The Experience of Ordinary Time
July 18, 2007
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Ordinary Time. That sounds boring, doesn't it? Yet, nothing could be farther from the truth. While other seasons focus on Jesus’ birth, his passion and death, or his resurrection, in this rich season of Ordinary Time we delve deeply into Jesus’ life. We are challenged by his teachings and parables, rejoice in his miracles, and are humbled by his reprimands. Week after week, we walk in his footsteps with the disciples, following wherever he may go.
Despite its mundane sound, the name “Ordinary Time” does not mean the season is not “special” or lacks feasts. (In fact, there are several individual feasts during Ordinary Time.) Rather, the name is derived from “ordinal,” which means numbered. We begin numbering the Sundays of Ordinary Time after the Christmas season, we interrupt it for Lent and Easter, and we return to it after Pentecost.
The section of Ordinary Time between Christmas and Lent is brief – usually four to nine Sundays. It varies because the date for Easter is dependent on the moon, meaning we could celebrate this feast anywhere from mid-March to late April. An early Easter means this period of Ordinary Time is short; when Easter is late, it is longer.
Once Ordinary Time resumes after Pentecost, we settle in until November. In fact, we end the liturgical year only when we reach the 34th Sunday of Ordinary Time, the feast of Christ the King. This extended period of time can be one of the most fruitful seasons of our faith. Not only does it give us a concentrated dose of Jesus’ life and teachings, it also allows us to hear almost an entire gospel each year.
The Sunday Lectionary, or book of readings for Masses, is set up in a three-year cycle, with each year dedicated to one evangelist. In Cycle A we hear the Gospel of Matthew throughout Ordinary Time. As we traverse the five major sections of Jesus’ teachings, we are challenged to form community, to serve others, and to bring about the reign of God. We hear of growing conflicts between Christians and Jews, and about the paramount importance of a church sent on a mission. The centerpiece of Matthew’s gospel is Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah of the Jewish faith.
In the middle year (Cycle B) we hear Mark’s gospel, the first to be written and the shortest by far. Mark paints the disciples in a most unflattering light, as they constantly vie for position and rarely understand Jesus. Written during a time of persecution and suffering, Mark’s gospel is sometimes called a passion narrative with an extended introduction. Mark proposes that Jesus is the Christ not in spite of the cross but because of it, and therefore we too must be prepared to suffer.
Partly because of Mark’s brevity, there is a 5-week section from John’s gospel in Cycle B. This is the Bread of Life discourse, containing some of the most poetic and captivating imagery in the gospels. It is John’s explanation of Eucharist, as Jesus tells his followers they must eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life.
When we get to Cycle C we hear Luke, with his emphasis on prayer and obedience to God’s will. In Luke, Jesus breaks down codes of honor and shame by freely including marginalized people and women in his closest circles, even daring to eat with public sinners. We hear of lost coins, lost sheep, and lost sons as Jesus, the compassionate God, resolutely journeys to Jerusalem where he will confront those in power and ultimately die.
The richness of these gospels is reflected in the world around us, as we walk with Jesus through the budding life of spring, the leafiness of summer, and the crispness of autumn. The nuances of various shades of green, the liturgical color of Ordinary Time, bring depth and variety to the journey, as we allow the seeds of his teachings to take root in us, to flower and bloom, and to strengthen enough to last through the winter. Though we have heard many of these stories before, they maintain their power to change our hearts and transform our lives.
Don’t let the name fool you. Ordinary Time is, in fact, anything but ordinary. It is the opportunity to let the fullness of Jesus’ teachings soak into our beings, forming us into the disciples we are called to be.
Amy Florian is a liturgy and bereavement consultant and the executive director of The Stauros Center for Compassion and Healing in Chicago, Illinois. She is the author of The Mass: An Invitation to Enjoy It (Chicago: ACTA Publications, 2003) and Sign & Symbol, Word and Song: Creating and Celebrating Classroom Rituals (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2001).