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The Church Year is a Helix


church year circleWe tend to think of, and picture, the church year as a circle.

But I regularly point out that when we arrive at the same celebration a year later we are not the same. So it is much more like a spiral, a helix, where we are looking from this year’s celebration back at last year’s.

liturgical year as a helixFurthermore, the earth is not simply moving in a circle (ellipse) around the Sun. The Sun is moving around our galaxy, the Milky Way, so that we, on our planet, are journeying in the form of a helix, a spiral.

That gives the shape of the church’s year, a shape found constantly in nature, a dynamic shape. It is repetitive, certainly, but also moves as a journey, a pilgrimage, with each new generation picking up the pilgrimage from the previous one.

The Sun is moving upwards, out of the plane of the Milky Way, at a speed of 7 kilometers per second. Currently the Sun lies 50 light-years above the mid-plane of the galaxy, and its motion is steadily carrying it further away.

But the gravitational pull of the stars in the Galactic (Milky Way) plane is slowing down the Sun’s escape. The astronomer Frank Bash estimates that in 14 million years the sun will reach its maximum height above the Galactic disk. From that 250 light-year position, it will be pulled back towards the plane of the Galaxy. Passing through, it will travel to a point 250 light-years below the disk, then oscillate upwards again to reach its present position 66 million years from now. We crossed the plane 2 million years ago. We are currently in the thick of the galactic disk and our view of distant regions is largely blocked by dust but 10-20 million years from now, our motion will allow a full view of our starry galaxy.

Ps. If people start disputing this model with points about frames of reference/rest, remember I’ve got a maths degree and I’m not afraid to use it 🙂

Image sources:
church year circle
spiral church year

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5 thoughts on “The Church Year is a Helix”

  1. Yes Yes and Yes. The Helix is a metaphor for Christian discipleship and many facets of human experience. Although we seem to be trapped in a cycle, continually portraying the same weaknesses and committing the same sins we are nevertheless moving forward as well as round. This model of relapse as part of the journey forward is also a helpful way of understanding the journey of recovery from addiction. In terms of the Church’s liturgical year, although we may look and sound the same, after every time we have celebrated Easter, or Christmas, or the umpteenth Sunday in Ordinary time, or the Eucharist on any occasion, we will not be quite the same again.

  2. I am a licensed lay preacher in my parish, and I am in the rota about once every eight to ten weeks. So I was surprised to be assigned to a Sunday on the calendar where I had preached the same texts three years ago. I was acutely aware that it was not the “same old” and there were new things that need to be said.

    I love the helix metaphor, and I am going to steal it shamelessly for an Adult Ed session next week. (I’ll credit the source, of course!)


    1. Thanks, Lou. Yes I regularly encounter the same readings with the same community, and it is clear that what is happening in me, in the community, and in the world means the Spirit is saying something different to us. Then again sometimes the Spirit is trying to say the same and stressing it more. But I would never repreach a sermon 🙂 Blessings.

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