Today is our New Year's Day, or at least it's mine. I was a lector at last night's Vigil Mass. I picked up my missal and noted: Year C! We've entered a new cycle. I entered Year A as an RCIA student at the end of 2007, Year B as a Catholic at Advent 2008—I am now completing my three-year course in Catholic liturgy! First of many, I hope.
Then a few minutes later, Father Barnes lighted the first Advent candle, and my heart chirped. I remember the Advent candles from my early years in the Episcopal Church. Other than Christmas and Easter, the Sundays of Advent were the time when I always felt that I was coming back to Church, coming back to God and Jesus. Ah, yes, this is what it's all about!
The rest of the year was, frankly, a blur. I went with my parents to church every Sunday, served as an acolyte every other Sunday or so (loved doing so with Dr. Harold Bassage), and took communion once a month. But otherwise? We didn't mark the beginning of Lent by going to church or smearing ashes on our forehead. We gave up nothing for Lent and didn't attend Good Friday services either. There were no saints' days to observe, no references to Vietnamese martyrs with unprounceable names or wild women of the 12th century like Hildegard of Bingen.
I was made vaguely aware by odd old terms like Whitsuntide that there was a religious way of marking the year without using January, February, or December. But nothing in Sunday school or our family's religious culture enforced this awareness. We were living a stripped-down Protestant life: go to Church on Sunday and work/play your fanny off the rest of the week. Keep your Day-Timer up to date, and don't miss Church on Christmas!
Then I became a Catholic, and every day was someone's feast. (First thought: Doesn't that make fasting impossible?) I read Kristin Lavransdatter, where time is marked not by the months but by the liturgical calendar: "A week after the feast of St. Olaf, Kristin and her father—" I found it the most beautiful book, as have several friends. I began reading the Catechism seriously. (Confession: I read Kreeft's Cliff Notes in RCIA.) I began teaching religious ed to fourth-graders and realized how little I know about the liturgical year, about this extraordinarily rich tradition that is now mine.
Becoming a Catholic is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. The greatest. Every day at Mass now, I have something to celebrate, and every time I pick up the Liturgy of the Hours to recite something so simple as a psalm, the clock in my heart goes tick.