The Catholic Calendar
Definition Page

Updated 2003 MAR 15

Vestment Colors

Vestment colors are used to represent the mood of the Mass being celebrated. The color for the altar cloth and the celebrant's sash will be of this color. There are four standard vestment colors.
Violet - Represents Expectation, Purification, or Penance. Used during Lent and Advent.
White (or Gold) - Represents Joy and Triumph. Used during the Paschal Triduum, Easter, and Christmas, as well as for Holy Days and Feast Days throughout the year.
Red - Represents Royalty, Fire, and Martyrdom. Used on special Feast Days and Holy Days throughout the year.
Green - A sign of Life and Growth. Represents Ordinary Time.

Other colors may be substituted where traditionally appropriate, if desired. Some typical examples are Black, used for funerals, and Pink, used on the third Sunday of Advent.

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Liturgical Years

For Sundays and other special days throughout the church year, there are three sets of readings assigned for the day. These readings are assigned to Liturgical Years A, B, and C. Years which are evenly divisible by 3 are assigned year C, such as 1995. Year A follows year C, Year B follows Year A, and Year C follows Year B. Bear in mind that Liturgical Years start on the first Sunday of Advent of the previous year, so December 1, 1996 started Liturgical Year B.

Liturgical Cycles

For weekdays in ordinary time and other special days throughout the church year, there are two sets of readings for the day. These readings are assigned to Liturgical Cycles I and II. Odd years are assigned cycle I, and even years are assigned cycle II. Bear in mind that Liturgical Cycles start on the first Sunday of Advent of the previous year, so December 1, 1996 began Liturgical Cycle I.

Seasons of the Liturgical Year

The seasons of the liturgical year begin with Advent, a time of preparation for the Christmas season. The Christmas season celebrates the birth of Jesus (on December 25) and continues until the Baptism of Our Lord. This is followed by the first of two periods of Ordinary Time, which continues until Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent, a time of penitence leading to the Paschal Triduum after the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday. The Triduum is the three days before Easter. Easter Sunday marks the start of the Easter season, which continues as a time of celebration until Pentecost Sunday. Pentecost Sunday marks the start of the second period of Ordinary Time, which continues until the Advent season begins again.

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Holy Days of Obligation

Holy days of obligation are special feasts on which Catholics who have reached the age of reason are seriously obliged to assist at Mass and avoid unnecessary work. See Sunday Obligation below.

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Sunday Obligation

One of the precepts of the Church is to keep holy the day of the Lord's Resurrection; to worship God by participating in Mass every Sunday and holy day of obligation; to avoid those activities that would hinder renewal of soul and body, for example, needless work and business activities, unnecessary shopping, and so forth.

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Feasts, Memorials, Commemorations and Solemnities

These are days which the Church has set aside as having special meaning. There are several types of celebrations. Some are events in the life of Christ. Some are days dedicated to a particular saint. There are three types of feast days. Optional Feasts are not universally celebrated. Holy Days of Obligation are days on which Catholics are required to attend Mass. All other celebrations are celebrated, but Catholics are not obligated to attend.

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Fast and Abstinence

Fasting is restricting eating to one full meal and two lighter meals in the course of a single day, and prohibits eating between meals. Adults who have not yet reached their sixtieth year are bound by the Canon Law to fast. Pregnant women and people who are sick are not obligated to fast.
Abstinence is refraining from eating meat. People who have completed their fourteenth year are bound by the Canon Law to abstain.
Anyone who feels that they cannot fulfill the law of abstinence or the law of fasting should consult a parish priest or confessor.

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For many celebrations throughout the year, readings are assigned from various Commons. Commons are groups of readings appropriate for a type of celebration. These readings include First Readings, Responsorial Psalms, and Gospel Readings. One reading may be selected from each group for use during the Mass.
Often, more than one type of Common is appropriate for a celebration. In these cases, readings may come from any of the appropriate commons. Alternately, the readings from the regular liturgical year or cycle for the current day (the proper of the Season) can normally be used.
Easter is a special season for Commons. During Easter, a separate set of readings is assigned for the First Readings.
There are also subcategories within the Commons. These are readings which are more appropriate for some celebrations than others. An example of this is the subcategory of Popes within the Common of Pastors.
There are seven Commons for the liturgy, as follows:
Common for the Dedication of a Church
Outside Easter
During Easter
Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Outside Easter
During Easter
Common of Martyrs
Outside Easter
During Easter
Common of Pastors
Outside Easter
During Easter
Common of Doctors of the Church
Outside Easter
During Easter
Common of Virgins
Outside Easter
During Easter
Common of Holy Men and Women (Common of Saints)
Outside Easter
During Easter

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Many celebrations throughout the year have specific readings assigned. These readings are called the Proper of the celebration. These readings are usually chosen over the Commons, as they are more appropriate for the specific Celebration.
Additionally, each day of the year has a set of readings appropriate for the day and season. These readings are called the Proper of the Season.

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The Rosary

The Rosary is a series of prayers specifically prepared to be used in personal devotion. That is, the Rosary can be prayed alone or in without the guidance of a spiritual leader. This differs from a mass, which is meant to be led by a celebrant.
The Rosary has several prayers which are constant, and the Mysteries, which can vary. Prior to October 16, 2002, there were three sets of Mysteries. On October 16, 2002, Pope John Paul II added a fourth set. Although there is no requirement to do so, most people follow the recommended schedule of the Mysteries, which lists a different set of Mysteries for each day.
The Mysteries of the Rosary are as follows:
    The Joyful Mysteries
       The Annunciation; The Visitation; The Birth of Jesus; The Presentation; The Finding in the Temple
       These are the Mysteries of Jesus' birth and early life.
    The Luminous Mysteries (added October 16, 2002)
       The Baptism; The Wedding at Cana; The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God; The Transfiguration; The Institution of the Eucharist
       These are the Mysteries of Christ's priesthood.
    The Sorrowful Mysteries
       The Agony in the Garden; The Scourging at the Pillar; The Crowning with Thorns; The Bearing of the Cross; The Crucifixion
       These are the Mysteries of Christ's suffering and death.
    The Glorious Mysteries
       The Resurrection; The Ascension; The Descent of the Holy Spirit; The Assumption; The Coronation
       These are the Mysteries of Christ's victory over death and Mary's special place as the Holy Mother.
To learn more about the Rosary, including the Luminous Mysteries, visit the Catholic Calendar Rosary Page. To learn more about the traditional Rosary from before the introduction of the Luminous Mysteries, visit the previous Catholic Calendar Rosary Page.

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The Catholic Calendar Web Pages are the work of a lay Catholic, and are not the work of any official Catholic office or representative. These pages are built on the standard guidelines of the Church calendar, and do not represent all of the possible variants, as each individual Church, Diocese, Archdiocese, and district has significant choice in the exact schedule of services. Please always check with your local Church for information concerning your area.

Leap Years

For a great deal of information about the evolution of leap years and how leap years are currently calculated, as well as a tool for determining if a certain year is a leap year and why, visit our Leap Year Page.


The following works were used for the above information:

English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for the United States of America, copyright © 1994, United States Catholic Conference (

Handbook for Today's Catholic, copyright © 1994, Liguori Publications (

What It Means to be Catholic, copyright © 1986 St. Anthony Messenger Press and Franciscan Communications (

Vatican II Sunday Missal, copyright © 1974, Daughters of St. Paul (

Vatican II Weekday Missal, copyright © 1975, Daughters of St. Paul (

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Updated 2003 MAR 15

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