Ordinary Time, Extraordinary Possibilities

If I was to ask anyone at my school what season of the year it is, I’d hear the same loud, joyful response: “It’s summer!” Students, faculty, and staff alike long for a break from the intensity of the school year’s demands, the opportunity to spend more time with friends and family, and the warm sunshine throughout the long days and firefly decorated evenings. But as Catholics, we know that it’s more than just summertime. It’s also the season of “Ordinary Time” in the liturgical year.

Ordinary Time for the Church is actually one season that has two parts. The first part runs from the day after we celebrate Jesus’ Baptism to the day before Ash Wednesday. The second part, the time period we are celebrating now, runs from the day after Pentecost until the day before the first Sunday of Advent. And despite all the wonderful things about the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter, I have to say that Ordinary Time is my favorite of all.

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One thing I love about it is how sneaky and clever it is. The term itself can be misleading. Usually, we think something is ordinary if it’s dull, mundane, not terribly special. Unfortunately, we often apply this faulty logic to the Church calendar by reasoning that since this season doesn’t commemorate the big-time events like Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, then it must be “ordinary” in the sense that it’s a time when we just need to patiently wait for the good stuff.

Boy, did we get that wrong! The term ordinary, in the Church sense, refers to following a numbered sequence, not a time that’s uninteresting or non-descript. The Latin word ordinalis means items in a series. Ordinal numbers are the numerals we use to organize things in a sequence: first, second, third. So, Ordinary Time in the Church year doesn’t mean the ho-hum weeks in between the exciting events of our faith. Instead, it’s the time when we celebrate the ordered passage of time. It’s when we can deepen our faith in the midst of everyday life. At moments when we experience chaos and confusion, life at its essence is somehow still rooted in meaning and order and wisdom, even if we don’t completely get it. Put another way, it’s when we remember that the Incarnation wasn’t just something that happened between God the Father and Jesus of Nazareth more than 2,000 years ago; it’s the continual invitation to share in God’s love and creativity day after day, week after week, season after season.

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One way that this “ordered passage of time” has deepened my own faith is through the Gospel readings each Sunday. During Ordinary Time, they focus on the heart and soul of Jesus’ message. We hear him describe the Kingdom of God in concrete terms that people of his time would understand — a mustard seed, some yeast — which invites me to examine my own images of God. We see him heal countless people from all walks of life, which calls me to examine those relationships in my own life that need healing. We watch him perform incredible miracles, which encourages me to find the parts of myself in need of transformation. In this way, Jesus’ day-to-day life during his ministry affects my own everyday experiences.

And I have to admit that my favorite Masses are those during Ordinary Time when the focus is simply on the Word and the Eucharist — no extra pomp and circumstance. For me, truth is often clearest in its simplest forms.

It’s no accident that the longest period of Ordinary Time occurs during the summer months, which are a time of energy, renewal, and growth. The green liturgical vestments worn by priests during this time echo the vibrant green bursting forth in all of nature. Without a doubt, Ordinary Time is really quite extraordinary.