The order of the liturgical year is as follows:
When: Starts Four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve day.
Color: Violet/purple, which helps us to remember that we are preparing for the coming of Christ.
About: Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical year. We celebrate this season for four weeks leading up to Christmas. We use this season to reflect of Jesus’ coming to us in the flesh and to prepare ourselves for His coming again.
When: Starts Dec. 25; ends on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (the third Sunday after Christmas; or on the Monday after the Second Sunday after Christmas if Christmas falls on a Sunday)
Color: White, the color of joy and victory, is used for the seasons of Easter and Christmas. It is also used for the feasts of Our Lord, for feasts of Mary, the angels, and for saints who are not martyrs. Gold may also be used on solemn occasions.
We celebrate the coming of Christ in the flesh (or the Incarnation) for a few weeks. It begins on Christmas Eve (Dec 24) and continues through a portion of January when we celebrate His baptism.
When: Starts Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday
Color: Purple, which indicates this season of penance and renewal.
The Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday and continues until the first Mass of the Triduum (Holy Thursday). This is a 40-day* season of penance, fasting and almsgiving, modeled to us by Jesus Himself. Before His baptism and public ministry began, He retreated into the desert for 40 days of fasting and prayer.
*Sundays are excluded from the Lenten season.
During Lent, Catholics in the United States abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and on all the Fridays of Lent. They fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
To abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent means to not eat meat on those days. It does not intend the omission of eggs or dairy products.
The required fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday involves eating only one full meal on those days. One or two smaller meals may be taken on those days, but may not total one full meal. The required fast does not allow eating anything between meals.
“All Catholics who have completed their 14th year are bound by the law of abstinence; all adults are bound by the law of fast up to the beginning of their 60th year.
Nevertheless, pastors and parents are to see to it that minors who are not bound by the law of fast and abstinence are educated in an authentic sense of penance.”
– Code of Canon Law, #1252
Click here for a reflection on Lenten Fasting and Abstinence. Added Fasting and Abstinence for Catholics in the U.S. – http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/lent/catholic-information-on-lenten-fast-and-abstinence.cfm (URL verified 3/27)
Click here for more on Days of Penance. (link verified 3/27)
Holy Week (Triduum)
When: Holy Thursday through Holy Saturday (Easter Vigil)
Colors: White (Holy Thursday); Red (Good Friday); White (Easter Vigil) (See Christmas season for info on why white is used.
The Triduum (three days) leading up to Easter are the most important three days in the liturgical calendar. They begin with Holy Thursday where we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Good Friday commemorates the passion and death of Jesus. We mark this with a solemn service and increased fasting and prayer. The Easter Vigil takes place on Holy Saturday night. It is a when new members of the Church receive the sacraments for the first time and are initiated and welcomed into the Church
When: Starts First Sunday after the first full moon of the Vernal Equinox; ends on Pentecost (seventh Sunday of Easter)
Colors: White (Easter season); Red (Pentecost)
The Easter season celebrates Christ’s resurrection and victory over death. We celebrate this season for around 50 days (depending on the calendar year). It ends with the celebration of Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and they went out to spread the Gospel and the ministry of the Church to all nations.
When: First Period – starts the day after Baptism of the Lord, ends the day before Ash Wednesday. Second Period – starts the day after Pentecost, ends with the Saturday after Christ the King.
Color: Green (daily colors change according to the saint of the day)
This is the season when we reflect upon the mission Jesus has given to us all. We reflect upon His teachings and example and pray that we may enter into that mission to share the gospel. We celebrate many various feasts throughout this time. Ordinary time ends with the Solemnity of Christ the King, which ends the liturgical year and sends us into Advent.
During the year, in addition to the obligatory Sunday worship, the Church also celebrates Solemnities, Feasts and Memorials, which may be on any day of the week. Some of these are considered Holy Days of Obligation where all Catholics are obliged to come together to celebrate Mass. Others are days that commemorate special events or persons that are highly revered in the tradition and history of the Church.