There is nothing Ordinary about Ordinary Time - 11th January 2015

The Sunday after the Epiphany is celebrated as the feast of the Baptism of the Lord and is the last day of the liturgical season of Christmas Time.

Next week, then, Church’s liturgical calendar moves into that time of year known as Ordinary Time. When the liturgical calendar was reformed after the second Vatican Council, what had previously been called Sundays and weeks “after Epiphany” or “after Pentecost” were instead designated as Sundays and weeks “in Ordinary Time” and numbered from one to thirty-three or thirty-four. The word “ordinary” as used here relates to the word “ordinal”, as the Sundays and weeks are numbered in order.

There are two parts to Ordinary Time. The first - which we are now entering - falls between the end of the Christmas season and the start of Lent, and the second falls between the Monday after Pentecost and the Saturday before the first Sunday of Advent.

Ordinary Time is in fact the longest season of the Church year. It has its own liturgical colour – green – which points to our Christian hope and life. Ordinary time is the foundation on which the major fasting and feasting seasons of the liturgical year build. Ordinary Time is simply the way the Church - gathered to celebrate the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection - marks time, Sunday after Sunday.

As Christians, Sunday is our original feast day – the day to celebrate Christ’s resurrection and our participation in the paschal mystery. Over the centuries, however, appreciation of the importance of Sunday weakened and the practice of replacing Sundays with feasts of local saints and other celebrations began to take over. By the early 1900s the Sunday Mass texts were rarely used. The liturgical reforms of the second Vatican Council restored Sunday to its central place in the celebration of each week and the primacy of Ordinary Time as a whole.

Calling the period of the church year outside the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter “Ordinary Time” is rather unfortunate. The word “ordinary” in common usage means everyday, unexceptional, and uninteresting. In that sense, there is no such thing as “ordinary time” in Christian worship.

Parish liturgy groups are sometimes tempted to allow the Sundays of Ordinary Time to slip through the cracks. There is a tendency to spend much time and energy on preparing for the key liturgical seasons and then to take a rest from planning during Ordinary Time.

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, music that supports the rites, etc.

Ordinary Time enables us to witness to the presence of the risen Jesus in the community of faith, to devote ourselves to entering into the fullness of the mystery of Christ by exploring all its aspects, and to celebrate the presence of God in the ordinary patterns of human life.


Elizabeth Harrington