Copyright 2003 - 2020 The 1993 Jim Swaney Independence Trust

Liturgy, Lectionary, and the Liturgical Calendar

Liturgy is defined as "the work of the people." In liturgical churches the work of worship includes the people and follows a format that is usually defined by the denomination. The Episcopal Church (TEC) uses the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) for the text of the services. Supplements are published as they are approved. The Hymnal 1982 is the primary book of hymnody for TEC, although there are supplemental music compilations as well. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) uses a new book of worship called Evangelical Lutheran Worship which contains both the text and the hymnody of the ELCA church. The United Methodist Church and Presbyterian Church of the United States also have combined books of worship.

The liturgical churches have a prescribed three-year cycle of Sunday Scripture readings. The three years are referred to as years A, B, and C. The lectionary used by all of these church is the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). The purpose of the lectionary is to have common readings throughout the denomination but also to have most of the Bible read on Sunday mornings over a three year period. Deviations from the lections (the readings for the day) are generally discouraged. This results in preaching on the hard lessons that one may wish to skip as well as the easier ones. Click here for more details.

In the Episcopal Church, RCL replaces the BCP lectionary for Sundays in the back of the book. Check to see if your denomination has their own variation of the RCL. The Episcopal Church does have variations from the generally used RCL readings. These will be noted where necessary on the Episcopal pages. The Roman Catholic Church has its own lectionary and are not included on this website. The lessons are linked to the website These are the Episcopal readings, so may there may be variations for other denominations. Denominational sites are linked where found.

The church year is divided into six seasons. The calendar used for the church year is called a liturgical calendar. Each season has a theme. The six seasons are: Advent, Christmas, the Season after the Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and the Season after Pentecost.

Advent is a four-week season of waiting. The seasonal color is blue. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas Day. The First Sunday of Advent is the beginning of the church year. Purple used to be used for Advent. You may still find it in some churches.

Christmas is twelve days, beginning Christmas Day--December 25. The seasonal color is white.

The season after the Epiphany is the season of readings revealing God made manifest or visible that begins after the Epiphany (January 6). This season is variable in length depending on the date of Easter Sunday. Green is the seasonal color. This season is sometimes referred to as ordinary time.

Lent is forty days long, excluding Sundays but including Holy Week (Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday). The first day of Lent is known as Ash Wednesday. The start of the season of Lent depends on the date of Easter Sunday. The seasonal color for Lent is purple. Sand colored linen may also be used for Lent.

Holy Week begins Palm Sunday. It is the last week of Lent. the colors vary as we walk with Christ through the Passion. We start with red, change to white on Maundy Thursday, and then to black on Good Friday.

Easter is fifty days long. The seasonal color is white. Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after the first full moon on or following March 21st.

Pentecost is the seventh Sunday after Easter Sunday. The color for this Sunday is red. The season following Pentecost is Ordinary Time with the color of green as is the season after the Epiphany. The number of weeks in the season after Pentecost varies depending upon the date of Easter Sunday. This is the longest season of year. It ends when Advent begins.

The celebration of feast days varies from denomination to denomination. Feast days are special days to celebrate the life of a saint or an event in Jesus' life. In the Episcopal Church, two feast day celebrations may be moved to a Sunday--All Saints' Day and the feast day of the saint (patron saint) for which the congregation is named. There are six feast days which when they fall on Sunday the lessons for the feast supersede the lectionary readings--Christmas, Epiphany, Transfiguration, patron saint's day, All Saints', and Holy Name.

In the RCL lectionary during ordinary time, two sets of Hebrew Scriptures and Psalm are designated. The first set (S) is from a sequential order of key readings and a psalm response to that reading. The second set (G) has Hebrew Scripture readings that are more related to the Gospel for the day. The psalm is a response to the Hebrew Scripture. Most Episcopal Churches select the (G) series readings.