The Church’s calendar has six periods in its Liturgical Year – Lent, The Triduum, Easter, Ordinary Time, Advent and Christmas. During the Liturgical Year, the scripture readings for the seasons of Lent, Easter, Advent, and Christmas have prominent themes. However, during Ordinary Time the readings are not chosen according to a theme. Rather, they present in a continuous fashion, the life and work of Jesus Christ as proclaimed in the Gospels of either, Matthew, Mark, or Luke. John’s Gospel is read each year especially around Christmas, Lent and Easter and also in the year of Mark whose Gospel is shorter than the others.
But, what is Ordinary Time? Ordinary Time is the season of the Church year when we are encouraged to grow and mature in daily expression of our faith outside the great seasons of celebration of Christmas and Easter and the great periods of penance of Advent and Lent. In the current form of the Roman Rite adopted following the Second Vatican Council, Ordinary Time consists of thirty-three or thirty-four Sundays and is divided into two sections. The first portion extends from the day following the Feast of the Baptism of Christ until the day before Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent). It contains anywhere from three to eight Sundays, depending on how early or late Easter falls. The main focus in the readings of the Mass is Christ’s earthly ministry, rather than any one particular event. The counting of the Sundays resumes following Eastertide, however, two Sundays are replaced by Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, and depending on whether the year has 52 or 53 weeks, one may be omitted.
Because Ordinary Time refers to the period of the Catholic Church’s liturgical year that fall outside of the major seasons (Advent, Lent, Easter and Christmas), and because of the connotations of the term “ordinary” in English, many people think Ordinary Time refers to the parts of the Church year that are unimportant. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Ordinary Time is called “ordinary” because the weeks are numbered. The Latin word ordinalis, which refers to numbers in a series, stems from the Latin word ordo, from which we get the English word order. Thus, Ordinary Time is in fact the ordered life of the Church—the period in which we live our lives neither in feasting (as in the Christmas and Easter seasons) or in more severe penance (as in Advent and Lent), but in watchfulness and expectation of the Second Coming of Christ. In Latin, Ordinary Time is called Tempus Per Annum (“time throughout the year”).
Have you observed that the Sundays in Ordinary Time start with the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time? So, why is there no First Sunday in Ordinary Time?
Ordinary Time begins on the Monday after the first Sunday after January 6 (the Feast of the Epiphany). In most years, that Sunday is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. As feasts of our Lord, both the Baptism of the Lord and Epiphany would displace a Sunday in Ordinary Time. Thus, the first Sunday in the period of Ordinary Time is the Sunday that falls after the first week of Ordinary Time, which makes it the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Ordinary time does not need to be “ordinary”, and is not meant to mean that somehow we get a break from the Liturgical Year. The opposite is true: Ordinary Time celebrates “the mystery of Christ in all its aspects”. Many important liturgical celebrations fall during Ordinary Time, including, Trinity, Corpus Christi, All Saints, the Assumption of Mary, and Christ the King. In addition, the Church continues to celebrate Saints days and other events. The major feasts, when occurring on a Sunday, replace the regular Ordinary Time Sunday readings. We also may remember and celebrate the parts of Jesus’ life that were ordinary, much like our own lives. Christmas and Easter, with their climactic joy and celebration, are the great mountain peaks of the liturgical year. Ordinary Time, then, is the verdant meadows that lie between. As Christians we are called now to descend these peaks and, like sheep that hear the voice of their shepherd, pasture and graze in these meadows with Christ as He feeds us with His Word and His Eucharist. This makes the colour green, with its connotations of life and growth, very appropriate as the liturgical colour for this period.
The feast of Christ the King is the last Sunday of Ordinary Time and of the liturgical year.
So remember, Ordinary Time is a period when average people like you and me strive to become the extraordinary messengers of the Gospel that we have been commissioned to be through our Baptism. – Adapted from various sources by Denis Sue Hong – Archdiocesan Catechetical Office