St Giles’ follows the pattern of the church’s liturgical year according to the Revised Common Lectionary. The calendar revolves around events in the life of God’s son Jesus Christ, from the foretelling of his birth, through to his teaching, death and resurrection. Seasons are associated with the colours purple, gold (or white) and green respectively, which are reflected in our church’s decorations and the clergy team’s vestments.
Our year starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas which marks the beginning of Advent, from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming”. Advent is a season of expectation and preparation, as the church prepares to celebrate the coming of Christ in his incarnation, and also looks ahead to his ﬁnal advent as judge at the end of time. Church decorations are simple and spare, and purple is the traditional liturgical colour. Each week, we light a candle on our Advent wreath. In the northern hemisphere, the Advent season falls at the darkest time of the year, and the natural symbols of darkness and light are powerfully at work throughout Advent and Christmas. The Third Sunday of Advent was observed in medieval times as a splash of colour in the restrained atmosphere of Advent (Gaudete or ‘Rose Sunday’), and the last days of Advent were marked by the sequence of Great ‘O’ Antiphons, which continue to inspire modern Advent hymns and meditations.
At St Giles’ we hold a special service in the evening on the first Sunday of Advent, featuring meditative words and music.
On the 24th of December, we hold crib and Christingle services and celebrate the real start of Christmas with Midnight Mass. Christmas recalls the birth of Jesus himself with the shepherds being among the first witnesses – wise men from the East come a little later on! As well as commemorating Jesus’ birth with all the customs and celebrations Christmastime entails, our liturgy reminds us of the prophecies which foretold Jesus’ birth and the central truth of the Word made ﬂesh for our salvation.
There are many services and concerts throughout Christmas where ever popular carols are sung. Carol singing dates back to medieval times and at St Giles’ we organize ‘Carols ‘round Camberwell’ where we sing around our parish to raise money for local charities.
We celebrate Christmas season for forty days (not just 12!) incorporating the Epiphany until Candlemass on February the 2nd each year. After a short transitional period called Ordinary Time, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Like Advent, it is a period of both reflection and preparation. The reflection is often expressed partly through ‘giving something up’, in response to Jesus’ period of fasting in the wilderness, while these 40 days of fast and meditation are also a preparation for the high point of our Christian year.
As Holy Week approaches, the atmosphere of the season darkens. There is a brief respite to include our modern celebration of Mothering Sunday but then our readings begin to anticipate the story of Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. The fifth and final Sunday is called Passion Sunday and marks the beginning of Passiontide. The crosses and statues at St Giles’ are veiled during this time.
Lasting for two weeks, Passiontide includes Holy Week where we recall the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. On Palm Sunday we process around our church and through the streets, recalling Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem, where the public greeted him enthusiastically. A said service is then held every day until Maundy Thursday. Jesus was in Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish festival of the Passover and on that night we remember the Passover meal he celebrated with his disciples, known as the Last Supper. Our clergy team washes some of congregations’ feet just as Jesus’ did to his disciples. Afterwards, the church is stripped and a vigil held as we recall Jesus’ arrest and subsequent trial by Pontius Pilate. On Good Friday (the word “good” means pious or holy) we recall Jesus’ death on the cross.
After Good Friday, our church is locked and closed symbolizing Jesus’ death. On Holy Saturday night, we recall the prophecies predicting Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection. We light a flame to symbolize the light of the world overcoming the darkness of death.
Finally on Easter Sunday we celebrate rebirth and the world being made anew, symbolizing Jesus’ triumph over death. On Easter Sunday we sing uplifting hymns, psalms and anthems – and an Easter Egg hunt takes place for our younger church members to enjoy.
Easter season continues for seven weeks. Forty days after Easter Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ Ascension, the point at which he was taken up into heaven. Fifty days after Easter Sunday marks the beginning of Pentecost, also known as Whitsun, when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus’ disciples. The following Sunday we celebrate Trinity Sunday when all three persons of God – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are revealed on earth.
The Sunday after Pentecost through to the Feast of All Saints on the 1st November is known as Ordinary Time. It is a fallow time in the church year during which we focus on growth in our faith. As the start of the new liturgical year looms, we thank God for creation and the gifts we have been given in a Harvest festival on the first or second Sunday in October, and remember the lives of Christians who have preceded us on All Saints’ Day on 1 November.