The Liturgical Year Is a Treasure of Our Catholic Tradition
by Fr. Paul Schmidt
Father Paul Schmidt has served as the priest personnel director for the Diocese of Oakland, California, and also as diocesan director of religious education and as pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Concord.
He holds a master's of divinity degree from St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park and a master's degree in English from California State University, Hayward.
He was a columnist for The Catholic Voice, the Oakland diocesan newspaper, for many years.
Father Schmidt is author of the book Buried Treasures: A Guide to the Catechism of the Catholic Church
This article, which has appeared in The Voice (Oakland), is reprinted from The Catholic Herald, the newspaper for the Diocese of Sacramento, with the kind permission of Julie Sly, Editor.
Anyone who has visited the East Coast of the United States during autumn has vivid memories of the fall colors.
Nature puts on her most brilliant hues in a last exuberant burst of life before the somber, snowy days ahead.
Spring also comes more dramatically in colder climates, where the sign of the first tender blossom signals the end of harsh winter.
The liturgy, too, has seasons which change dramatically.
Colors shift from green to violet to white to red.
Ordinary Time changes to Advent, which brings on Christmas and Epiphany, then an interlude of Ordinary Time before Lent, which leads to Easter and Pentecost and back to Ordinary Time again.
Expectation leads to fulfillment; penitence leads to risen life; the coming of the Spirit leads to the daily effort of life in the Spirit.
In every liturgy the whole mystery of Christ is celebrated -- the entry into human time and space of the Son of God, to live and die for us and rise from the dead to give us eternal life.
This one saving act of Jesus is too much for us ever to comprehend.
The liturgical year enables us to take it piece by piece, so that we can examine in detail each facet of so magnificent a jewel.
The liturgical year is not an obstacle to liturgical prayer, unless we do not understand it.
It is a wonderful aid to liturgical prayer, if it is exploited to the full.
Along with the changing colors, the church has developed special music for each season.
Christmas carols are the most obvious example.
But there is a wealth of Advent music, which often gets ignored in the rush to Christmas.
Lenten music has its own particular sound, as does Easter music.
Certain melodies should be heard year after year.
They become part of the season or the feast.
It is a shame that these are being lost in some places -- Attende Domine in Lent, Victimae paschali at Easter, Veni Creator Spiritus on Pentecost.
The Lutheran tradition translated these Latin hymns into the vernacular, so that they need not be sung only in Latin.
To lose these melodies altogether is to lose the treasure of centuries.
It is sad when the liturgical music used in a parish in one season is indistinguishable from the music used the rest of the year (except Christmas).
It might be appropriate to cross the barren desert during Lent, but must we do it all year long?
Most parishes do well in decorating according to the season.
Those who make hangings and banners, those who arrange flowers and choose vestments try to create an environment which brings out the spirit of each season.
Catholics love to decorate. Official church documents always remind us to strive for "noble simplicity."
Our incarnational exuberance through the centuries has usually pushed beyond the limits of that norm.
Decorations, of course, can create an obstacle for some in their liturgical prayer, if their taste differs from that of the decorators.
Michelangelo's taste in decorating the Sistine Chapel was not the taste of some who used that chapel and demanded that the figures wear some clothes.
Tastes change. Pope John Paul II directed restorers discreetly to undress some of the people previous popes had ordered dressed.
Most parishes do not have to worry about tampering with a Michelangelo's decorations, but feelings can run high nevertheless.
Dialogue and sensitivity are necessary virtues of the liturgical environment committee.