Ordinary Time in the Catholic Liturgical Year
While the word “ordinary” in popular usage is used to describe things that are nondescript or dull, ordinary rather means customary, regular, and orderly. Ordinary Time may also be called Ordinal Time, which means numbered time. Ordinal comes from the Latin “ordinalis,” which is a word meaning “showing order, denoting an order of succession.” Hence, Ordinary Time is the standard, orderly, counted time outside of the other liturgical seasons. There is nothing “dull” about Ordinary Time!
What is Ordinary Time?
Ordinary time is the longest liturgical season in the Catholic Church, encompassing either 33 or 34 weeks each year. Because other liturgical seasons begin or end with movable feasts, the length of Ordinary time can vary slightly; however, 33 weeks is the more common length. The weeks are numbered, e.g., the first Sunday of Ordinary Time, the second Sunday of Ordinary Time, and so on.
Ordinary time is technically one liturgical season, though it is divided into two periods. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, when the term “Ordinary Time” was formally established, the two time periods were merely referred to as “the Season after Epiphany” and “the Season after Pentecost.”
The liturgical color of Ordinary Time is green; however, other appropriate colors are worn on particular feast days.
Season after Epiphany or Ordinary Time after the Baptism
The period of Ordinary Time used to be referred to as the Season after Epiphany. That title and the sometimes-used titles “Season after the Baptism” or “Ordinary Time after the Baptism” are still useful in identifying the time period.
While the Epiphany and the Baptism are celebrated on separate days, the two descriptions (after Epiphany and after the Baptism) are not contradictory. In the modern Roman rite, Epiphany is celebrated on the first Sunday after January 1 and the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated the following Sunday. Prior to Vatican II, Epiphany was celebrated January 6, whether a Sunday or a weekday, and the Baptism was celebrated on the Octave of the Epiphany, which would be January 13. Where the title “Season after Epiphany” was used, the phrase was inclusive of the Octave of the Epiphany - January 13 - therefore indicating that Ordinary time started the day after the Baptism was celebrated.
This period of Ordinary Time lasts until the day before Ash Wednesday, which is Shrove Tuesday. This portion of Ordinary Time focuses on the childhood of Jesus and then on the public ministry of Christ.
Season after Pentecost or Ordinary Time after Pentecost
The second portion of Ordinary Time begins after Pentecost and is much longer than the first. This second period of Ordinary Time lasts from the day after Pentecost through the final day before Advent. Because this portion of Ordinary Time occurs after the celebrations of Jesus’s Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension, this segment of Ordinary Time is focused on the Age of the Church. The Age of the Church is the age we live in now, the time that exists between the Age of the Apostles and the second and last coming of Christ for which we are preparing. This period of Ordinary Time is also focused on Christ’s reign as King of kings; the Feast of Christ the King caps off the season of Ordinary Time as the final Sunday before Advent begins.