In the Roman Catholic church, we follow an annual cycle of celebrations and seasons that make up the liturgical year. We are called throughout the year to give praise to God through our actions, our prayers and our love for one another. But there are times when we are particularly focused on certain events in the life of Christ and we want to concentrate on those. Each particular season is marked by various rites, actions, colours and prayers.
The liturgical year begins in late November or December with the season of Advent. It is to be a time of preparation, penitence and watchful waiting for the birth of the Christ Child. Churches are decorated in purple, hymns focus on waiting and we try not to start celebrating Christmas until December 25th. The Christmas season then unfolds for a few weeks, with a focus on celebration and joy. The church marks this season of joy with the colours white and gold and jubilant hymns announcing the great miracle of Christ’s birth. The season continues through the feast of Epiphany – the arrival of the Wise Men from the East – and ends on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, usually in about the middle of January. We then begin the season of Ordinary Time.
Ordinary Time lasts for 33 or 34 weeks of the liturgical year and is split into 2 parts, with Lent and the Easter season falling in the middle. This first period of Ordinary Time highlights the mission of Christ, revealing God’s presence and action through the Church. We use the colour green and focus on being faithful builders of God’s Kingdom on earth.
The Easter Cycle begins with the Season of Lent – another period of prayer and penitence marked by the colour purple and focused on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. All of this leads up to the Easter Triduum – the Three Days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter – which kicks off a full 50 days of celebration with white and gold decorations and jubilant songs of praise and wonder at the miracle of the Resurrection. The Feast of Pentecost ends the Easter cycle with a celebration recalling the outpouring of the Holy Spirit onto the Apostles to strengthen them for the tasks ahead.
This leads to the second season of Ordinary Time that lasts until the next Advent season begins; usually about 6 months. We are called on by the Church to continue our efforts to love and serve God in our daily lives. We hear about the ministry of Jesus and his apostles and in the final weeks of Ordinary Time, we begin to look ahead to the end of time and the second coming of Christ in judgment. With the Feast of Christ the King, the annual cycle comes to an end and we start a new year with the season of Advent again.
Why do we call it Ordinary time? When we hear the term ordinary, we tend to think of something plain, unimpressive, or unexciting. For that reason, many people hear Ordinary Time and they immediately think of the season as such. But Ordinary, in this context, comes from the Latin term ordinalis, meaning ‘numbered’ or ‘ruled’. So, the title simply refers to the ongoing and rhythmical nature of the season. Just like everyday life, there is a rhythm to the days and the weeks. Sure, we have holidays and special occasions that we look forward to that change the pace, just like we have holy days and feasts in the Church year. But those special occasions aren’t the whole picture, just like there is more to the life of Christ than what we celebrate in other liturgical seasons.
Green is the colour for the Season of Ordinary Time and it symbolizes new life and growth. It is a time for maturation and deepening of our understanding of how God is calling us to live out our lives in the service of one another for the glory of God. The miracles, the parables, the calling of the twelve, the sermon on the mount. . . we get all that and more during this season. Truly, there is much to celebrate.