Festivals and seasons of the church year

The church calendar is structured around the major festivals of the Church which follow the life of Jesus as set out in the Gospels. They start at the darkest time of the year, a month before Christmas.

At St Mary’s, we use a slightly different Order of Service at the Parish Eucharist according to the season. When there is no special Liturgical Season, this period is called ‘Ordinary Time’.

Each season is associated with a colour. You can find more information about these in our Did You Know? series of articles. 

Click on the season or festival below to find out more about it.



This is a time of preparation. We may organise special talks or discussion groups. The Christmas tree is set up in Church and decorated with the names of those we wish to remember.

As we approach Christmas there are special services:

  • The Christingle, where children are given oranges decorated with candles, and process (under adult supervision) round the church, to bring the light of Christ to the world

  • The very popular Carols by Candlelight service, with special Christmas music

  • The Crib Service on Christmas Eve when the children re-enact the Nativity Story, sometimes with a live donkey for Mary


We celebrate the birth of Jesus. The church is specially decorated. The major services are:

  • Midnight Mass which is a modern language service

  • Holy Communion and the Parish Eucharist on Christmas Day


The Christmas season continues until the Feast and Season of Epiphany, twelve days later, when we celebrate the showing of Christ to the world, and the figures of the Wise Men from the East are added to our Crib Scene

Epiphany ends with the celebration of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, usually called Candlemas, marked by a special procession and the renewal of our Baptismal vows.

There follows a period of Ordinary Time which varies in length according to the date of Easter.


This is the season of preparation for Easter, traditionally commemorating Christ’s forty days of fasting in the wilderness.

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday; at a special service those who wish are marked with a cross on their foreheads as a sign of penitence.

Although the tradition is to ‘give something up’ for Lent, the Church’s emphasis nowadays is on positive action. There may be special talks or discussion groups, sometimes involving other churches.

The fourth Sunday of Lent is Mothering Sunday; we have a special Family Service, and bunches of flowers are given to all the ladies present.

The two weeks leading up to Easter are known as Passiontide; we think of the events leading the Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. The church ornaments and figures of Christ are covered or removed.

One week later comes Palm Sunday; at the Parish Eucharist there is a procession commemorating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and crosses made of Palm leaves are blessed to be taken home and kept for the coming year.

Holy Week

The week following Palm Sunday is Holy Week; there are special evening services, including the Stations of the Cross, a meditation on Jesus' last walk to his execution.

On Maundy Thursday we have an evening Eucharist. The church altars are stripped, and those who wish may take part in a vigil, the ‘Watch of the Passion’.

Good Friday
The church is bare. At midday we have a devotional service, followed by a meditation on the Passion of Christ on the cross.
Easter Eve

The church is made ready to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.

In the evening, we have the ‘Service of Light’; a fire is kindled in the churchyard, from which the new Easter Candle is lit and carried into the church.

There is a short service of Bible readings, after which those present are again marked with a cross on the forehead, this time from the water of baptism.


The crown of the Church’s year is the rejoicing of Easter Day when we give thanks for the new life of the risen Christ.

The day starts with the ‘Easter Alleluia’, an informal service in which all the churches of Rickmansworth join. Holy Communion and the Parish Eucharist are celebrated in church.  

The Season of Easter continues until Ascension Day – the commemoration of the departure of Jesus in visible, bodily form from this world and his return to the world of the divine. This was a prelude to the gift from God of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (otherwise Whit Sunday). This concludes the season of Easter.

Trinity Sunday follows to mark the totality of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

From now until Advent Sunday is a long period of Ordinary Time; the Gospel Story has been told through the Church Festivals, but there are more special occasions to come.

Patronal Festival
This is a bit like our birthday and is celebrated on the nearest Sunday to 8 September, one of the feast days of St Mary the Virgin. We usually hold a special service and enjoy hospitality together.
Harvest Festival
This service is usually held on the first Sunday in October with a collection of non-perishable items in aid of a local charity, usually one working with the homeless. The collection is sent to the Bishop of St Albans Harvest for the Hungry Appeal.
Service to Remember the Departed

At the beginning of November we commemorate the departed, both with a Requiem Mass and with a special service for the families of those who have died during the year.

Remembrance Sunday

This is a very special occasion as the town War Memorial is in our Churchyard.

The round of the year is now complete, and it is time to look again towards Advent.


The church calendar is structured around the major festivals of the Church which follow the life of Jesus as set out in the Gospels



Last updated: July 2, 2018


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