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Religion Library: Protestantism

Sacred Time

Written by: Ted Vial

Advent: the four Sundays before Christmas; Advent ends at sundown of Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve and Christmastide: from sundown Christmas Eve until January 6, Epiphany, which marks the arrival of the wise men to worship the baby Jesus

Lent: six Sundays before Easter until sundown Easter Eve; Lent begins with Ash Wednesday

Holy Week: the week that commemorates Jesus' last days before his crucifixion—Palm Sunday marks his entrance into Jerusalem; Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday marks Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples; Good Friday marks his crucifixion. (The word maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum, which means commandment; at the Last Supper, Jesus gave his disciples the great commandment to love one another.)

Eastertide: from sunset Easter Eve until Pentecost; Easter marks the resurrection of Jesus from the grave, and is generally considered the holiest day of the year by most Protestant Christians.

Pentecost:  Pentecost derives from a Jewish holiday; the word literally means "the fiftieth day," and thus it is celebrated fifty days after Easter; it marks the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus' followers as they were gathered following Jesus' death and resurrection. The Spirit allowed them to speak in different languages and to understand one another; it typically marks the founding of the Church.

Trinity Sunday: a day to focus on the triune nature of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Many denominations also include services for special days such as New Year's, Christian Unity (to pray for reunification of the Christian churches), World Communion, Reformation Sunday (the Sunday on or before October 31, which is the date Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the castle door in Wittenberg), Thanksgiving Day, and Days of Civic or National Significance. Denominations also mark special events in their own particular histories.

Note that, while the secular calendar makes no distinctions about quality of time (each unit of time is equal, and of equal significance), the liturgical calendar ebbs and flows with different levels of celebration and mourning. Periods of special sacredness cluster around Easter and Christmas, but these are times of greater attention and devotion, not greater proximity to the divine. Thus sacred time is not homogeneous, but gives shape and pattern to the annual cycle.

Study Questions:
1.     Why do various Protestant traditions have different understandings of sacred time?
2.     What is the focus of Protestant worship? What does it teach?
3.     What is the liturgical calendar? How does it transform time?
4.     Describe some of the events on the liturgical calendar. Are they celebrated by all denominations?


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