Hello, my name is Tim, and I’m a liturgical feasts addict. I’ve been sober for twenty-two weeks, if you don’t count the occasional special feasts relapses. I’m fiending for a nice binge feast, something I can get lost in for a spell. Advent is around the corner (if you count seven full weeks away as “around the corner.”) When Advent arrives, I can look forward to a good month and a half of Advent/Christmas before I get sober (and somber) again for a bit. Then comes the highlight of my (and the Church’s) year: Lent and Easter. But for now, I’m awash in a sea of green liturgical garb. If everything is green, why do I feel so blue?
Welcome to the twenty-eighth week of Ordinary Time. For those of you keeping score at home, twenty-two of those weeks have been consecutive. And there’s more to come. September and October are particularly “ordinary” months, liturgically speaking. Although scripturally speaking, there’s a lot to be gleaned from Ordinary Time, I tend to get the Ordinary Time blues. What’s a Catholic to do?
What is Ordinary Time?
Good question! Throughout the year, the Church celebrates feasts (special holy days of significance) to commemorate saints, mysteries, and specific aspects of the life of Christ. Some of these feasts are super-sized, and we celebrate them over the course of many days or weeks. The big four are:
- Advent (22-28 days long, depending on the year);
- Christmas (12-40 days long, depending on who you ask);
- Lent (40 days long; 46 days if you are mistakenly counting Sundays); and
- Easter (A whopping 50 days!)
Outside of periodic feast days and these four extended feasts (feast weeks, if you will), everything else is considered in the Church as “Ordinary Time.” It’s a shame that we translate this period of time from the Latin “tempus per annum” (which literally means “time through the year”) into English as “Ordinary Time.” The word “ordinary” in English has subtle shades of meaning: plain, insignificant, unremarkable. For some of us (myself included), “Ordinary Time” often seems to take on these characteristics. However, in thinking of Ordinary Time in this way, we do a disservice to ourselves, and ultimately, to everyone around us.
What’s So Special About Ordinary Time?
Fair question. Without Ordinary Time, our focus becomes myopic. Without question, Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection are the foundation of our faith. Without these elements, he is diminished to a mere prophet. But to focus exclusively on these events is to sacrifice all that can be appreciated and celebrated from his earthly life and ministry. We would reduce the gospels to a handful of pages that jump from Christ’s birth to his passion. We would lose the wedding feast at Cana. We would skip right past the beatitudes. We’d lose all the parables. In other words, we would know why we live, and why we die, but we would lose out on the “how are we to live?” part of our faith.
In order to get a sense of the importance of Ordinary Time in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we must read between the lines a little bit. Yes, we celebrate the feasts to commemorate the events of Christ’s life that celebrate the salvific nature of Christ, but to focus exclusively on these feasts (to the exclusion of the remainder of the gospel message) is to only accept a part of the whole. “In the course of the year,” the Catechism says, “[the Church] unfolds the whole mystery of Christ” (CCC 1163).
The liturgical color we associate with Ordinary Time is green. This is no accident. The green vestments worn by the clergy during the Masses of Ordinary Time are, like all other liturgical color choices throughout the calendar year, symbolic. By wearing green vestments, we are reminded of the hope and anticipation of the history of salvation that we have become a part of. Another, perhaps more tangible, reminder is that green is often the color we associate with a thriving life: trees, grass, and the “green pastures” of Psalm 23. Green symbolizes the “vitality of the life of faith” (Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices, p. 138).
How to Spend Ordinary Time
With other liturgical seasons, we know exactly what to do and how to act – spiritually and secularly. During Lent we fast. At Easter, we celebrate the resurrection, and usually break our fasts hard and with zeal. During Advent, there’s the advent wreaths and calendars. At Christmas, well, you get the idea. So how do we spend the longest liturgical “season,” Ordinary Time?
Here are some ideas of how to spend your Ordinary Time that will bring you closer to your faith, ensuring that you remain engaged spiritually throughout the year, and not just at the holidays (i.e., holy days).
- Try praying the luminous mysteries of the rosary. Prior to the papacy of Blessed Pope John Paul II, the rosary focused only on the events in Christ’s life that we celebrate during the big four liturgical seasons. But with the addition of the luminous mysteries, we have an excellent way to meditate on Christ’s ministry.
- If you’re brave, give the Liturgy of the Hours a try. According to the Catechism, “this celebration, faithful to the apostolic exhortations to ‘pray constantly,’ is ‘so devised that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praise of God.’ In this ‘public prayer of the Church,’ the faithful (clergy, religious, and lay people) exercise the royal priesthood of the baptized” (CCC 1174). In fact, despite its portrayal in the movies as being solely of the purview of the clergy and consecrated religious, the Liturgy of the Hours “is intended to become the prayer of the whole People of God” (CCC 1175). For the adventurous, you may purchase a set of the books, and pray it that way. (I also recommend getting a detailed instruction book such as The Divine Office for Dodos.) If it seems too complicated, fear not, there’s an app for that. Try Divine Office or Universalis. Both apps do the work of finding the right prayers for the right day for you, all that’s left for you to do is to participate in this “public prayer of the Church.”
- Spend some time with Scripture. This can take the form of Bible reading plans (where there’s also an app for that), simply spending time with your Bible at your own pace, or finding some other helpful books that focus on various parts of the Bible. For the latter, I recommend this book if you’d like to focus on the Psalms, or any of the books by Garry Wills that start with the word “What” and end with the word “Meant.” (Here are links to a couple of them: here, here, and here.) You can also get a copy of the liturgical calendar put out by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for free here, and focus your daily readings on the selected readings for each day’s Mass.
- Another great way to spend Ordinary Time is to learn more about your faith by immersing yourself in Church history and apologetics. Head on over to the Vatican website and read apostolic letters, encyclicals, or even the entire Catechism. Take a free course (and get a free book) by enrolling at the Catholic Home Study Service website. There you can pick whatever topic interests you the most, and when you’ve finished, pick another course (and get another free book!). Get more information on the history of the Church with such books as A Concise History of the Catholic Church, or Justo Gonzalez’s remarkable two-book series on The Story of Christianity. Or, if you’re a fan of biographies, why not read about the lives of some of the great women and men in the Church’s history. There are plenty of biographies and autobiographies to fill up your entire Ordinary Time reading schedule.
- Not into reading? Spend some time learning about the lives of the saints through film. In this article, I’ve provided you with my “top ten” list.
- Familiarize yourself with some of the more exotic aspects of our faith. Learn about sacramentals, chaplets, apparitions, relics, incorruptibility, or cultural celebrations from a culture other than your own. For this last idea, now is the perfect time to start planning your altar for Dia de los Muertos.
- Last, but certainly not least, live your faith. Spend Ordinary Time performing the corporal works of mercy. Go visit prisoners and the sick, feed the hungry, or clean out your closet and donate clothes to help those without. Become a peacemaker. Work for justice. Get busy actually being a Christian Catholic.
As you can see, there’s plenty to be done, learned, and lived during Ordinary Time. Shake off the Ordinary Time blues, and get started. With only seven weeks left, I know that I’ve got a lot to do! What about you? How do you plan on using your Ordinary Time to deepen your spiritual life?