When ordinary time is less than ordinary

From their earliest days, humans have felt the need to chart the passing of time.

Feb 06, 2015

By Daniel S. Mulhall
From their earliest days, humans have felt the need to chart the passing of time. Intricate calendars have been developed to mark the passing of seasons and the movements of the moon and sun across the sky.

Christians have their own calendar known as the liturgical year. Through numerous feasts and seasons the faithful explore the “mysteries of salvation,” as noted in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (No. 108), the authoritative document on the Church’s worship.

The liturgical year includes the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and ordinary time, which is the longest season, lasting either 33 or 34 weeks.

The title of the season called “ordinary time” comes from the word “ordinal,” or simply “counted time.” So ordinary time is the period of the Church’s year when the Sundays outside of the other liturgical seasons are counted.

The use of the English word “ordinary” for the majority of the Church year can be misleading because there is nothing common or uneventful about this period. During these 33 or 34 weeks we relive, through the Scripture readings and homilies, the story of Jesus’ life, the teaching of the early Church, and the mystery of God’s love for the world.

As the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy puts it in No. 52: “the mysteries of the faith and the guiding principles of the Christian life are expounded from the sacred text, during the course of the liturgical year.” And in No. 102, the document says, “mysteries of redemption” are recalled during this time.

Ordinary time is divided into two periods: the weeks between the feast of the Baptism of the Lord and Ash Wednesday, and the weeks between Pentecost and the first Sunday of Advent. The readings of the first period focus on Jesus’ early life and the beginning of his public ministry. The focus of the second period is on Jesus’ ministry and teaching. It is during the second period that we learn how we are to live as followers of Christ.

Perhaps the most important aspect of ordinary time is its length. Just as every day in life can’t be a birthday or an anniversary or another special occasion, in our spiritual lives not every day can be Christmas or Easter.

Most of life is lived outside of major events. But it is in learning how to bring our faith daily into our normal routines that we truly learn to be disciples of the Lord.

The weeks of ordinary time give us ample opportunities to hone our faith. Regardless of the name of the season, it is important to remember that each time we gather as a community of Catholic Christians, we gather to recall Christ’s life and celebrate the Eucharist. We participate in the sacred and we come into direct contact with God in some mysterious way. And there is nothing ordinary about that.

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