I understand what the seasons of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter mean. However, why do we refer to the rest of the liturgical year as Ordinary Time?
You seem to suggest that you question the name of this season. If so, you are not alone. Many people are confused by the name.
The term “ordinary time” is a less than happy translation of the Latin tempus ordinarium since it seems to suggest that this time is common or unremarkable. A better translation would be “ordered time” or “measured time” or even “counted time.” By contrast to the other liturgical seasons, the name of this season says nothing about the meaning or importance of the season. It merely indicates that during Ordinary Time we do not progress through one season into the next, but rather we move from one counted Sunday to another in an ordered fashion. From a theological point of view one could describe Ordinary Time as time ordered by Christian prayer for Christian living. It is the time during which we celebrate and live the great and salvific mystery of God’s love for us as this was manifested in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ from one Sunday to the next.
If you are not interested in the minute details of the calculation of Ordinary Time, I advise you to stop here and move on.
Ordinary Time comprises mostly thirty-three and sometimes thirty-four weeks. A year has thirty-four Sundays when the dominical letter of the year is A or G. The dominical letter (from the Latin dies dominica) is the letter a Sunday has when marking the days with the letters A–G starting on January 1. For instance, in 2014, since January 1 (day A) fell on a Wednesday the first Sunday in January is January 5 (day E), which makes the dominical letter for 2014 the letter E. This means that all days carrying the letter E will be Sundays in 2014. In the year 2017 January 1 (day A) falls on a Sunday, thus the dominical letter is A. Therefore, 2017 will have thirty-four weeks in Ordinary Time rather than thirty-three. Leap years get two letters, one letter starting on 1-1 and another starting on 2-29. If there is an A or a G in this combination there will be thirty-four weeks in Ordinary Time that year.
Have I lost you yet?
There are two segments of Ordinary Time during the course of the year. Between the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Lent we have four to nine weeks of Ordinary Time depending on when Lent begins. These weeks are counted forward so that the week following the last Sunday of the Christmas season is the first week of Ordinary Time. The last week of Ordinary Time in this winter segment is only a partial week because Ash Wednesday inaugurates Lent. The days following Ash Wednesday are known as Thursday, Friday, and Saturday after Ash Wednesday. The first week of Lent begins on the Sunday following Ash Wednesday.
The week after Pentecost inaugurates the second segment of Ordinary Time, which ends on Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent. This segment is numbered backward from the last Sunday in Ordinary Time, also known as Christ the King, which is always the Thirty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. As a result, the first segment of Ordinary Time may end with the fifth week in Ordinary Time while the second segment of Ordinary Time, which starts the day after Pentecost, may begin with the seventh week in Ordinary Time, thus skipping a week. Depending on the date of Easter and thus of Pentecost this second segment of Ordinary Time can comprise between twenty-four and twenty-eight Sundays.
Thus you can see, there is nothing ordinary about Ordinary Time, either in its content or in its calculation. If you made it to this point, you surely deserve a liturgical gold star.
© 2015 Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota. Excerpted from What’s the Smoke For? And Other Burning Questions about the Liturgy by Johan van Parys © 2014 Order of Saint Benedict, published by Liturgical Press, www.litpress.org. Used by permission.
"What's The Smoke For" is a page that will explain Catholic Customs, Liturgy, Diversity and Inclusivity, Architecture and Art, Liturgical Furniture and Objects, Liturgical Posture’s and Gestures, Liturgical Praxis, Liturgical Prayers and Devotions, Liturgical Theology, Liturgical Vesture and the Liturgical Year. We hope it will make understanding the Catholic faith easier.
Check back each week for a new topic.
375 Harrison Blvd Ogden, UT 84404