Today marks the beginning of a new Church year. In the Roman Empire, the first of September was the day on which the emperor would announce a decree of taxation. But it was also the time (in the northern hemisphere) for harvesting the fruits of the earth and for beginning a new agricultural cycle as we also see in Jewish worship. The Church took over this calendar but gave it a deeper significance.
The Christian liturgical year comprises different cycles and feasts and we need a calendar in order to give them some cohesion and order. As the year unfolds it enables us to follow the various events in the life of Christ and in the history of our salvation. It shows us something of the power of the Holy Spirit which is made real for us in the lives of the saints. This is not simply a matter of giving us intellectual knowledge; instead, the events and people are made present to us today.
Ultimately, the liturgical year exists in order to draw us closer to Christ and to be united with Him in the Church. By following the various events of His Life and His ministry, by hearing the Gospels read during the course of the year, by entering with Him into His suffering, death and resurrection, we are called to be conformed to Him as we gradually allow the Holy Spirit to form and refashion the Image of God in us. We are invited to unite ourselves with His birth, His growth, His suffering, His death and His triumph.
During the course of the year we are also drawn into the cycle of the saints who are the glorified members of Christ’s Body. Their light is really an extension of the light of Christ, and their sanctity is an extension of His sanctity. To celebrate the feast of a saint is to celebrate a special grace that flows from Christ to that saint, and in which we too are called to participate.