With the Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday behind us, we enter the liturgical season called Ordinary Time. Or rather, we re-enter it. The first weeks of Ordinary time began just after the Epiphany of our Lord, bringing an end the to Christmas season. Then, after Pentecost (the end of the Easter Season) begins the long stretch of Ordinary Time that will last until Ash Wednesday. This is why, after Pentecost, we do not start with the first Monday of Ordinary Time but (this year) with the tenth (the first nine having been celebrated after Epiphany and before Ash Wednesday). Depending on which day of the week Christmas falls on, and on the date of Easter Sunday, there can be as many as thirty-four weeks in Ordinary Time, by far the longest of the liturgical seasons.
What's “Ordinary” About Ordinary Time?
The first definition of “ordinary” given in any dictionary will be something like “having no special or distinctive features” and will provide synonyms such as “uninteresting” and “commonplace”. That will hardly do in the liturgical context. However common place and uninteresting the priest may be, it would be blasphemy plain and simple to refer to what happens in the Mass as commonplace.
If you read beyond the first definition, you will see that “ordinary” is not so ordinary a word. We don't have space here to ponder the etymology and the more technical definitions. The short-hand explanation is that Ordinary Time marks those weeks outside the seasons that have a distinct name (Advent, Christmas, Lent, etc.). The majority of days in the Church's calendar are ordered simply by counting. In fact, a good many of the days in this longest of seasons do indeed have very special and distinctive themes. For example, the two Sundays in Ordinary Time immediately following Pentecost are Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi. And remember, all Sundays in all seasons are Solemnities and Holy Days of Obligation.
Ordinary Time, Ordinary Lives?
If there is a theme that holds together the Sundays and weekdays of Ordinary time, it would be living out the Christian life, responding to the Grace poured out upon the baptized, practicing the Christian faith. In this time the readings of Scripture and the prayers of the Mass urge us to follow Christ, to fight the spiritual battle against our sins, to pray ceaselessly, to give generously, to love sacrificially.
We may notice a sad irony here. This re-entry into Ordinary Time corresponds to the summer season—a season in which, for many, it is indeed commonplace and ordinary to neglect the most basic practices of a faithful Catholic Christian. It can be a time when leisure takes the form of spiritual forgetfulness, when “vacations” entail vacations from the Mass. That is one sort of “ordinary” life and it is tempting to sink comfortably into the evasion: “this is just the way normal people spend their summers.”
But there is a way of life that is ordinary in a truly extraordinary way — a life truly ordered by our identity as Catholic Christians.