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What’s special about Ordinary Time?

June 27, 2011


Green is the color for Ordinary Time because it symbolizes hope.

After Easter and Pentecost, it’s hard to get excited about the start of Ordinary Time. Especially on those summer Sundays when many parishioners are at the lake, the choir isn’t singing, and the monochromatic green of the altar plants matches the vestments the priest will be wearing every Sunday for months.

It sounds pretty … ordinary. But I can’t believe God would want us to consider almost two thirds of the year routine and humdrum.

The Church looks at Ordinary Time this way:  “Apart from those seasons having their own distinctive character, thirty-three or thirty-four weeks remain in the yearly cycle that do not celebrate a specific aspect of the mystery of Christ. Rather, especially on the Sundays, they are devoted to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects. This period is known as Ordinary Time.”

Contemplating the “mystery of Christ in all its aspects” doesn’t sound uneventful. The Latin root of the word ordinary, ordinalis, means “showing order, denoting an order of succession.” Ordinary Time really has to do with the fact that the weeks of this liturgical season are numbered with ordinal numbers (first, second, third) rather than cardinal numbers (one, two three).

Divided into two parts, Ordinary Time is one season that lasts 33 or 34 weeks, depending on how the movable feasts including the Baptism of the Lord and Easter affect the calendar. It’s most common to have 33 weeks of Ordinary Time.

Ordinary Time starts on the evening of the Sunday following January 6 and continues until the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday inclusive. It starts again on the Monday after Pentecost and ends before Evening Prayer I of the First Sunday of Advent.

We don’t hear much about the First Sunday of Ordinary Time because it starts with Evening Prayer on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, while the Masses of the day are still part of the Christmas season. So the first part of that Sunday is part of the Christmas season and the second part is Ordinary Time. The following Sunday is the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time.

Unlike Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter which all have pretty clear scriptural themes, Ordinary Time readings present the continuous story of Jesus’ life and work as it is proclaimed in the Gospels of either Matthew, Mark or Luke. John’s Gospel is usually read during the other seasons.

Maybe it’s good that Ordinary Time is a little more low key than the other seasons so we can experience different types of liturgical terrain. The Catechism shows that there is radiance even in what seems to be ordinary:

“Beginning with the Easter Triduum as its source of light, the new age of the Resurrection fills the whole liturgical year with its brilliance. Gradually, on either side of this source, the year is transfigured by the liturgy. It really is a “year of the Lord’s favor.” The economy of salvation is at work within the framework of time, but since its fulfillment in the Passover of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the culmination of history is anticipated “as a foretaste,” and the kingdom of God enters into our time.” (CCC 1168)

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