Understanding Our Church

A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith

‘Ordinary time’ on liturgical calendar is anything but commonplace

Published: July 13, 2002

By Deacon Bo McAllister

This Sunday as we celebrate the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we find ourselves in the middle of summer break from schools and the time in our Church calendar identified as Ordinary Time.

Now I think everyone knows exactly what is meant by the term “summer break” even though parents and students may approach it from different points of view. But, what about the term “Ordinary Time” used in our Church calendar? What does that signify to you? What is meant by that term? Why is it called Ordinary Time?

Ordinary Time, which makes up more than one-half of the liturgical year, is often described in terms of what it is not: that part of the liturgical year not included in the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. Since we all recognize these four seasons as extraordinary and exciting times in our liturgical year, by analogy we deduce that this other time is aptly named “ordinary.” That is, we view it as unexciting, even mundane.

Actually though, this part of the liturgical calendar gets its name from the fact that in the original lectionary system the Sundays outside the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter were simply identified by ordinal numbers: First Sunday, Second Sunday, and so on to the 34th Sunday. Hence the designation of “Ordinary Time” is correct for these Sundays and the weeks associated with them.

So, even though the designation “Ordinary Time” was not meant to signify “ordinary” in the sense of unexciting or mundane, that is actually how many regard this part of the liturgical year. After all, except for the occasional holy day of obligation or solemnity, none of the liturgies during this period compare to those during the other seasons, especially Christmas and Easter. If we celebrated every Sunday in the same manner as Christmas or Easter, then every week’s celebration would become the same and each Sunday would become just like all the others — “ordinary.”

But, even though we do not celebrate these Sundays with the same pomp and circumstance as other times, it does not mean these Sundays in Ordinary Time are just ordinary. One of the primary purposes of our liturgical calendar is to help us remain focused on the fact that Jesus Christ, by his passion, has sanctified all of time. What we humans view as ordinary, God through the power of his divine grace has transformed into extraordinary. Ordinary Time is extraordinary because it reminds us that God is with us even in the day to day ordinariness of our lives.

God wants to be in our everyday lives, even the parts we view as ordinary and mundane. He is certainly with us in our big celebrations and in our times of sorrow and need. Those are the times we as individuals and as community invite him into our lives and our celebrations. He wants us to invite him into the “messiness” of our lives.

The Scriptures we hear proclaimed each Sunday during Ordinary Time point this out, if we but listen to them. This is the time of the year that we hear many of Jesus’ parables and many of the miracles and healings he performed during his ministry. Every three years, usually during late July and into August, we hear Jesus’ discourse on the bread of life from the Gospel of John. What better teaching on the true meaning of our Eucharist and of how Jesus wants to be a part of us and in our daily lives. This Sunday, listen closely to the parable of the sower and the seeds. Which of the seeds best describe your life and how you live out your faith?

Deacon Bo McAllister is chancellor for canonical affairs for the Diocese of Little Rock.