As of midnight last night which ended the liturgical day of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Christmas season has official come to an end and we moved into the First Week of Ordinary Time for the year of Our Lord two-thousand and twenty-one (technically the Baptism of the Lord counts as the First Sunday of Ordinary Time but we don’t need to get too technical here).
Many catholic churches, my own local one included, do not use Ordinary Time as part of their liturgical calendar (which makes following along each week with the Liturgy of the Hours super fun and confusing at times). The period between Christmas and the start of Lent is called Epiphany-tide and includes Sundays that count away from Epiphany. This is based on the older liturgical calendar of the Roman Church where Easter and Epiphany were the two major festivals that all of time were rendered through. If you’ve ever seen “Fifth Sunday after Epiphany” vice the “Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time” than you’ve probably stepped into a church that uses the old calendar. But for most catholic churches, the readings and responses all remain the same whether you are using one way of counting or another thanks to the Revised Common Lectionary. And this is important because my beef with people who insist in keeping Epiphany-tide and poo-poo Ordinary Time I think overlook the fact that the readings and responses are not connected in such a scheme.
So why have Ordinary Time? Why not use the traditional calendar and still have a period of Epiphany. Well, this is a bit of a controversial topic. Many people take issue with the innovation of a new calendar for the liturgy but this is not really warranted because changes were made in the past and no doubt will be made in the future. There is no set liturgical calendar. I think a lot of the angst around Ordinary Time is also based on misconception. Many English speaking people think it means the time is ordinary or plain and marks a time outside of feasts and celebrations. I’ve even read before (from learned people) that the colour green was picked precisely because green is a typical boring colour in nature. This is simply not true. Nor is calling the Sundays “X after Epiphany” an extension of the celebration of Christmas because the readings at Mass and the antiphons used in the Liturgy of the Hours during this period do not directly reflect anything about the celebration of Epiphany (aside from being about God and Jesus which is a very loose approach). It is actually kind of misleading to read that the Sunday has something to do with Epiphany when it actually doesn’t. And about the liturgical colour? Green is in fact the colour of ordinary time and it was always the colour of ferial days within the church. Some people say that because of Vatican II we have more green because of Ordinary Time, again this is simply not true, we have more green because many feast days of Saints that used to replace the Sunday worship were suppressed or moved before Vatican II even started and this meant actually celebrating Sunday as Sunday each week as opposed to it giving way to the celebration of Saints. This actually makes a lot of sense because Sunday ought to be considered a Feast of the Lord in some sense, and indeed traditionally was considered the most important liturgical day of the week. Going back to wearing more green signalled a return of Sunday to its proper place within the hierarchy of liturgical celebration in the periods between major seasons.
Ordinary in the this sense means ordinal, which is the ordering of numbers (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc) and is the root of the word order. Ordinary Time is thus the time when we count the Sundays ordinally (accurate) and we live our lives in an ordered states governed by the supremacy of Christ (accurate). With this understanding Ordinary Time makes sense. It also links up with what is happening in the world, in time itself, which is important for any liturgical calendar that first and foremost exists within the same time, indeed sanctifies said time. After Christmas, we put away our decorations and we go back to the ho-hum of life. There are bills to be paid, semesters to start and friends to see. And this again makes Ordinary Time fitting because it is in these everyday encounters that we in fact order our own lives with Christ as the center. It is a time of order and process and right worship and living.
Welcome to the First Week of Ordinary Time 2021.
In your love, Lord,Collect (Office of Readings), Monday of the First Week of Ordinary Time
answer our humble prayer:
give us the grace to see what we have to do
and the strength to do it.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.