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After the ball is over: returning to the ordinary
Today, Sunday 25th June, the Church celebrates the first Sunday in Ordinary Time since 26th February. In the intervening four months, we have moved through the penitential season of Lent to the high point of the Easter ceremonies followed by the seven weeks of the Easter Season with its alleluias, sprinkling rites and burning Easter candle. The Easter season actually finished with the feast of Pentecost, but on the two Sundays since then we have had Trinity Sunday and the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, so the sense of special celebration has continued.
Rather than seeing this return to Ordinary Time as a going back to the ‘same old, same old’, we might consider it as the opportunity to resume familiar and settled patterns of liturgical prayer after the busyness of the last several months. It is a bit like getting back into normal rhythms of family life and household routines after the hectic rounds visitors and parties at Christmas time.
The name Ordinary Time that is used to describe that part of the church year outside the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter is rather an unfortunate term. The word 'ordinary' commonly means something that is unexceptional or uninteresting. However, the word 'ordinary' comes from the word ‘ordinal’ and is used here in the sense of the Sundays after the seasons of Christmas and Easter being counted.
There are two parts to Ordinary Time. The first falls between the end of the Christmas season and the start of Lent, and the second from the Monday after Pentecost to the Saturday before the first Sunday of Advent. In total there are thirty-three or thirty-four weeks of Ordinary Time in a year.
Previously, Sundays in Ordinary Time were called Sundays ‘after Epiphany’ or ‘after Pentecost’. This earlier method of naming Sundays outside the key seasons was altered because it focused too much on Pentecost and Epiphany and made this period of the year seem of no great importance.
The reformed liturgical calendar restored the central place of Sunday in the celebration of each week and the primacy of Ordinary Time as a whole. Ordinary time is the foundation of the liturgical year on which the major fasting and feasting seasons build. It is the time based around Sunday, the first holy day of all. It is best to think of Ordinary Time as one of the liturgical seasons – the longest season of the church year.
There is no such thing as 'ordinary time' in Christian worship. While music and decorations used during the high season of the Church year will be scaled down, the basic principles of good liturgy remain – scripture readings that are well prepared and proclaimed, large liturgical symbols that speak clearly of the meaning they carry, and music that supports the rites.
This is the time of the Church year that does not require any great energy in preparation or celebration – just the ordinary commitment by all the faithful to entering into the liturgy with ‘full, conscious and active participation’. Ordinary Time enables us to devote ourselves to exploring the mystery of Christ in all its aspects and to celebrate the presence of God in the ordinary patterns of human life.