The Ecclesiastical Year
The first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of the ecclesiastical year. There is a difference between the ecclesiastical year and the calendar year. Could you explain this difference?
The ecclesiastical year starts on the first Sunday of Advent, while the calendar year begins on January 1. As the season of Advent, or "the coming" of our Redeemer, includes the four Sundays that precede Christmas, the ecclesiastical year may begin as early as November 27 or as late as December 3.
Advent is a season of penance, and of preparation by the Faithful for the spiritual joy of Christmas. It is a time when the Church admonishes us to lifed our hearts to God and to trust in Him who is to free us from our sins. Aas Advent is a season of penance, the color of the vestments used at its seasonal Masses is violet and the altar is not decorated with flowers, except on the third Sunday which is called Guadete, or "Rejoice Sunday," because the Introit of the Mass of that day reminds us of the near approach of our Lord's birth: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice. Let your modesty be known to all men. The Lord is nigh." During this season of penance, as in Lent, the solemn celebration of marriage, that is with Nuptial Mass, ect., is forbidden.
The ecclesiastical year includes fixed and moveable feasts. Many of the fixed feasts of the Church are determined by their relation to Christmas Day: the Feast of the Circumcision, January 1, being eight days after the birth of Christ; the Purification, February 2, forty days after Christmas; while the Annunciation, March 25, is nine months before the Feast of the Nativity. Epiphany, commemorating the coming of the Wise Men from the East to Jerusalem to adore the Christ Child, is also on a fixed day because of its relation to Christmas.
There are variable feasts which depend upon the changing date of Easter. Ash Wednesday and the feasts of Ascension and Pentecost come earlier or later in the year with the variation of the date of Easter, which rangers from March 22 to April 25. It is easy to remember that Easter is always on the first Sunday following the first full moon after March 21, the beginning of Spring. Our Divine Saviour rose from the dead on the Sunday after the Passover, the Jewish feast commemorating the night when the Lord, smiting the firs-born of the Egyptians, "passed over" the houses of the children of Israel. This Jewish feast was determined by the time of the first full moon after March 21.
Certian days of the ecclesiastical year are marked Rogation Days, while others are noted as Vigils, and still others as Ember Days. A Rogation Day is one of prayer, and formerly also of fasting, insituted by the Church to appease God's just anger at man's sin, to ask Heavenly protection in calmities, and to beg a bountiful harvest. The Rogation Days are April 25, called Major, and the three days, called Minor, are before the Feast of the Ascension.
A Virgil is the day preceding certian feasts and observed as a preparation threfore, and formerly always with a fast attached. The Vigils of Pentecost, Assumption, All Saints, and Cristmas are fast-days, except when the feast falls on a Monday. (*see note below)
Ember Days (Quatutor Tempora, four times) are days of abstinence and fasting at the beginning of the seasons. Their purpose is to thank God for the gifts of nature and, at the same time, to teach us to use the gifts in moderation and to assist those in need. December 13, after Ash-Wednesday, after Pentecost and after September 14.
* Note that the fasting rules for the list of Vigils was changed by Pope Pius XII in 1957 with his document Motu Proprio.