Early on in the history of Christianity, the Christian Church Year combined feasts related to Christian salvation with other liturgical days. It included days to commemorate people in the Bible, the history of the Church, and various other important events. ‘Christian Feasts’ can refer both to feasts related to the life of Christ and to other holy people. In Finland, the celebration of name days was originally based on the Church’s Calendar of Saints, which is why a number of celebrations of Christian Saints are included in this calendar.
Over the centuries some differences have occurred in the Church Year based on the life of Christ and the Calendar of Saints as celebrated in Eastern and Western churches. In this calendar, the Eastern Churches are represented by the Orthodox Church of Finland. The part of the Church that split off from the Roman Catholic Church through the Reformation has itself split into several churches. In Finland, the reformed churches are represented by the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland and several communities of the so-called Free Churches, such as the Evangelical Free Church of Finland, the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church and Pentecostal communities. The Finnish Ecumenical Council is an organ for cooperation between Churches and the Christian communities of Finland, both old and new <www.ekumenia.fi/etusivu/>. The Finnish Ecumenical Council has members, observers and partners.
Feasts and Major Holidays in the Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church divides days observed in the liturgy (celebrations or public worship in the Church) into four categories: solemnities, feasts, memorials, and optional memorials. Solemnities are marked on set days which don’t usually change. Most have their own Vigil or specific Mass (divine service with Eucharistic sacrifice) on the evening before the solemnity. Some solemnities are so-called ‘holy days of obligation’ according to Canon Law (see explanation below), which means the faithful are obliged to participate in Mass that day unless they are unable to do so. All Sundays are holy days of obligation.
(What is Canon Law? It is the system of laws and legal principles developed within the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Churches, among others, to define the Church, create order within it and to define the relationship between the Church and other institutions. Canon Law is the oldest legal system still in use in the Western world.)
This calendar includes feasts and memorials of the Catholic Church, and lists the 24 most important holy days of the Catholic Church.
All Sundays are Christian Feast days at a minimum.
Calendar of Memorials in the Reformed Churches
The Reformation of the Western Church removed most of the Saint Days from the Calendar of Memorials, as is evident in the calendars of the Lutheran Church of Finland and of the Free Churches (see explanation at the end of this section). In all the old churches, the Christian year focuses on the liturgical year of seasons, which divides into Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.
Even in the Lutheran Church, the break with remembering important people in Church history was incomplete. One of the founding texts of the Lutheran Church, the ‘Augsburg Confession’, states: ‘The memory of saints may be set before us, that we may follow their faith and good works, according to our calling.’ The days of the Apostles and Evangelists were included in the Lutheran calendar until 1772. Of all the saints’ days, the most important was the Memorial of Saint Henry, who was celebrated for a long time in Finland in the Lutheran Church.
The Free Churches have developed and now mark other days, such as the March for Jesus, a global prayer event that continues to expand. It was first held in Great Britain in 1987, when 15,000 Christians gathered to pray in the streets of London, and has since spread rapidly to other parts of the world. Its organisers reported that, in 1997, some 40 million Christians in more than 170 countries ‘marched for Jesus’. The event is held annually in June in various time zones around the world. Finland saw its first March for Jesus in 1992. Finnish Christians began by marching in June, but because many Finns take their summer vacation in that month, the March for Jesus was moved to May Day. In Finland today the march now takes place in dozens of towns and cities, including Helsinki, Tampere, Joensuu, Heinola and Kokkola. Although some relatively young events are not yet included in this calendar, that is in no way meant to discount their importance.
(What are the Free Churches? A bridge builder for the Free Churches in Finland is the Free Church Council of Finland (Suomen vapaakristillinen neuvosto, SVKN ry). The Council was founded in 1967 to promote the work and mutual understanding of its member churches and communities. Council members are the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Finland, the Pentecostals, the Methodist Church, the Salvation Army and the Evangelical Free Church of Finland. The Council represents established Christian communities that have a considerable history in Finland.)
The Lutheran Church Year
The rhythm and content of the liturgical life of the Lutheran Church and its parishes arises from the Church Year. For each Sunday and festival of the Church there is a given Bible reading and prayer.
The liturgical calendar year of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is framed around the liturgical festivals of the Western Church: Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.
The Church Year of the Orthodox Church
The liturgical year of the Orthodox Churchbegins on September 1 and ends on the last day of August the following year. The tradition of starting the Church Year at the beginning of September originated in the ancient Byzantine Empire. Central to the Orthodox liturgical year and to the entire liturgical life of the Orthodox Church, is the most important event of all, the Feast of the Resurrection of Christ, Easter.
In addition to Easter, the Orthodox calendar includes twelve major festivals and a few smaller holidays throughout the Church Year. Most of the major celebrations of the liturgical year commemorate some stage in the life of Christ or of the Virgin Mary. One exception is the Exaltation of the Cross (also known as Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-creating Cross) on September 14. Celebrations are preceded by a preparatory period of fasting which varies in length. See also <www.ortodoksi.net/index.php/Kirkkovuosi>
Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox Holidays
For more detailed information, go to their websites:
- Finnish-language liturgical calendar: <http://katolinen.fi/?page_id=302>
- Church Year of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland: <http://evl.fi/kirkkovuosi>
- Church Year of the Orthodox Church of Finland: <ort.fi/kirkkovuosi>