The Easter Season is over, and the long stretch of Ordinary Time has begun. After seven weeks of glorious alleluias, an abundance of fresh flowers adorning our sanctuaries and joyful celebrations of the Sacraments of Initiation, it’s Ordinary Time again. On top of Ordinary Time, summer has arrived. This is the time of year when our churches look a little emptier as people go “up north” for the weekend. The music sounds a little less festive with a cantor instead of a four-part choir; and the Easter lilies and colorful spring flower arrangements have turned into green plants. It’s plain old Ordinary Time. I mean — it sure can feel a little like a letdown, right?
Ordinary Time isn’t “ordinary” in that’s it’s boring, simple or plain. It’s a liturgical season just like Advent, Christmas, Lent or Easter. But, unlike the other seasons which focus on a “main event” in the life of Jesus, the 33 (or 34 depending on how certain feast days fall) weeks of Ordinary Time mark Jesus’ earthly ministry and some of the major events of the great Gospel stories that have formed us in our faith. It is a season of miracles and healings, parables and teachings, the calling of the disciples and the Sermon on the Mount. We encounter Jesus as he feeds 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, calms a storm on the sea with a sharp rebuke of the wind and waves, and walks on water, inviting Peter to step out of the boat with trust and do the same.
Yes, Ordinary Time has returned — and there is so much to celebrate.
Why is it called Ordinary Time?
The word “ordinary” in the English language can refer to something that’s simple, plain, unexciting or unimpressive. The Oxford dictionary defines “ordinary” as having no special or distinctive feature, and synonyms for the word “ordinary” are “usual, normal, common,” and even “mundane.” For this reason, many people today hear “Ordinary Time,” and immediately associate the season with these words.
The word “ordinary” in “Ordinary Time,” actually comes from the Latin word ordinare, which means “to set in order.” When we speak of Ordinary Time, we are simply referring to the ongoing, rhythmical and ordered nature of the liturgical season. It’s similar to how we experience life in the day-to-day. We have a rhythm to our daily living and a pattern to our weeks. Monday brings something different each week than Thursday or Friday. Of course, this doesn’t mean we don’t have things to celebrate and holidays to observe — like the upcoming Fourth of July holiday, which will bring a three-day weekend for many of us. But, just as these special occasions and such holidays aren’t the whole of our lives, there is more to the life of Christ than what we celebrate at Christmas or at Easter.
When exactly is Ordinary Time, and how long does it last?
It is perhaps easiest to understand Ordinary Time as the time of the liturgical year that is not Advent, Christmas, Lent or Easter; however, that doesn’t quite give us a complete picture of when the season occurs. Technically speaking, Ordinary Time is one season, but it can feel like two. The first part begins the day after the Baptism of the Lord (soon after Epiphany) in early January, and continues through “Fat Tuesday,” the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the season of Lent. The second part of the season begins on Monday after Pentecost, and continues through the summer and fall, concluding on the Saturday afternoon before the First Sunday of Advent.
The entire season of Ordinary Time lasts approximately 33 or 34 weeks. The variance depends on what day of the week Christmas falls, which determines the beginning of Advent. Because Advent must have four Sundays prior to Dec. 25, sometimes we lose a week of Ordinary Time so we can begin Advent on time. What is interesting here is that the readings for the 34th week in Ordinary Time are so important that they always read; in order to ensure this happens, the Church sometimes has to omit a week of Ordinary Time in order for the “liturgical math” to come out even. When we do have to make this adjustment, the Church omits a week that would follow the beginning of Ordinary Time after Pentecost.
For example, this year (2022), the Sunday before Ash Wednesday was the eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, and the day after Pentecost Sunday began the 10th week in Ordinary Time. We omit the ninth week in Ordinary Time this year so that the week leading up to the First Sunday of Advent will be the 34th week in Ordinary Time.
What’s the color of Ordinary Time, and to what does the season call us?
Like the other liturgical seasons that have specific colors that carry layers of meaning, Ordinary Time also has a specific color. The color is green because green represents life and growth. During the season of Ordinary Time, we celebrate the life of Christ and the growth of his followers, and the Church, who profess belief in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, Ordinary Time is a season that calls us to order our lives to Christ. In other words, this is a time to live as witnesses to what we believe, profess and celebrate at each and every liturgy. Just as we aren’t passive spectators at liturgy, but rather active participants. To be an active participant means to live every day as a disciple of Jesus.
Happy Ordinary Time.