The term Ordinary Time used for the longest season of the Liturgical Calendar can be confusing. When we use the word ‘ordinary’ in everyday language we are usually referring to something normal, unexceptional, commonplace maybe something that’s not that important. Ordinary Time however is none of these things. The name for this season reflects the fact that the Sundays are numbered Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, for example. The word’s origin is in Latin, from ordo, which is also the root of the word order.
In the liturgical seasons of Christmas and Easter the emphasis is on celebratory feasting. In Advent and Lent the emphasis is on penance/preparation. In Ordinary Time we are watchful and expectant of the Second Coming of Christ, we are neither feasting nor severely penitent. This is the ‘ordered’ time of the Liturgical Year.
Not Just About Colour
We know that during Ordinary Time the vestments are green, during Lent they are purple. But the Liturgical calendar is not just about what colour the priest’s vestments are, or whether or not it is appropriate to have flowers on the altar, it is also the “official context” in which we hear the proclamation of the Word of God. During the major seasons of Advent/Christmas (including Advent, Christmas Day and the feasts of the Christmas season until the Baptism of the Lord) and Lent/Easter (Lent, Easter Sunday and the 50 days until Pentecost) we read selections from the Bible that correspond to the great mysteries of our faith – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. During these seasons the Gospel reading is usually taken from John.
To enable “a more representative portion of holy Scripture” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #51) to be read at Sunday Eucharist the readings were chosen to enable us to experience the Paschal Mystery from various angles and in different contexts. So during Ordinary time over a three-year cycle based on the Gospels of Matthew (Year A), Mark (Year B), and Luke (Year C) we hear readings that focus on the events of Jesus’ life between his death and Resurrection. During this time we hear about how Jesus lived and what he taught so that we might be encouraged in our discipleship, in our desire to be more like him.
During the liturgical year there are two periods of Ordinary Time. The first comes between Christmastime and Lent. The second starts at the conclusion of the Easter season and ends with the beginning of the new liturgical year -Advent. Ordinary Time is that part of the liturgical year when our understanding of discipleship, of what it means to follow Jesus in the ‘ordinary/routine’ times of family, work and friendship is nurtured and strengthened. The question is how do we make this ordinary time ‘count’?