Neither the New Testament nor the Church literature of the first three centuries contain any intimation that the Christians of that time viewed the year from any other stand-point than that of subjects of the Roman emperor or other princes. SEE CALENDAR; SEE CHRONOLOGY, CHRISTIAN. The first impulse to the idea of a church year distinct from the civil year was given by the establishment of anniversaries of prominent events in the life of Christ. The most ancient of these anniversaries were those of his death and resurrection, SEE EASTER; gradually were added to them those of his birth, SEE CHRISTMAS, of the outpouring of the Holy Ghost, SEE PENTECOST, of the circumcision, SEE EPIPHANY, of the ascension, SEE ASCENSION DAY. Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost came each to be regarded as the center of a cycle, the three cycles together embracing a commemoration of every thing memorable in the life of the Redeemer. When the worship of the Virgin Mary and of the saints was developed in the Church of Rome, a number of festivals commemorating events in the life of the Virgin Mary, and the death-days of the apostles, martyrs, and saints, were added to the ecclesiastical calendar. This combination suggested to the writers of the Church the idea that the church-year is to celebrate, within the compass of a civil year, the commemoration of all the memorable events in the life of the Church, from the birth of, or, rather, the announcement of the birth of Christ to the death of the last saint. The habit of beginning this year with the first Sunday of Advent is first found among the Nestorians, and was only gradually adopted by the Church of Rome. There are, in all, four Sundays of Advent, intended to prepare the mind for the proper celebration of Christmas (25th of December). Christmas, like Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost, were each followed by an "octave" (commemorative services referring to the great festival during eight days, the chief festival itself being counted in), the Sunday immediately following the festival being denominated the Sunday "within the octave." The Sundays following the "Sunday within the octave of Epiphany" were called the "second, etc., Sunday after Epiphany," until the Sunday Septuagesima began the Easter cycle. It was followed by the Sundays Sexagesima, Quinquagesima, four Sundays of Lent, Palm Sunday, and Easter Sunday; Sunday within the octave of Easter ("Low Sunday"), second, third, etc., Sundays after Easter, until the Sunday within the octave of Ascension forms the boundary-line between the Easter and the Pentecost cycles. Whitsunday (Pentecost) opens the Pentecost cycle; and the following Sundays are called the first (festival of the "most Holy Trinity"), second, etc., Sunday after Pentecost. They run on until the close of the church-year, when the recurrence of the first Sunday of Advent opens the new year. The last festival which Rome added to her church-year was that of Corpus Christi (q.v.), to be an annual celebration of the doctrine of transubstantiation. According to the importance attributed to the several festivals, the Church of Rome makes the distinction of "simple," "semi-double," and "double" festivals; the latter being again subdivided into "double second class" and " double first class" (the highest festivals). The Church books, as Missal and Breviary, have special services for each particular festival, and for each class of festivals. SEE BREVIARY AND MISSAL. Roman Catholic writers have often dwelt on a mysterious correspondence between the seasons of the church-year and those of the natural year (Christmas, the appearance of Christ in the lost world in winter, when nature appears to be dead; Easter, in spring, when nature seems to revive; Pentecost, in summer, when every thing is in highest bloom), entirely forgetting that this correspondence holds good only of the northern hemisphere. Other writers have more reasonably traced in this correspondence an influence of pagan festivals, in which this kind of correspondence can be traced to a very large extent, upon the doctrines and institutions of the Church of Rome; but although in some instances the influence is undeniable, it is difficult to say how far it extended. The chief features of the church-year were fully developed when the separation between the Latin and Greek churches took place, and there is, therefore, but little difference in the church-year of the two churches. The Greeks begin their year on the 1st of September, and have, of course, none of the saints of the Roman Church who either lived or were canonized after the separation, while the Latins do not recognize the few saints which the Greek Church has added to the catalogue of the ancient saints.
Luther and the Lutheran Church retained, on the whole, the Roman Catholic idea of the church-year. They rejected the Corpus Christi festival and the days of the saints, but retained most of the festivals of Mary as being based upon events mentioned in the Bible, and the celebration of the days of the apostles and the angels. In the conflict between High-Church and Low-Church Lutherans in the 19th century, the former party strongly insisted upon retaining every thing to which Luther and the other fathers of the Lutheran Church had not objected, and some leading men of the school even showed a disposition to strain every thing in common between the early Lutheran and the Roman Catholic churches as far as their membership in the Lutheran Church would possibly admit. This tendency shows itself also with regard to Church festivals and the idea of a church- year. The Reformed churches desired to return to the form of divine worship as it existed in the primitive service, and therefore showed a tendency to reject the whole idea of a church-year. In Geneva, at the time of Calvin, only the Sunday was celebrated, and the same habit prevailed in most of the Reformed churches of Switzerland. In Germany the opposition of the Reformed to the church-year was not so thorough. In modern times the celebration of Good Friday has been introduced into most of the Reformed churches (in Geneva since 1820). In the Church of England, the High-Church party retained much more of the Latin church-year than was done by the Lutherans; and in modern times efforts have even been made to conform the Anglican church-year in almost every particular to that of the Church of Rome. The Dissenting churches of England and the Protestant churches of the United States have generally rejected the idea of a church-year, with its system of peculiar festivals. Easter and Good Friday, however, are celebrated by church services in many of the Dutch and German Reformed and Methodist churches, and some others; and in the German Reformed Church the idea of a church-year, as it was developed in the Latin Church of the Middle Ages, has found many defenders. See Herzog, Real-Encyklopadie, 7:643 sq.; Wetzer u. Welte, Kirchen-Lexikon, 6:161 sq. The most important Roman Catholic works on the church-year are Gretser, De Festis Christianorum; Benedict XIV, De Festis; Staudenmaier, Geist des Christenthums; Nickel, Die hist. Zeiten; Binterim, Denkwurdigkeiten. Protestant works: Strauss, Das evangel.
Kirchenjahr (Berlin, 1850); Bobertag, Das evangel. Kirchenjahr (Breslau, 1853).