Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ordinary Time - Reflections

As a newcomer to the liturgical year the concept of “ordinary time” seemed peculiar. The Pocket Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship defines it this way:

“In the RC [Roman Catholic Church] those parts of the liturgical year not part of Advent, the Christmas season, Lent or Eastertide; in other words, usually between Epiphany (or the Baptism of Our Lord) and Ash Wednesday, and the long period from the day after Pentecost Sunday to the beginning of Advent. The name derives from the ordinal numbering of the Sundays and their respective weeks. Many other denominations also recognize this time, the Sundays often termed, for example, ‘the n Sunday after Pentecost’ or ‘Proper n.’” Color: green. (p. 95)
Joan Chittister in her book The Liturgical Year devotes two chapters to Ordinary Time: one on the “Wisdom of Enoughness” and the second on the “Wisdom of Routine.” These times are far from ordinary as we usually understand what ordinary signifies. The liturgical year focuses on two major events: the birth of Jesus and his resurrection. Chittister says that Ordinary time affords us the opportunity to “rest in contemplation of those centers of the faith that are the lodestones of our souls. . . In this period that is between the two poles of the life of Jesus, we get to pause awhile. To take it all in. To make the connection between that life, that reality, and our own. They give us time to contemplate the intersection between the life of Jesus and our own.” (96-97) Later she says “It is the time when the implications of Easter and Christmas become most clear to us all. It is decision time: will we take Easter and Christmas seriously or not?” (184) Furthermore, “The Sundays of Ordinary Time are also an education in the faith. The readings of every liturgy for weeks take us piece by piece through the reading of Scripture. They root us in the lives of the chosen people in the Hebrew Testament and, at the same time, they steep us in the unfolding of the Christian Testament.” (185)

She concludes, “There is nothing ordinary about Ordinary Time at all. It makes daliness, stability, fidelity, and constancy the marks of what it takes for Christians to be ‘Christian’ the rest of the year.” (188)

I like this because I think it provides a net for us to fall in after the season of Christmas. We can’t just walk away from Christmas as if it has no bearing on the rest of our lives other than to consider how to pay off the credit card debt. The Liturgical year won’t permit that. We may pack up (or throw away) the tree and the wreath and toss the torn Christmas wrap but the Liturgical Year won’t allow us to pack Jesus away till next year.

I leave you with this prayer as found in the Ancient Christian Devotional from the Leonine Sacramentary:

"Be present, O Lord, to our prayers, and protect us day by day as well as by night, that in all successive changes of time we may ever be strengthened by Thine unchangeableness; through Jesus Christ our Lord." (p. 41)


Andrew said...

Thank you for these reflections, Louis.

In any of your reading so far have you seen anything that would imply Ordinary Time is a time when Christians focus on different elements of Scripture, outside of the story of Christ's life?
(I.e. is it appropriate for someone to say, "During Ordinary Time we will study the life of Paul," or "During Ordinary Time I will focus my thoughts and prayer on our Church's missionaries" etc. etc.)

I hope those examples don't seem glib. I list them because I've heard of others who see ordinary time as a time to "study whatever you want" and so it is filled with various topics.

Is that an accurate understanding? It wouldn't seem so based on your quotes from Joan Chittister.

- AR

Louis said...


You raise an interesting point and they are by no means glib. My reading on the topic is very limited. Most of what I've read on the topic has tried to help clarify what is meant by "ordinary". I wouldn't think that the focus has to stay exclusively on the life of Christ. Obviously a study of Paul would enhance our understanding of living the Christian life. As I continue my reading I will keep your question in mind.

Andrew said...

Thanks, Louis. I'll let you know if I discover anything too.

Perhaps this is pedantic (or perhaps it just demonstrates how little I know) but in observing the "Christian Year" are we focusing 100% on the life of Christ? (I.e. celebrating his life, death, resurrection, hope for his second coming, etc.) Or is there room for focus on other topics that help us grow spiritually - even more academic topics?

Those are the questions that lead to my question about ordinary time.