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Time, Liturgy, and the Church Calendar

By Fr. Sean McDermott

We are very excited to have republished Charles Alexander's The Church's Year this month. The book is a wonderful resource for those looking to learn more about the Church calender and her saints. For this new edition, I wrote a short preface to help explain why such a book is so important. Enjoy, and then grab your own copy of the book!


The book you hold in your hands is a guidebook for eternity. That might seem a bit strange to say, or perhaps too strong of a statement, but I believe it true. We experience chronological time that is marked by secular events such as the passing of the months, fiscal quarters, or national holidays, but it is easy to get so enraptured by these events that we lose sight of reality. The secular world lives by following the god Chronos, who in the end devours his suppliants by his ever constant grind of days with no vision of hope. Jesus tells several parables warning against the power of Chronos. For example, there is the rich man who, obsessed with preparation for the future, builds extra barns to store all of his goods. But just as all is set, the man’s foolishness is revealed when death visits him, and we witness the futility of his life’s work.

God calls his people to bring their day-to-day experiences into a higher order of time. St. Paul often refers to this type of time as kairos, or the appointed time. Christians, therefore, may transform chronological time into kairos as they participate in God’s reality, that is, eternity. St. Paul urges the Ephesians to redeem the appointed time from the clutches of evil. Christians, therefore, must walk through this life with their eyes toward God’s reality, but this process presents difficulties. 

In his Confessions, Augustine devotes the last section of the book pondering this conundrum. How do Christians live within time and yet still live towards eternity, the appointed time? Augustine enters into a long discussion about the nature of eternity and what in human experience matches that reality. Many humans live in the past, bound by their memories or regrets while others live in a constant state of anticipation, seeking a future solace that never appears through the mist of time. Since the past is already gone and the future never exists in itself, one can get lost in the memory of – or pursuit of – non-existence. Instead of getting lost in time, Augustine explains how all time can be brought to immediate awareness in three different aspects.He writes: “The present considering the past is the memory, the present considering the present is immediate awareness, the present considering the future is expectation.” However, even this awareness can be overwhelming, perhaps even chaotic, without any guidance or grace! Augustine himself muses: “The storms of incoherent events tear to pieces my thoughts, the inmost entrails of my soul, until that day when, purified and molten by the fire of your love, I flow together to merge into you.” 

The only proper place for human attention is the present moment which ever presents itself. But this awareness must be ‘merged into,’ or brought before God Himself. This means that there is a need for humans to bring our existence in time to the eternal presence of God. The goal of our lives is not to amass a hoard of things, or conquer physical reality through power and domination, or acquire abundant information, but to encounter God through sacred moments and thereby understanding the deep mystery and meaning of creation. Therefore, how we face time matters immensely. Again, as St. Paul says: “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15). Christians redeem time as they bring God’s eternal reality into their present moment. Or to put it in other words, Christians participate in God as they offer their present moment to Him, the Author of all time. 

The Church trains her sons and daughters to do this through the Sacraments in which God’s own life is offered by grace. Through the sacraments the Church enters eternity, and most specially, the Holy Eucharist brings the faithful into the eternal moment of worship through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Christians also encounter God through sacred moments as they follow the Church’s calendar by dedicating the seasons and weeks to the life of Christ and his saints. The events in God’s work of redemption shape the annual cycle and carry Christians through the seemingly incoherent series of events. The natural seasons are fulfilled and gain greater meaning as they are understood in the liturgical cycle. The weeks and days radiate God’s reality as each feast or fast reveals another facet of eternity to us in time. While the secular world marks time by the movements of the sun, we divide our seasons in reference to Christ, the Son of Righteousness. 

Living according to the calendar of the Church helps Christians realize that eternity is not some future reality after death but the ever present and commanding reality in which time unfolds. Charles Alexander has filled this book with descriptions of seasons and a calendar of days that are dedicated to eternity. Each page helps us understand how our lives participate in God’s eternal kingdom which works within the world of civilizations, economies, and the day-to-day struggle to live. We walk through time according to Christ’s life, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. We learn how to live towards our future glory as we emulate the saints who have redeemed their time by living in God’s grace. May this book guide you also as you continually invite God’s eternal presence into each present moment of your life. 

Fr. Sean McDermott is Editor in Chief of Earth & Altar and Curate at All Saints Anglican in Charlottesville, VA.

1 Comment

Joshua Kimbril
Joshua Kimbril
Jan 18

I have purchased a copy and am using it during my family's prayer and devotional time. I do recommend it very much. It's a valuable addition to the small number of traditional Anglican Catholic books of devotion.

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