What do You Know About the Liturgical Year?

We play Catholic Trivia over on Instagram each month. These are the questions and answers to this month’s #4thFridayTrivia game.

What’s more familiar to us than the year?

We live it every day, every week, every month, year-in and year-out. You’d think we would know it like the back of our hand.

The liturgical year is packed full of amazing feast days and celebrations. And those feast days and celebrations are surrounded by traditions, customs, symbolism, history, debate, and meanings you may not know they had.

Let’s see how much you know about the liturgical calendar!

Note: These questions are based on the Ordinary Form Calendar (what I know best). Dates, celebrations, and traditions may vary on the Extraordinary Form Calendar. If you’re knowledgeable about that, feel free to leave a comment and share with us!

1. What liturgical color represents penance?

A: Purple (Violet)

One of the most noticeable changes to mark the passage of the liturgical year is the changing colors of the vestments worn by the priest during Mass.

We are probably most familiar with seeing green during Ordinary Time, purple (or violet) during Advent and Lent, and white during Christmas and Easter and on other holy days.

Two colors which come out less often are red (for Pentecost, the Passion, and martyrs) and rose (which will be discussed in the next question).

Violet vestments represent penance, sacrifice, and reparation. They are worn during Advent and Lent – the seasons in which we prepare for the biggest feast days in the Catholic Church: Christmas and Easter.

An article from EWTN explains the reason for the different liturgical colors:

“The purpose of utilizing different colors for vestments is twofold: first, the colors highlight the particular liturgical season and the faithful’s journey through these seasons. Second, the colors punctuate the liturgical season by highlighting a particular event or particular mystery of faith… In all, the colors of the vestments awaken us to the sense of sacred time. They are another visible way to make present the sacred mysteries we celebrate.”

Another article from EWTN touches on the historical aspect of vestments:

“Historically it appears that all sacred vestments were white until about the seventh century. Around the time of Pope Innocent III (died 1216) we had four principal colors (red, white, black and green) and three secondary colors (yellow, rose and purple). But a common criterion for the use of the various colors is not found until around 1550, when the present usage became standard.”

Another piece of trivia I found interesting in these articles is the fact that blue vestments – though used in some places – are not an approved liturgical color in the Catholic Church.

This article from Catholic Answers has a fun story about Mother Angelica ordering blue vestments – then humbly accepting her mistake upon discovering it!

2. On which days of the liturgical year may the priest wear Rose vestments?

A: Gaudete Sunday and Laetare Sunday

A color that always has my young daughters jumping up and down for joy to see is the pink rose vestments that come out two times a year.

What does the rose color symbolize?

Philip Kosloski, who often writes for Aleteia, explains it in his blog post: Why We Need Rose Vestments.

“This color, which is only used twice in the whole liturgical year, is traditionally associated with a sense of joy amidst a season of penance.”

The Rose colored vestments may be work on two days during the liturgical year: Gaudete Sunday (which happens on the third Sunday during Advent) and Laetare Sunday (which happens on the fourth Sunday during Lent).

They remind us to look ahead with hope and joy to the end of the penitential season.

EWTN notes that if a parish doesn’t own any rose vestments, the priest may wear the violet vestments.

3. When does the new liturgical year begin?

A: The First Sunday of Advent

The Season of Advent begins the Catholic Church’s liturgical year.

USCCB explains that Advent:

“The Advent season is a time of preparation that directs our hearts and minds to Christ’s second coming at the end of time and also to the anniversary of the Lord’s birth on Christmas. The final days of Advent, from December 17 to December 24, focus particularly on our preparation for the celebrations of the Nativity of our Lord (Christmas).”

Some Catholics like to have a little fun by celebrating the first day of Advent similar to celebrating New Year’s Day.

“Advent kicks of this weekend and brings with it… a brand new liturgical year. So, like we said, happy New Year! So even though this Catholic New Year starts off without fireworks and countdowns, there’s no reason you can’t make a few resolutions for the liturgical year ahead.”

Next Advent, remember to celebrate the “Catholic New Year!”

4. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates whose conception?

A: Mary!

A common misconception (no pun intended) is thinking that the Immaculate Conception refers to Jesus being conceived in Mary’s womb.

It doesn’t.

That conception is called the Incarnation – when God became man, or “took on flesh.” That conception was miraculously achieved by the power of the Holy Spirit, without the help of a man.

The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary’s conception (in the womb of her mother – St. Anne – in the normal way by which humans are conceived).

What makes it immaculate is the fact that Mary was preserved from all stain from the very moment of her conception. Immaculate, like clean. One year, I decided to run with the theme and went on a cleaning frenzy to celebrate the feast of the Immaculate conception.

My kids and I went around all day exclaiming, “Wow! That’s Immaculate!” and we had a little lesson on the term Immaculate meaning Mary was “clean” from all sin. It was a fun way to help them remember whose feast day we were celebrating – and hopefully eliminate some of the confusion surrounding the term!

Catholic Answers gives a very precise (and profound and deep and super cool) explanation of why Catholics believe in the Immaculate Conception.

“When discussing the Immaculate Conception, an implicit reference may be found in the angel’s greeting to Mary. The angel Gabriel said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). The phrase “full of grace” is a translation of the Greek word kecharitomene. It therefore expresses a characteristic quality of Mary… The grace given to Mary is at once permanent and of a unique kind. Kecharitomene is a perfect passive participle of charitoo, meaning “to fill or endow with grace.” Since this term is in the perfect tense, it indicates that Mary was graced in the past but with continuing effects in the present. So, the grace Mary enjoyed was not a result of the angel’s visit. In fact, Catholics hold, it extended over the whole of her life, from conception onward. She was in a state of sanctifying grace from the first moment of her existence.”

How cool is that?!

5. The Term “Ordinary Time” comes from the Latin root “ordo” meaning what?

A: Order.

Maybe you thought all along that Ordinary meant “normal” or “plain” or “boring.”

You were wrong. It’s okay, you’re not alone in your wrongness. I may have thought all those thoughts at one point in my life! And so, I’m sure, have many others.

But the term “Ordinary” comes from the Latin root “ordo” meaning order. Which, if you think about it, makes sense after all.

Jessica from Telos Art – my go-to regarding the liturgical calendar, explains:

“It just so happens that Ordinary Time is not actually meant as a time for rest or a time to be lackadaisical. It is a time for the real work of the Gospel. An opportunity to put into action those things we have learned and contemplated during the special Liturgical seasons throughout the year. The chance to put order (ordo) into our daily lives. “

The Catholic Culture blog expands on that idea:

“The other liturgical seasons fortified us in a special way, but it is Ordinary Time we are expected to go forth and live our faith. We put all our spiritual growth and learning from those previous seasons into action… The concluding prayers of the Mass call us to ‘Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life’ is our work especially in Ordinary Time.”

Another take on ordinary time relates to the meaning of “ordo” to refer to “counted” (like the ordinal numbers – being a mathematician, I like this angle).

“Ordinary from its Latin root means “order”. When we order something, we arrange in a sequence. That is, it is numbered. It is ordinal…It is counted time… There is nothing ordinary about Ordinary Time. Rather, we count the Sundays and the weeks as we celebrate the mystery of Jesus Christ who calls us into communion with himself as he leads us through the power of the Holy Spirit to the Father.”


So, the next time you’re tempted to think that Ordinary Time is letting you off the hook – a time to sit back and relax, think again!

Ordinary time is a time for growth (which we are reminded of by the green vestments). It’s a time to put down roots, to stretch our limbs, and to produce the fruits that were planted during the other seasons of the liturgical year.

6. On which day is the holy water removed from the holy water fonts in church?

A: Holy Thursday

Do you dip your fingers in the Holy Water font on Holy Thursday every. single. year?

I know I do.

The reason for the removal of the Holy Water is this:

“The practice of the Church has been to empty the Holy Water fonts on the days of the Sacred Triduum in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil, and it corresponds to those days on which the Eucharist is not celebrated.”

Thank you, Jimmy Akin.

However, if you come across a parish which removes the Holy Water prior to that – say, for the entire season of Lent, perhaps replacing it with sand – that’s a liturgical error you’ll want to bring to your pastor’s attention!

Jimmy Akin goes on to explain:

“The encouragement of the Church that the faithful avail themselves frequently of the sacraments is to be understood to apply also to the season of Lent. The “fast” and “abstinence” which the faithful embrace in this season does not extend to abstaining from the sacraments or sacramentals of the Church.”

Lent has to have balance. There is always room for hope during times of sorrow and suffering. Always God’s grace during times of penance.

So keep the holy water until the Triduum begins.

And then, try to remember not to stick your fingers in the empty font – and while you’re at it, remember to bow instead of genuflect before the empty tabernacle.

Check out these other Liturgical No-No’s During Lent!

7. The date of which Holy Day depends on the phases of the moon?

A: Easter

You ready for this?

“Jesus rose from the dead on the first Sunday following the feast of Passover…

The date of Passover is a complicated thing. Theoretically, the date should be the 14th of the Jewish month of Nisan, and it should correspond to a full moon…

Theoretically, the Paschal full moon is the first full moon occurring on or after the spring equinox. However, this day can be reckoned in different ways. One way is by looking at the sky, which yields the astronomical spring equinox. But since this shifts from year to year, most people follow the calendrical spring equinox, which is reckoned as March 21.

On the Gregorian calendar (the one that we use), Easter is the first Sunday after the Paschal full moon, which is the first full moon on or after March 21. Easter thus always falls between March 22 and April 25.”

First we find Easter, then we work our way backwards to set the dates for Palm Sunday, Laetare Sunday, Ash Wednesday, and the rest of Lent.

I just google it every year.

8. Which Feast Day do we celebrate on the Octave of Easter?

A: Divine Mercy Sunday

First of all, isn’t it just so cool that our big feast days really last for 8 days? (The Octave). Catholics sure know how to celebrate!

In the Jubilee year 2000, on the day that he canonized St. Faustina, Pope St. John Paul II instituted Divine Mercy Sunday on the Octave of Easter. He said:

“Divine Mercy is “the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity… ”

This article from Today’s Catholic explains further:

“God’s love was revealed and actualized as mercy. We see this in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And this is what we are called to live and actualize today in our lives and in the life of the Church.”

Divine Mercy Sunday shows how we are to receive the gift of the Resurrection in our lives, and gives us the plan to spread that gift throughout the world.

The readings for Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday include the moment in which Jesus gave the apostles authority to forgive sin – the sacrament of Reconciliation – what an incredible moment of mercy!

The same article continues to explain about Jesus’ promise of graces connected with this feast day.

“Through Saint Faustina, our Lord promised an abundance of graces to the faithful who devoutly observe the Sunday of Divine Mercy… There are various devotional practices revealed through Saint Faustina that can help us in our spiritual lives: the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the image of Divine Mercy, and the simple prayer: Jesus, I trust in you.

If you’re interested in learning more about these prayers and obtaining the special graces Jesus promises, here is some information about an indulgence available on Divine Mercy Sunday.

9. The Feast Days of Saints are most often designated according to which important life event?

A: Their death.

Canonization is an infallible declaration that a person is known to be in heaven. So, often, a Saint will be assigned the day of their death – the day on which they entered eternal life – as their feast day on the liturgical calendar.

Often, but not always.

If somebody else already had that feast day then the new Saint could just be given another one.

Some Saints (such as John the Baptist) are given a feast day on the day of their birth. Or the day they were made pope. Or on the date of a particular miracle.

Here’s a video that gives a brief explanation about feast days.

10. Which feast marks the end of the liturgical year?

A: The Solemnity of the Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

The USCCB website tells us this feast day, commonly referred to as “Christ the King” was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925.

“He recognized that attempting to “thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law” out of public life would result in continuing discord among people and nations. The [Solemnity of Christ the King] reminds us that while governments come and go, Christ reigns as King forever.”

Having this feast at the end of the liturgical year sends us out in a spirit of rejoicing and hope. It helps us look forward to heaven with confidence in Christ our King. According to the Catholic Culture website:

“This feast marks the end of the Liturgical Year with the tone not of fear or despair, but one of hope. The themes of hope and eschatology continue into the Advent season. We are given a new beginning for self-examination and renewal and to prepare for the two-fold coming: 1) remembrance of Christ’s first coming as an infant at Christmas and 2) Christ’s Second Coming and our Final Judgment.”

It wasn’t until just recently that I realized the Advent readings heavily incorporate themes – not just of Jesus’ coming infant birth, but of his Second Coming.

The year begins as it ends, reminding us of Christ’s reign over the earth. He has the final say.

Aquinas and More reminds us that this feast day is as relevant now as it was when it was established – and even moreso.

“[The] message and call to honor Christ the King in a society that denies the authority of Our Lord is no less pertinent now than it was then.”

What an amazing and important way to end the liturgical year!

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great post

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