Today marks the end of “Ordinary Time” in the Christian calendar. The beginning of the Christian calendar year begins this Sunday for many churches. Tomorrow marks the first Sunday in Advent. We will discuss the beginning of the Christian calendar tomorrow. Today, let’s focus on the significance of the last day of “Ordinary Time.”
First, a word about the occasion(s) of Ordinary Time. There are two periods in the Christian calendar that comprise Ordinary Time. For Roman Catholics, the first period follows Epiphany Sunday and ends on the day preceding Ash Wednesday. The second period begins on the Monday following Pentecost and ends on the day preceding Advent. Christmas Time (which begins tomorrow with the onset of Advent) and Easter Time constitute Sacred Time.
One Roman Catholic site claims the following regarding Sacred Time and Ordinary Time:
Christmas Time and Easter Time highlight the central mysteries of the Paschal Mystery, namely, the incarnation, death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Sundays and weeks of Ordinary Time, on the other hand, take us through the life of Christ. This is the time of conversion. This is living the life of Christ.
Ordinary Time is a time for growth and maturation, a time in which the mystery of Christ is called to penetrate ever more deeply into history until all things are finally caught up in Christ. The goal, toward which all of history is directed, is represented by the final Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (Refer here to my blog post last Sunday on this theme).
Ordinary Time is not ordinary, or unimportant. The word “ordinary” simply signifies that the days and weeks under “Ordinary Time” are numbered. It comes from the word “ordinals,” which stems from the Latin word ordinalis—numbers in a series. This Latin word’s root is ordo, which is the source of our word for “order.” Depending on the year, there are either thirty-three or thirty-four Sundays in Ordinary Time in the Christian calendar.
Another reflection that addresses the meaning and significance of Ordinary Time claims that “the numbered weeks of Ordinary Time, in fact, represent the ordered life of the Church—the period in which we live our lives neither in feasting (as in the Christmas and Easter seasons) or in more severe penance (as in Advent and Lent), but in watchfulness and expectation of the Second Coming of Christ.” Still, another source claims that, “Ordinary Time is used to focus on various aspects of the Faith, especially the mission of the church in the world.” This perspective, which concerns the church calendar, is a throw-back to an earlier era in history. Since the rise of modernity, the church calendar has been gradually eclipsed by the secular calendar.
Some Christians might ask: What difference does it make whether or not we celebrate the church calendar as believers? One item of importance concerns transcendent value and life ordered by way of permanence rather than transcience. Here I call to mind Charles Taylor’s reflections. Taylor claims that in the modern period time is completely secular. As secular, it is ordinary in the sense we often use the word. There is nothing of lasting significance, or transcendent value:
“Secular” time is what to us is ordinary time, indeed, to us its just time, period. One thing happens after another, and when something is past, its past. … Now higher times gather and re-order secular time. … [For example] Good Friday 1998 is closer in a way to the original day of the Crucifixion than mid-summer’s day 1997. … [T]he Church, in its liturgical year, remembers and re-enacts what happened in illo tempore when Christ was on earth. Which is why this year’s Good Friday can be closer to the Crucifixion than last year’s mid-summer day. And the Crucifixion itself, since Christ’s action/passion here participates in God’s eternity, is closer to all times than they in secular terms are to each other. … A time which has fallen away from the eternal paradigm of order will exhibit more disorder. A time-place which is closer to God’s eternity will be more gathered. At the pilgrimage center on the saint’s feast day, it is the time itself which is hallowed. When Hamlet says that “the times are out of joint”, we could take this remark literally … “Out of joint” means things don’t fit together in proper fashion, as they do in times which are closer to the ordering paradigms of eternity. See Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), pages 55-58.
For those who do view life as transient, there is nothing to orient us, or give us ongoing value. Everything is in flux, as with Heraclitus’ river. When time loses all transcendent meaning or value, we go from paycheck to paycheck, and from one Christmas gift to another. There is no lasting significance to Christmas then, as it is simply the busiest shopping season every year.
No wonder the Christmas shopping season is creeping backward, preceding even Thanksgiving in the American calendar. In fact, we might as well start the Christmas season earlier in the year, perhaps at the beginning of autumn, sometime during the summer, or perhaps even at the outset of spring. There is no rhyme or reason as to when we begin the Christmas festivities other than what the market dictates. The market imposes value and prizes “holy days” as long as they are profitable. In fact, a day is holy only so long as it remains profitable.
For those, however, who wait expectantly for the Lord’s return, as the church did last Sunday and throughout Ordinary Time, we don’t have to be out of joint and succumb to devaluing every day as ultimately transient, passing away, and meaningless. Jesus brings lasting value to every day, and to every season. He also brings lasting value to every life no matter how much the market deems us worthy of merit.