The Church Year


When you visit a Lutheran church you will hear things like "We are on the first Sunday of the Church year, the first Sunday in Advent."  You'll see things like blue coverings on the altar, pulpit and lectern.  The pastor will wear different color stoles on his robe.  Here is some helpful information to explain why.

What are the meanings of the colors on the altar and Pastor's robe?

  • White    Represents Godhead and eternity, saints in heaven, color of perfection, joy, purity
  • Black    The absence of color; symbolic of death
  • Red    Color of fire, fervor, blood, martyrdom, victorious truth of Christian teaching based on the blood of Christ
  • Green    Color of life and nourishment; the basic color of nature
  • Purple    Color of royalty, mourning, and repentance
  • Blue    Color of the sky and of hope
  • Gold    Color of royalty, riches, and victory

The Seasons of the Church Year

  • Advent season is from the fourth Sunday prior to December 25 through December 24. If December 24 is a Sunday, it is the Fourth Sunday in Advent, but that evening is customarily considered the beginning of the Christmas Season.
  • Christmas season is from December 25 through January 5. These twelve days of Christmas include one or two Sundays. 
  • Epiphany season is from January 6 through the Tuesday prior to Ash Wednesday. 
  • Lent is from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, forty days plus six Sundays.
  • Easter season is forty-nine days long, seven Sundays. Easter is the first Sunday that occurs after the first full moon of spring, which follows a pattern for determining the Old Testament Passover. Or, said another way, find the first day of spring (March 21/22), then go to the next full moon, and then go to the following Sunday – that’s Easter. For a fuller  explanation, refer to a document like the chart of Church Year dates, Christian Worship, p. 162.
  • Pentecost season is from the fiftieth day after Easter until the End Time season.
  • End Time season consists of the four weeks prior to Advent. The first Sunday of End Time is Reformation Sunday, the eighth Sunday before December 25 (four Advent Sundays and four End Time Sundays).


What is meant by an “early” or “late” Easter?

If the first spring full moon is “early”, that is, very soon after the first day of spring such as in late March, then the next Sunday will be an “early” Easter. 

If the first spring full moon is “late”, that is, up to four weeks after the first day of spring such as in mid-April, then the next Sunday will be a “late” Easter. 


How does an early or late Easter affect the other seasons of the church year?

The seasons of Advent, Lent, Easter, and End Time have the same number of Sundays every year. The seasons of Christmas, Lent, Easter, and End Time have the same number of days each year.

Two seasons are stretchable, Epiphany and Pentecost, because they are both based on the date for Easter. 

If Easter is early, then the Epiphany season is compacted into as few as four Sundays after Epiphany, plus Transfiguration (always the last Sunday in Epiphany before Lent starts). Epiphany must end early to make room for Lent before the early Easter.

If Easter is late, then the Epiphany season is expanded up to a possible eight Sundays after Epiphany, plus Transfiguration. Epiphany must continue until Ash Wednesday, six and a half weeks before the late Easter.

The length of the Pentecost season that year reverses the effect of the shorter or longer Epiphany season. If the Epiphany season is compacted, then the Pentecost season is expanded, up to twenty-four Sundays after Pentecost, to fill in the time until the End Time season starts. Conversely, if Epiphany season is expanded, then the Pentecost season is cut short, even down to twenty Sundays after Pentecost. 

When is Reformation Day? 

October 31, Luther's posting of the 95 thesis, the day before All Saints' Day. However, Reformation SUNDAY is the first Sunday of End Time, four Sundays before Advent, which is four Sundays before Christmas Day. Reformation Sunday will occur between October 30 and November 5.


Why did WELS in their 1993 hymnal, Christian Worship, create a new church year season called End Time?

Previously the end of the church year did not have clearly defined topics. Reformation Sunday was either the Sunday before or after October 31. The last few Sundays of the church year all had themes about the end of time, but were not clearly defined, except for the last Sunday, Christ the King. Also the Sundays of Pentecost not needed due to a late Easter were deleted from previous Sundays, not the ending Sundays.

Here is the WELS solution for the end of the church year:

  •     First Sunday of End Time: Reformation Sunday - Red
  •     Second Sunday of End Time: Last Judgment - Red
  •     Third Sunday of End Time: Saints Triumphant - White
  •     Fourth Sunday of End Time: Christ the King - White

What is Passion Sunday?

Palm Sunday in some churches has been renamed to Passion Sunday or Palm-Passion Sunday to continue the journey of Lent, even though the service may begin with a palm procession. This passion focus encourages worship leaders to avoid a “praise” theme similar to Ascension or Christ the King. 

Christian Worship: Occasional Services says:

When the Sunday of the Passion is observed, the Palm Sunday Gospel (Year A, Matthew 21:1-11; Year B, Mark 11:1-10; Year C, Luke 19:28-40) is substituted for Psalm 118. The reading of the History of Our Lord’s Suffering and Death for Year A, B, or C is the Gospel for the Sunday of the Passion. The congregation remains seated and may stand for the final portion (Matthew 27:33; Mark 15:22; Luke 23:33). A time of silence may be observed at the words telling of Jesus’ death (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46).