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Why is Ordinary Time Divided into Two Parts?

As we enter into Ordinary Time, a listener Karen asks Father Dave about these weeks. “We just went over the liturgical calendar in RCIA, and I’m wondering why there are two ordinary time periods. It’s confusing to go from one holy period, to Ordinary Time, to another holy period in such a short time toward the early part of the year,” she says. “I can understand the big Ordinary Time period, but the few short weeks thrown in elsewhere seem like a letdown to get ready for the next time.”

Father Dave first notes that this structure of Ordinary Time originated following the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. “Prior to that, there was only one swath of Ordinary Time; there was an Epiphany season and that extended until Lent,” he says.

He offers a metaphor to help us understand our current calendar. “Ordinary time is the liquid that fills the container; it’s everything other than the seasons of the year,” Father Dave says. “The issue is the seasons that we celebrate, because of how they move throughout the calendar, are not spread out enough.” Some years, there are a few more weeks between the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Lent than there are in other years. This year, 2024, is a good example of a shorter time between holy periods.

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“Could the Church have done something where we have special seasons all the way from the first Sunday of Advent, through Pentecost, and then have the rest of the year be ‘ordinary,’ which is most of the summer and the early fall? Yes, we could have done that,” he continues, but says instead the Church had a different intention.

Father Dave says, “The seasons of the year are built up upon Christmas and Easter. Yes, there was a time when they blended into one another. I think that the church’s goal [when changing it] was to really say, ‘Well, are we stretching that out beyond what Christmas really is or beginning Lent before it should be just for the sake of not having a five week gap?’…Let’s have these seasons do what they’re supposed to do,