Because Most Time is Ordinary

For those who pray the Liturgy of the Hours in the full four-volume text published after Vatican II, today is change day, from Volume III (Ordinary Time, Weeks 1–17) to Volume IV (Weeks 18–34). Putting away one volume, which has curled comfortably to conform to the shape of my hand over the past four months, and bringing out the next is like a change of season. It reminds me—because it’s early Sunday morning, and I’m free-associating here—of St. Patrick’s Day in New England. Time to put away the tools of winter and bring out the deck chairs. “What comes out on St. Patrick’s Day?” “Paddy O’Furniture.”

When I first started praying the Liturgy of the Hours, it was with the white-hot fervor of the convert. Golly, some days early in 2008, in the weeks after my set arrived from (where else?) Amazon, I even prayed the three minor hours and sang a few hymns. Now, I almost always do the Office of Readings at the beginning of the day, but after that it’s anybody’s guess: Even on good days, I may only squeeze in Evening Prayer and, before bed, Night Prayer.

Still, change days always remind me of the liturgical calendar, and this change day is especially interesting to me as someone who is finally settling into the thought, “I am a Catholic.” I looked it up and discovered, to my surprise, that Ordinary Time is a new term, dating from 1969, post–VC II. My unfailing source of all things true—not Scripture, not the Church, I’m talking Wikipedia—says that

The term Ordinary Time was first used with the liturgical reforms which followed the Second Vatican Council. The reformed liturgical calendar took effect on the first Sunday of Advent in 1969. Before this there were two distinct seasons known as the season after Epiphany and the season after Pentecost. 

I had assumed that for two thousand years the Catholic Church (unlike the Protestant denominations of my early years) had embraced this lovely word Ordinary. It is a word both humble and powerful. Ordinary = everyday, not particularly important. Yet also ordinary = order, something that keeps my life in order, aligned with God’s law and the teachings of the Church. I guess that will have to remain my own private meaning.

Whatever its source, the term Ordinary Time does remind me how lucky I am to be a Catholic. As a boy in the Congregational and then Episcopal Churches, I loved Advent (what child doesn’t?) and I developed an imprecise but uncanny feeling about Lent, especially Holy Week. But the rest of the year was fuzzy and liturgically adrift. I know the Episcopal Church retains the rudiments of the liturgical calendar, but I was never educated in its structure and so wandered through the year from one Christmas to the next without a map, much as even we Catholics wander through the week, from the obligation of one Mass to the next.

What I love about the Catholic Church is that it calls to me every day, and at each hour of every day. Whether I pull Volume 4 from my briefcase to read the Noon hour or not, I know that it’s in there calling to me. Even that is a comfort.

  • Ryan Ellis

    I hate to burst your bubble, but not only was "Ordinary Time" non-existent before 1969, but your love of the word "ordinary" is based on a bad translation.The Latin term for this period is "tempus per annum," or "time through the year." "Ordinary Time" is an attempt to de-clunkify that Latin.Also, the hymns you sing are probably not those of the Latin typical edition, as the editors inserted non-Catholic choices in the LOTH set in the 1970s. If you want to learn more about the fascinating LOTH/Roman Breviary topic, let me know.

  • Webster Bull

    Ryan,Thank you. Like most things on this blog, this post is subjective, my understanding, and certainly not my teaching. This is what "ordinary" means to me, not what the Church says it is.My priest, Father Barnes, has been very helpful in teaching me the few things I know about the Liturgy of the Hours.

  • cathyf

    When I was last in a parish with a liturgy committee, the director of music and liturgy told liturgy committee and choir that our job was to keep time in the liturgical year. Now that I am at a place that doesn't do that very well, I recognize how important it is. I also pray the LOTH (usually just lauds and compline) and find it's invaluable at keeping me moving in time with the Church.

  • Connie Rossini

    Regarding Ryan's comment, Fr. Z once enlightened me through an article of his on this subject. Think of "Ordinary" in terms of "ordinal"–the weeks that we number, as in "the 18th week in Ordinary Time." I always get excited this week, when we switch books in the 4-volume version of the LOTH. Are we that far along already? The next book switch will be for Advent. I find praying Morning and Evening Prayer really grounds my day in the Liturgy. It sanctifies every day, making these weeks between Pentecost and Advent anything but "ordinary."

  • EPG

    Connie's understanding matches my own regarding the origins of the word "ordinary" in this context.Also, whatever the history of the term in North American Catholic circles, the term has long enjoyed wide currency in the Epispcopal/Anglican community. My experience probably was different from yours, Webster, but the Episcopal congregations I grew up in fostered substantial awareness of the church calendar. We were reminded, every year, of the start of the new liturgical year with Advent. Christmas was in fact a season, not just a day. And then there was the marking of the numbered Sundays after Epiphany, followed by the seasons of Lent and Easter. Then Pentecost, and the numbering of Sundays after Pentecost. The hymnal had sections of hymns appropriate to each season, the colors of the vestments and of the cloths on the altar changed — mere Proddys we were not! And then there was this strange, semi-archaic term: "Ordinary time" — which was, as you correctly point out, not actually so very ordinary after all.