the practice of worship and liturgy are based. According to both Catholic and Protestant tradition, the church year begins with Vespers on the eve of the first Sunday in Advent ; the Orthodox churches begin it on September 1st, in preparation for the feast of the Birth of Mary on September 8th.

The church year consists primarily of the festival circles, which were formed first around Easter and then around Christmas , which in the history of Christianity were gradually completed into a yearly cycle . Their sequence and scope are more or less the same in Eastern and Western churches, but the most important dates of the Orthodox tradition differ from those of the Catholic and Protestant tradition. Certain liturgical colors are assigned to the festival times .


The German term “Kirchenjahr” was first used in 1589 by Johannes Pomarius , a Lutheran pastor. It marks the separation of the Christian-sacral and profane time structure and calendar order that began after the Reformation . In addition, there have always been different denominational variants of the church year since the term was formed.

In French it was called année chrétienne in the 17th century , année spirituelle in the late 18th century , and année liturgique in the 19th century ; in English it has been called Christian year since about 1790 , today it is mostly spoken of the liturgical year . Various German theologians preferred the terms year of salvation or master year in the 19th century .



The fixed solar year , the movable moon phases and the vegetative annual cycles that depend on both time metrics led to different calendar divisions in the ancient Orient . In Judaism, these were partly superimposed, partly interrupted by cult festivals , which recalled both recurring events in nature and special events within time. The main Jewish festival of Passover begins on the spring full moon , but does not primarily celebrate the beginning of spring , but rather the departure of the Hebrews from Egypt's slavery to the Promised Land as God's chosen people Israel .

The structuring basic dates of the church year - Sundays, Easter and Christmas - are based on the seven-day week , the Jewish festival calendar and some fixed solar dates in connection with the equinox . As stations in a revealed history of salvation, they acquire a new meaning.


The early church celebrated the Lord's Supper weekly. The central point of reference for Christians in early Christian times was the memory of the Paschal mystery , Christ's work of redemption , i.e. H. his passion and death for the salvation of the world and his resurrection on the third day, which was celebrated as “ breaking bread ” (Lord's Supper / Eucharist) in anticipation of his second coming . This is why Sunday - based on the New Testament address " Lord " for Jesus Christ - is called "Lord's Day" or "Lord's Day". Liturgically, it can be interpreted as "Weekly Easter".

As the day after the Jewish Sabbath , Sunday was the first, not the last, day of the week. Just as the Sabbath symbolized the goal of God's creation as a day off , so for Christians Sunday marked the beginning of the new creation, the kingdom of God . The liturgy declarations of the church fathers therefore make particular reference to the Sunday service . Emperor Constantine the Great legally set Sunday 321 as a weekly day of rest, also to make Christianity the preferred religion. In this way, Sunday replaced the Sabbath and, together with Saturday, became a " weekend " in everyday life .

The Second Vatican Council described Sunday as the "primeval holiday": "The Lord's Day is the foundation and core of the whole liturgical year."

Easter festival circle

The Easter Sunday was the Christian version of the last Passover day: the Exodus from Egypt corresponded to the Easter Vigil celebrated salvation of Jesus and with him all people from death. In this form, Easter Sunday became the starting point and center of the church year. For a long time it remained the only Christian annual festival at which the baptism of the catechumens took place and the martyrs of the previous year were commemorated.

In Western tradition, the date of Easter was set in 325 on the Sunday after the first full moon in spring. It thus fitted into the Sunday series and formed a festival circle analogous to Passover. Many Christian communities have been preparing for Easter since the 2nd century with two to six days of fasting. In the 4th century, the Triduum Sacrum , unknown in the east, arose in the west and comprised the evening of Maundy Thursday , Good Friday , Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. Analogous to the seven or eight-day Passover, it was extended to the holy week , which from the day Jesus entered Jerusalem ( Palmarum ) to the course of the last days of Jesus' life until his resurrection.

Since the 4th century, Easter has also been followed by a week during which those newly baptized at Easter celebrated the Eucharist every day and were instructed in apostolic teaching. It ended with White Sunday , which probably derives its name from the white baptismal robes that were worn in the early church by those baptized on Easter Vigil up to this day. This “small octave ” (festival week) was accompanied by a “large octave” of seven weeks for the joyful Easter time. This ran towards Pentecost Sunday and comprised 50 days with it, analogous to the period between Passover and Shavuot in the Jewish calendar. Thus the gift of the Holy Spirit , which according to Jn 20:22  EU belongs to the revelation of the risen Christ, received its own liturgical celebration according to the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles . Ten days beforehand, the Ascension Day was established according to the 40-day specification ( Acts 1.3  EU ) .

This 40-day period ( quadragesima ) was then carried over to Lent before Easter, when the Passion of Jesus was commemorated with prayer , penance and fasting . However, Lent Sundays were excluded from fasting because their liturgy was related to Easter Sunday. In it the memory was preserved that the church year is the image of an event beyond, not within time, which looks back on Jesus' resurrection and looks ahead to his parousia .

Christmas festival circle

Christmas has been celebrated in Rome since around 330 and in Constantinople since around 380 on December 25th. This date was near the winter solstice and broke the Sunday rhythm. The basic idea was that the incarnation of the Son of God initiated the turn from death to life, from darkness to light. This should also ward off competing ideas within and outside of Christianity: Christ is not an immortal spirit being (this is how Gnosticism saw him ), but mortal and unique as a human being. He and not the invincible sun ( Sol invictus ) is the true God.

Like the date of Easter, the date of Christmas has remained controversial. Jesus' birth was celebrated by large parts of Christianity initially on the same day as Passover (15th Nisan), on March 25th (spring equinox) or on January 6th - today's feast of the apparition of the Lord  . The latter was also the beginning of a turn of the eons in the Roman Empire , which was expected from the birth of a new ruler. That is why Christmas was associated with the awareness of a new era analogous to the pagan golden age , so that the assumed year of Jesus' birth 525 was identified with the beginning of a new era .

Ambrose of Milan and Gregory the Great linked the light that appeared on the night of Jesus' birth with the light of the Easter vigil ; the humility of his birth in the manger and stable already indicated his death on the cross in the liturgy . Therefore, the Christmas season did not compete with the Easter season, but was put in front of it as its forerunner, so that it opened the church year.

In the 5th century the Advent season developed , initially as a 40-day fasting period before the festival of Epiphany, beginning on November 11th, which was also the day of remembrance of St. Martin . The four Sundays in Advent preceded Christmas, with the 4th Advent coinciding with December 24th. The Christmas season with the lunar-moving Easter festival circle of 14 weeks was added to the Sunday series. Therefore the time between the two highest festivals varies.

Other components

Martyrs' memorial days have been included in the liturgical year as feast days alongside the resurrection festival of Jesus Christ since the 2nd century. The day of death became the “birthday” ( dies natalis ) of the respective saint with whom he entered eternal life.

Since the 5th century, the church year has been supplemented and designed with new elements and festive dates, especially in Rome:

Since late antiquity , commemoration of those who died the previous year has become commonplace. It was put on November 2nd ( All Souls 'Day ) in the 10th century , following the solemn festival of All Saints' Day . Furthermore, there was an increase in festivals that deal with individual stages in Christ's life, such as the circumcision and naming of the Lord on January 1st and 3rd, or the transfiguration of the Lord on August 6th.

To commemorate the discovery and exaltation of the holy cross, two cross feasts have been celebrated in the western church since the early Middle Ages : ( finding of the cross ) on March 6th and May 3rd or 7th, ( exaltation of the cross ) on September 14th.

From the High Middle Ages , festivals that put certain secrets of faith at the center of their own liturgical celebration were included in the church year:

Other feast days and days of remembrance of the church year apply to church-historical events that have  shaped individual denominations , religious orders or communities - such as church consecration festivals .

Since the beginning of the 20th century were increasingly Sundays in Ordinary Time additionally as purpose Sundays placed under a particular theme or dedicated to a specific issue, such as the World Mission Sunday and the World Day of Social Communications . The origins of the harvest festival lie in the Quatembern , which were days of fasting and abstinence, but on which, according to old custom, God is also thanked for the gifts of creation. In Germany, the harvest festival was often celebrated on Michaelmas (29 September), while since the 18th century it has been "traditionally celebrated on the Sunday after Michaelis or the first Sunday in October". Since the two associations VELKD and UEK decided on a liturgical calendar in the EKD in 2006 , the harvest festival is usually celebrated on the first Sunday in October in all western churches.

The Orthodox Church Year

The Orthodox Church continued the old church year by celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus together on Easter vigil and understanding every Sunday as a repetition of Easter. Sunday marks both the beginning of each week and at the same time its completion as the “eighth day”. He transforms the seventh day - the Jewish Sabbath - into an "octave of joy", which indicates the final victory of the risen One and the breakthrough of the new creation (Jn 20:26).

Accordingly, the entire church year was liturgically divided into parts of at least eight weeks each, the beginning and end Sundays of which overlap. These rows, the corresponding song and lyrics are read Oktoechos known and recorded in the same "Achttonbuch"; the Orthodox liturgy of each section is sung in one of the eight church modes.

The Byzantine church year begins on September 1st ( indiction ). The Philip's Fast, the forty-day fast before Christmas, begins on November 15th. The Incarnation of the Lord is celebrated on December 25th.

A three-week pre-fast begins on the Sunday of the publican and Pharisee. It is followed by the seven-week Great Lent until Great Saturday . The Easter period ( Pentekostarion ) ranges from Easter Sunday to All Saints' Day (the first Sunday after Pentecost). This is followed by two octotechos from Pentecost to the Sunday of the Exaltation of the Cross on September 14th and again twelve to thirteen Sundays until Christmas (December 25th) and Epiphany (January 6th). Special feast days of the Orthodox church year are:

All immovable dates of the liturgical year, including those of the saints and angels, are listed in the twelve-volume menaeon .

In the Russian Orthodox Church and some other Orthodox churches, the entire church year continues to follow the Julian calendar , which is thirteen days behind the Gregorian calendar . Orthodox churches that have adopted the Gregorian calendar also follow the Julian calendar for setting the date of Easter and other festivals that depend on the date of Easter, so that Easter is celebrated jointly by the entire Orthodoxy.

The liturgical year (Roman Catholic)

In two liturgical reforms (1951 and 1956), octave celebrations between Easter and Pentecost were canceled, so that the Easter joyous time again extends continuously until Pentecost, with the Easter octave being celebrated like solemn festivals every day . Most of the surviving medieval festivals for lords , Marys and saints were retained. Only the Feast of the Precious Blood (July 1st) was not included in the renewed calendar, but was combined with Corpus Christi because of the similarity of the festive secrets .

The basic order of the church year of 1969 contains the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church that is valid today . It divides the church year into three main parts:

  • Christmas festival circle: four Sundays in Advent, Christmas Day with its octave, Sunday (s) after Christmas, apparition and baptism of the Lord
  • Lent and Easter festivities: Lent ("Easter penance"), the holy week with the Triduum Sacrum , the Easter octave and seven Sundays until Pentecost
  • Time of year : after the feast of the baptism of the Lord until Ash Wednesday and from Whit Monday to the first Vespers on the first Sunday in Advent

The Sundays of the annual cycle are counted from the Sunday after the baptism of the Lord (2nd Sunday) to the Solemnity of Christ the King (33rd / 34th Sunday). If certain high or men's festivities fall on one of these Sundays, they displace the Sunday in the annual cycle. The reading regulations include scriptural readings for the holy masses and the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours on all days of the church year.

Special features of the Christmas festival circle are:

(End of Christmas octave)

(End of the Christmas party)

  • February 2nd: Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, popularly also called Candlemas. Since the liturgical reform in the ordinary form of the Roman rite, the time between the feasts of the baptism of the Lord and the presentation of the Lord is no longer part of the Christmas festival and the feast is one of the men's festivals. However, the festive secret of the presentation of the Lord is closely connected with Christmas.

Special features of Easter are:

Other men's festivals in the annual cycle are:

Other festivals and days of remembrance are sometimes only celebrated in individual regions, dioceses , religious orders or individual churches.

The liturgical year (Old Catholic)

The Old Catholic Church structures the liturgical year in a similar way to the Roman Catholic tradition, but has a few peculiarities in Germany :

  • The solemn feast of the Virgin and Mother of God, conceived without original sin, is not celebrated.
  • The Christmas season lasts until February 2nd (Candlemas).
  • The feast of the Holy Family is not celebrated.
  • January 1st is celebrated as the octave day of Christmas.
  • The petition days are not observed.
  • Corpus Christi has the additional designation: "Thanksgiving day for the Eucharist".
  • The Sacred Heart Festival and the Sacred Heart Fridays are not celebrated.
  • The Sundays in the annual cycle (No. 1–33) begin with the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany and end with the "Sunday of the Lord Coming Back " (last Sunday before the 1st Advent).

There are also some special festivals or festivals:

The liturgical calendar also contains days of remembrance for witnesses of faith from the ancient church to modern times, both from the own church and from the ecumenical movement . These include B. Dietrich Bonhoeffer , Max Josef Metzger , Óscar Romero and Frère Roger as well as the following people from the old Catholic movement and the deceased bishops (while the anniversary of their episcopal ordination is commemorated for living bishops ):

The Christian Catholic Church of Switzerland celebrates the feast of the naming of Jesus on the octave day of Christmas (January 1st) and is based on the calendar of the extraordinary form of the Roman rite in the designation of the Sundays (after Epiphany, before Lent, after Pentecost) .

The Protestant church year

Reformation time

The reformers measured church tradition by the Word of God , Jesus Christ, made man. Therefore, in principle, they relativized all Marian, saints, apostles and also gentlemen's festivals, unless they can be justified biblically and christologically and inserted into the church year understood as the gentleman's year. According to Martin Luther in the German Mass in 1526, the only decisive factor is the regular congregation meeting to listen to the scriptures, sermons and reception of the Lord's Supper. Huldrych Zwingli only celebrated the Lord's Supper four times a year - Easter, Pentecost, All Saints' Day and Christmas. For him, services could take place on other days of the week if the work required it.

In addition to the men's festivals of Christmas, Circumcisionis , Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, a festival canon written by Philipp Melanchthon also preserved three days of Mary - Purificationis , Annuntiationis and Visitationis  - as well as St. John's, Michaelmas, Apostle days and the Maria Magdalena festival. Many Protestant churches orientated themselves on it in the 16th century, but left some festivals out of them or added others, depending on the region. They extended Christmas, Easter and Pentecost by one day each, emphasizing the last meal on Maundy Thursday (the Christian mass was omitted), Good Friday and the Feast of Trinity, after which the Sundays afterwards are counted to Advent until today.

This church year structure was followed by the Book of Common Prayer (1549). The Confessio Helvetica posterior (1566) also recommended following the example of the saints without dedicating their own holidays to them. Even martyrs of the present day received such simple memorial days. In northern Germany the Quatember were preserved: the first week of Advent and the first Passion, the week before Pentecost and the first week of October. In some Protestant churches they were used for catechism exercises; the Anglican Church ordains its pastors in them. The day of penance and prayer is in the last quarter of the year .

Current practice

The festivals in the Protestant church year with the liturgical colors assigned to them

The evangelical order of the church year in Germany can be found in the agendas and the associated pericope regulations for Bible readings and sermon texts. It largely corresponds to the early medieval order found by the reformers , which was supplemented by additional sermon texts in the 19th century and standardized by the Eisenach Church Conference in 1896. A comprehensive revision was carried out in the 1970s, and minor changes were introduced with the 1999 Evangelical Worship Book . In 2017, the full conference of the Union of Evangelical Churches and the General Synod of the VELKD decided on a new order of worship texts and songs ("Pericope revision"). The Reformed Church remained a long way apart from both the agenda and the pericope order. Today the Reformed Liturgy follows the evangelical scheme.

Like the Catholic church year, the Protestant church year begins with the first Vespers on the first Sunday in Advent (i.e. after sunset on the eve of the first Sunday in Advent ) and ends on the Saturday before the first Advent of the next church year. It divides the main festivals and associated festival times, as well as some special festivals, especially New Year and Thanksgiving. Advent and Passion are also times of penance and fasting, which serve to prepare for the respective main festival. The 4th Advent can fall on December 24th, as this only belongs to the actual Christmas season with the Christvesper (1st Vespers); Christmas Eve is the eve of Christmas. The second Christmas day on December 26th is celebrated after Christmas and also in memory of the arch martyr Stephanus . New Year's Day is celebrated as the day of the naming and circumcision of Jesus and also marks the end of the Christmas octave. According to the new pericopes that have been in force since the 2018/19 church year, the Christmas season ends with the feast of the Presentation of the Lord (Candlemas) on February 2nd. After Epiphany (January 6th), since then, no longer up to six, but usually four or, if Epiphany itself falls on a Sunday, three Sundays are counted, up to the "last Sunday after Epiphany", the evangelical feast of the Transfiguration of Christ , which since 2019 has been set as the Sunday on which the week of February 2 begins.

This is followed, depending on the date of Easter, up to five “Sundays before Passion” (up to 2018 there were always exactly three); if Easter is celebrated on March 22nd or 23rd, these are completely omitted.

The nine Sundays before Easter and the Sundays between Easter and Pentecost, and rarely the four Sundays in Advent , have Latin names that correspond to the first words of the respective Introit .

Advent Sundays :

  • 1st Advent: Ad te levavi
  • 2nd Advent: Populus Sion
  • 3rd Advent: Gaudete
  • 4th Advent: Rorate

The five Sundays

  • 5th Sunday before the Passion time (for the first time in 2019)
  • 4th Sunday before the Passion time (for the first time in 2019)
  • 3rd Sunday before Passion - Septuagesimae or Circumdederunt
  • 2nd Sunday before Passion - Sexagesimae or Exsurge
  • 1st Sunday before Passion - Quinquagesimae or Estomihi

belong to the pre-fasting period or pre-passion period. The Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. It is followed by the six Sundays of Lent :

Holy Thursday is Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

Easter is celebrated with the celebration of the Easter Vigil; the Easter joyful season begins. These include Easter Monday, the Easter octave and the Sundays after Easter :

The Pentecost octave follows after Pentecost and Whit Monday. On the Sunday after Pentecost there is the Trinity festival, on the eve of which Easter ends. The 24 following Sundays at most are counted after Trinity; the exact number depends on the Easter date. The tenth Sunday after Trinity is celebrated today as Israel Sunday . This is followed by the harvest festival, which is celebrated on the first Sunday in October, and the Reformation day on October 31. On November 1st, individual Lutheran churches celebrate the day of remembrance of the saints . At the end of the church year are the third to last, the penultimate and the last Sunday of the church year. On this last Sunday, Eternal Sunday, also known as the Sunday of the Dead, the congregation commemorates the deceased of the year. The SELK commemorates the “Remembrance Day of those who have fallen asleep” on the penultimate Sunday of the church year or on the Sunday of Eternity.

The Wednesday preceding Eternal Sunday is the day of penance and prayer , which today in Germany is only free of work in Saxony . In 25 of the 26 Swiss cantons it is celebrated on the third Sunday in September as a federal thanksgiving, penance and prayer day, only in the canton of Geneva the so-called Geneva Prayer Day takes place as a non-working holiday on the Thursday after the first Sunday in September.

Remembrance days and smaller celebrations

Evangelical agendas also include the following memorial days and smaller festivals:

See also


  • Eckhard Bieger SJ : Discover & experience the church year. Origin, meaning and customs of the festive season. St. Benno-Verlag, Leipzig undated (2006), ISBN 3-7462-2125-0 .
  • Karl-Heinrich Bieritz : The church year. Celebrations, memorials and holidays in the past and present. Beck, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-406-43947-0 .
  • Heinzgerd Brakmann: year (cultic) B. Christian. In: Real Lexicon for Antiquity and Christianity . Volume 16. (1994), pp. 1106-1118.
  • Mathias Christiansen (Ed.): Almanac of the good news. A companion through the church year. Publishing house Monsenstein and Vannerdat, Münster 2006, ISBN 3-86582-219-3 .
  • Evangelical service book. Pocket edition. Evangelical Main Bible Society, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-7461-0141-7 .
  • Klaus-Peter Jörns , Karl Heinrich Bieritz:  Church year . In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie (TRE). Volume 18, de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1989, ISBN 3-11-011613-8 , pp. 575-599.
  • Dietz-Rüdiger Moser : Customs and festivals in the Christian course of the year. Customs of the present in cultural-historical contexts. Edition Kaleidoskop from Verlag Styria, Graz 1993, ISBN 3-222-12069-2 .
  • Martin Senftleben: Living with the church year. A handout for our church services. Introductions - themes - texts - songs. Sonnenweg-Verlag, Konstanz 1986, ISBN 3-7975-0342-3 .
  • Albert Ehrhard : The Greek church year and the Byzantine festival calendar . In: ders .: Tradition and inventory of the hagiographic literature of the Greek Church , vol. 1. Hinrichs, Leipzig 1937, DNB 365573612 , pp. 25–53.
  • Harald Buchinger : On the origin and development of the liturgical year. Trends, results and desiderata of heortological research . In: Liturgisches Jahrbuch 61 (2011), pp. 207–240.
  • Liborius Olaf Lumma : Celebrate with the rhythm of the year. A brief introduction to Christian calendar and festivals. Pustet-Verlag, Regensburg, 2016, ISBN 978-3-7917-2771-4 .

Web links

Commons : Church Year  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Church year  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Julia Martin: That means the four Advent Sundays. In: . December 1, 2018, accessed January 5, 2019 .
  2. a b c d Klaus-Peter Jörns, Karl Heinrich Bieritz:  Church year . In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie (TRE). Volume 18, de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1989, ISBN 3-11-011613-8 , pp. 575-599.
  3. Hansjörg Auf der Maur : Celebrating in the rhythm of time I. Men's festivals in the week and year. Regensburg 1983, p. 129.
  4. ^ Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium , No. 106.
  5. Klaus-Peter Jörns, Karl Heinrich Bieritz:  Kirchenjahr . In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie (TRE). Volume 18, de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1989, ISBN 3-11-011613-8 , p. 583.
  6. Karl-Heinrich Beiritz: The worship service in the church year . In: Evangelisches Gottesdienstbuch , supplementary volume, p. 182.
  7. List of Orthodox Feasts ( Memento of the original from April 14, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  8. Calendar of the Christian Catholic Church in Switzerland
  9. ^ Liturgical Conference : Minor Pericope Revision. In: Archived from the original on September 28, 2009 ; accessed on December 1, 2019 .
  10. More women’s stories in evangelical church services: New “order of worship texts and songs” introduced. In: November 28, 2018. Retrieved November 28, 2018 . New lectionary and pericope book. In: Accessed December 1, 2019 .
  11. ^ Karl-Heinrich Bieritz: Last Sunday after Epiphany . In: Evangelisches Gottesdienstbuch : supplementary volume. P. 161.