The Divine Relationship Between Nature and the Liturgical Calendar

by Napa Institute
Published In April 24, 2018

Every element of nature is divinely designed.

As Psalm 95:4 – 5 reflects, “In [God’s] hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to Him. The sea is His, for He made it, and His hands formed the dry earth.” Because of the divine creator, there is harmony between the seasons of nature and the liturgical calendar.

The six liturgical seasons—Advent, Christmas, Lent, Triduum, Easter, and Ordinary Time—start on the First Sunday of Advent and end on the Solemnity of Christ the King. Here’s how the natural dynamics of winter, spring, summer, and fall are in sync with each liturgical season.

Leading up to Christmas and launching the liturgical year, Advent is a time of preparation in anticipation of Jesus’ birth. The winter elements demand a lifestyle of reflection, solitude, and hibernation to stay warm. The seasonal correlation is clear: Winter is the time of quiet in preparation for spring, just as Advent is the time of calm in preparation for the Nativity.

Similarly during Advent, we must spend time in prayer and contemplation to warm our hearts and still our souls for Jesus’ coming. Although nature tends to wilt during the winter months, there is hope for new growth in spring—and yearly evidence of its renewal. This same hope is central to the Advent season. Although similar to Lent in its sense of preparation, Advent has a more festive spirit. We should use the season to kindle the fire of faith in our hearts.

Edward Hays reflects in his book A Pilgrim’s Almanac, “Advent, like its cousin Lent, is a season for prayer and reformation of our hearts. Since it comes at winter time, fire is a fitting sign to help us celebrate Advent…If Christ is to come more fully into our lives this Christmas, if God is to become really incarnate for us, then fire will have to be present in our prayer. Our worship and devotion will have to stoke the kind of fire in our souls that can truly change our hearts. Ours is a great responsibility not to waste this Advent time.”

Since the actual date of Christ’s birth is not documented in the Bible, there has been much speculation about why it is currently celebrated on December 25. It wasn’t even commemorated for the first few centuries of Christianity. Some theories point to pagan myths and festivals in honor of gods like Sol and Saturn, but these pagan connections are misguided.

Christmas is celebrated on December 25 since it is nine months following the Annunciation on March 25. This date also had significance to early Christians who believed that Jesus was born nine months after the creation of the world on March 25, the vernal equinox, then the supposed date of Jesus’ death. So we celebrate Christmas on December 25 based on the date’s historical and liturgical connection to the world’s creation, Jesus’ conception, and His death.

As Pope Benedict XVI clarified, “The claim used to be made that December 25 developed in opposition to the Mithras myth, or as a Christian response to the cult of the unconquered sun promoted by Roman emperors in the third century in their efforts to establish a new imperial religion. However, these old theories can no longer be sustained. The decisive factor was the connection of creation and Cross, of creation and Christ’s conception.”     

Following the reflective slumber of winter, early spring is the start of nature’s renewal. Likewise, Lent gives us the chance to renew our baptismal commitment. Throughout the 40 days of prayer and penance, we prepare our hearts to accompany Christ during His passion. The focus on fasting and service helps us practice restraint and avoid distraction from our Lenten resolve.

In traditional farming, early spring is the time when farmers till the soil and plant seeds to grow rich crops later in the season. This physical preparation of the land is hard work, but is worth the effort to ensure a healthy harvest. Similarly, the spiritual effort and discipline of Lent is difficult yet rewarding, bringing us grace through sacrifice and a renewed zeal for our faith.

Jesus also made this connection with nature on Palm Sunday, saying, as recorded in John 12:24 – 25, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” Besides foreshadowing His own death, He also implies the importance of dying to self to gain eternal life—the essence of the Lenten season.

Lasting from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday, the Paschal Triduum is the culmination of Jesus’ life on earth, our Lenten preparation, and the Christian faith. Its ending on Easter Sunday kicks off the joyful Easter season and the blooming of spring, as the season’s climax. Through the attentive care given in early spring, nature begins to grow and bloom. At last, the revival of the natural world becomes visible.

The spring season is universally appreciated like Christ’s resurrection is celebrated by all Christians. In his Easter message, Pope Francis expressed this unity, “Christians of every confession celebrate Easter together. With one voice, in every part of the world, we proclaim the great message: ‘The Lord is truly risen, as he said!’”

We enter the 50 days of the Easter season with the hope of eternal life established through the resurrection. The resurrection’s role in the foundation of the Christian faith is captured in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “Alleluia! All faith flows from faith in the resurrection: If Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, is your faith.”

The entire season is an extension of Easter Sunday’s joy. Starting with the Octave, the key liturgical celebrations are the Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday. Nature continues to flourish as we continue to celebrate Christ’s victory over death and the wonder of our faith. The transformation we see in the environment reflects the transformation taking place in our hearts.

The longest liturgical season is Ordinary Time, when we journey with Christ through His childhood and public ministry. We are called to grow deeper in our understanding and witness of God’s love. Can we maintain our faith—and live it—outside of the more celebratory seasons?

There are two periods of Ordinary Time: The first from the Monday after Jesus’ baptism to Ash Wednesday and the second from the Monday after Pentecost Sunday to the First Sunday of Advent. During this time, nature transitions from spring to summer, summer to fall, and fall to winter. In spanning multiple seasons, Ordinary Time signifies the consistency needed in our faith life. The endurance and patience it takes to keep our faith alive during these months of transition helps our faith mature.

The patience and flexibility required is reflected in James 5:7, “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.”

Let us remember and reflect on nature’s divinity throughout the year to recognize God’s plan in uniting nature, history, and liturgy—and enhance our faith life.

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Wow, I just came across this article. It helped me to better understand and to see a different yet awesome point of view of the Liturgical Calendar and how the seasons connect with Jesus life. This is such a great way to teach my kids on how to memorize the Liturgical seasons, remember the stories and so much more. Thank you!

This article is so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. I have felt the connection between nature and the liturgical year for a long time, but here it has been described so beautifully! I have a few non-Catholic friends who are very Christian and it has been so difficult for me to explain why I do what I do relevant to my Catholic Faith. I think that this article says it all and I am going to save it in my personal Faith file for reference. I grew up in the Faith and I forget that others may not know or understand many of the things that I take for granted. As a child, my world was Catholic and I thought the whole world was Catholic This article so wonderfully describes the rhythm of physical life that parallels spiritual life in the Liturgical year. I am so grateful for my Faith and give thanks to God every day for this great gift.

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