|A. Hanson, St Paul, MN. 2013.|
There is much variety in the way that an opening prayer can be written. The prayer includes an opening address to God ("Gracious and ever-living God"), the body of the prayer, and a closing address ("In your holy name we pray") followed by "amen." The prayer can be written by the presiding minister or assisting minister, or a prayer from a worship book can be used that is appropriate to the season in the church year.
Yes, the church has a calendar of its own. You might have noticed that throughout the year the vestments of the pastor (the stole) and the paraments on the altar (fancy cloths that are draped upon it) will change color. The ELCA site has a larger description of what the colors signify here.
The church year begins with Advent. Advent is the the season of preparation that occurs in the four weeks before Christmas. Despite what consumer culture would have you believe, it is not a ramp up to Christmas. In fact, it is a distinct season with its own hymns and practices and is more solemn than Christmas. The color for Advent is blue.
The season of Christmas takes place beginning on Christmas Day and running through Epiphany, which is twelve days. It celebrates the birth of Christ and the incarnation of God (God made flesh). The color for the season of Christmas is white.
In the time after Epiphany we celebrate the baptism of Christ, as well as the Transfiguration of Christ. We celebrate light in the darkness of winter and Christ as the light of the world. The color white is used for festivals in this time, while the color green is used for other sundays.
Ash Wednesday marks the start of the season of Lent. On Ash Wednesday, we acknowledge "We are but dust and to dust we shall return" and that we cannot save ourselves from sin or death. Many Christians receive the imposition of ashes upon their forehead as a sign of outward mark of penitence. The ashes are made from the palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday. The color for Ash wednesday is black.
The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days. This time echoes the time Jesus spent in the Wilderness and Moses' time on Mt Sinai. It is a time of contemplation and preparation for Easter. Lutherans do not understand Lent to be an entirely penitential season, but rather, a season of confession of sin rooted in the promise of God that comes through Christ on the cross. The color for the season of Lent is purple.
Lent ends with the start of Holy Week, which begins with Palm Sunday. I have written at length about Palm Sunday , Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil in previous posts. This is the highest holy time in the church year. The color gold is used for Easter (or white if gold is not available), the only time in the church year one would see these vestments and paraments. We tell the story of Holy Week and Easter each year using the Gospel of John because it has the highest Christology out of the four Gospels.
The time after Easter is celebrated until Pentecost. Pentecost is celebrated 50 days after Easter and celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit and the mission of God extending to all of humanity. We hear the story of Pentecost in the book of Acts 2, and how we are all filled with the Holy Spirit. The story of Christ is no longer just among the disciples. The color for Pentecost is red.
The time after Pentecost is known as "ordinary time." Ordinary time includes some lesser festivals and occurs until Christ the King Sunday, just before Advent begins the following November/Early December. During Ordinary Time we hear the story of God in Christ and in us. The color for ordinary time is green.
Part IV: Reading the Scriptures