Ordinary Time

I am writing this on the Sunday still called Pentecost, on the very eve of “Ordinary Time.” It is the great gift of post-Vatican II — the desert that howls before us. I have been a Catholic now for six years, four months, and 23 days, and am still fumbling through what used to be called the Divine Office.

That was one of my first liturgical questions. What is “Ordinary Time”? I’m sure there is an answer, just as I hope that I will never understand it.

You see, I was an Anglican before, and therefore rather spoiled. I got used to this very Catholic calendar, and an Anglican Breviary that put into clear and elegant English “The Divine Office according to the general usages of the Western Church.” There was no “Ordinary Time” in it; only the Ordinary of the Mass. The whole year was consecrated. No time off for good behavior, or anything like that.

Today, May 24, 2010, is “Monday of Week 8 of the Year,” so far as I can make out (Psalm week 4). That would make the last one Ordinary Week 7, right? Wrong. That was Monday of the seventh week of Eastertide — another thing entirely.

In fact, I’m trying to figure out what happened to the seventh “ordinary” week. Maybe some reader can find it for me. I seem to remember we were in Ordinary Week 6 when Ash Wednesday suddenly intervened. Did someone lose count, or did I?

“Morning prayer,” “mid-morning prayer,” “midday prayer,” “afternoon prayer” . . . and so on. It is all of a piece with the glib responses; the kindergarten atmosphere in which it is assumed that Catholics are too stupid to understand Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers. Instead of raising the people to God, we will lower God to the people on our crankshaft apparatus. We will make Him ordinary; swivel the priest around. For that is what was done.

Next week will be the ninth ordinary one. (I’m fairly sure of this because I just checked with Universalis.) And from experience I know that we have a lot of ordinary weeks coming. They may seem to go on to eternity, but in my “Liturgy of the Hours” they cut out after week 34. In other words, there are 34 weeks in the year (if we’re lucky), plus “specials.” Not unlike shopping.

Now, I don’t want to lose my reader. So I will try to resist listing the innumerable other things that curl my ears as I inch through the “postmodern” liturgical year. Little things, mostly. But the devil is in the details.

Example: The other day, I intentionally wrote, in my very secular newspaper column, that Pentecost fell on the seventh Sunday “after” Easter. It is a concept every numerate person can understand: one plus 49 equals 50. I was then immediately flagged down by a Catholic friend, who began explaining that they were now Sundays “of” Easter.

This brought several questions to mind. Who did this? Why did they do this? And . . . well, let me suppress my next question, which was facetious anyway.

Notice I haven’t moaned about ICEL translations. I never moan about them. I try to ignore them; I try to think in Latin in order to do so, but often I can’t. But then I don’t moan: I wince. While no one is the custodian of the English language, I do entertain a protective feeling toward it, and I do not like to see it desecrated by writers with no poetical gift whatever. For that matter, I do not like to see the Mass desecrated with viciously ugly, and mischievously vague, “paraphrases” of received formulations.

So far, so naive. I knew perfectly well what I would be in for when I crossed the Tiber. Indeed, no Anglican as “high” as I was had failed to sneer at the illiteracy of neo-Catholic worship, nor squeal in anguish at what similarly motivated “reformers” had been doing to destroy the magnificent, and for the most part magnificently catholic, Book of Common Prayer.

The devil is in the details, as I learned on my father’s knee, though he was only referring to questions of design and artifice. It was the historical accumulation of fine details, got exactly right, that gave the Catholic liturgy its former majesty and conferred upon all of it that wonderful sense of confidence: that the discords would be musical, and not merely boorish. That the breaks would be intentional and dramatic and anticipated, and not like highway collisions with the sound of tearing metal.

I am confident that, over the coming generations, that majesty will be restored. For I am very confident that the Holy Spirit, and not a bureaucratic committee, is ultimately directing the affairs of our Church.

Moreover, I am persuaded that God is merciful. He will not give us only what we deserve. And I have no doubt that we deserved the hideous things that were done during the meltdown “after” (not “of”) Vatican II.

The same pope is dealing with this today who is dealing with the rest of the fallout from that period. The ghastly and perverted crimes committed by Catholic priests and religious; the disintegration of monastic orders; the surrender of Catholic education; the wholesale abandonment of Catholic life, worship, and discipline by most of the laity. These were hardly disconnected things.

We have been living through decades of “Ordinary Time,” in which the Church was subjected to humanly calculated “reforms.” Let us earnestly pray they will be over — that we may soon resume the practice of the extraordinary.

David Warren


David Warren is a Canadian journalist who writes mostly on international affairs. His Web site is www.davidwarrenonline.com.

  • David

    Maybe before you bash an ecumenical council of the holy Church you profess to be a member of, you should get your facts straight. Tempus ordinarium, translated Ordinary Time, is measured time, numbered time, ordered time. The fact is, now that Christ has been raised from the dead, and the Spirit has been poured out, our days are numbered. Ordinary Time portions out the prayers and the scriptures so that we can work our way diligently through those passages of scripture we have not yet read in the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. There is nothing mundane about Ordinary Time. “All times belong to Christ and all the ages,” we just proclaimed at the Easter Vigil. And the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar teaches that “Apart from those seasons having their own distinctive character, thirty-three or thirty-four weeks remain in the yearly cycle that do not celebrate a specific aspect of the mystery of Christ. Rather, especially on the Sundays, they are devoted to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects. This period is known as Ordinary Time.” (43) Nothing mundane, bioring or vacuous about the mystery of Christ in all its aspects to me.

  • RJM

    There is no “Ordinary Time”.

  • Church Furniture

    Interesting article, thanks for sharing!

  • Joseph S.

    As a cradle Catholic born a decade after the close of Vatican II, the concept of “Ordinary Time” has always seemed natural and intuitive, and I’ve never quite understood the widespread complaints about it. Yes, all time is sacred, but it’s human nature that we settle into an “ordinary” routine and then mark special occasions by our depature from that routine. You cannot make every day “extraordinary” without flattening everything to a mundane level that becomes the new “ordinary.” It reminds me of the increasingly common practice that we cannot give prizes to children who win a competition, instead we must give everyone a prize just for competing. Children know this is a cop-out and that such prizes are worthless. Ordinary Time is the level ground against which the peaks of Feast Days and the valleys of Fast Days stand out in high relief.

    As for why we skipped week 7, the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours says:

    152. From the Monday after the feast of the Baptism of the Lord until Lent and from the Monday after Pentecost until Advent there is a continuous series of thirty-four weeks in Ordinary Time.

    This series is interrupted from Ash Wednesday until Pentecost. On the Monday after Pentecost Sunday the cycle of readings in Ordinary Time is resumed, beginning with the week after the one interrupted because of Lent; the reading assigned to the Sunday is omitted.

    In years with only thirty-three weeks in Ordinary Time, the week immediately following Pentecost is dropped, in order to retain the readings of the last weeks which are eschatological readings.

  • Jitpring

    To understand how Vatican II itself was indeed the meltdown, read:

    The Rhine Flows into the Tiber


    Open Letter to Confused Catholics


    They Have Uncrowned Him

    The vandalized Mass – the Novus Ordo – flows directly from the disaster of VII.

  • Ken

    Thankfully a Roman Catholic may follow the calendar that the saints would recognize. To that end, I wish fellow traditional Catholics a happy octave of Pentecost.

    For an interesting story on Paul VI and Pentecost Monday, as told by Father Z several times, see the seventh paragraph of my op-ed from a few months back: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11…wolfe.html

  • nemo

    Some of the ordinary form messes I have witnessed have served to make the Extraordinary form seem even more beautiful than the mass I grew up with pre-Vatican 2. God bless the Pope. Thank you.

  • Jared B.

    Did all missals before Vatican II refer to days in liturgical seasons with the preposition “after” instead of “of”? Is there proof of this? If so, it could hardly have been anything more than a grammatical update (not that I’m in favor of constantly “updating” the English language or of updating the liturgical language to match). Clearly the meaning was always what we contemporaries would understand as “Third Sunday of Easter” and so on, because they have always been Sundays of a particular season. In contemporary English, the use of “after”, as the word is commonly understood. would abolish the concept of a liturgical season, because “after” in contemporary usage would emphasize the distinction between the original day itself (e.g. Easter) and the day in question (‘3rd Sunday after’). And that can’t possibly be the intended meaning of pre-Vatican II missals, right?!? So while I appreciate the literary wit of this “of” vs. “after” thing, I don’t see how it is materially a liturgical issue of any value.

  • MRA

    Clearly the meaning was always what we contemporaries would understand as “Third Sunday of Easter” and so on, because they have always been Sundays of a particular season. In contemporary English, the use of “after”, as the word is commonly understood. would abolish the concept of a liturgical season, because “after” in contemporary usage would emphasize the distinction between the original day itself (e.g. Easter) and the day in question (‘3rd Sunday after’). And that can’t possibly be the intended meaning of pre-Vatican II missals, right?!? So while I appreciate the literary wit of this “of” vs. “after” thing, I don’t see how it is materially a liturgical issue of any value.

    Like it or not, though, there was such a distinction: there were Sundays “of Advent” and “of Lent,” but Sundays “after Easter” and “after Epiphany” and “after Pentecost.” If you want to contend that “after” really meant “of,” you’re going to have to argue that it continued to be Pentecost through November, which seems implausible, to say the least.

  • Martial Artist

    …I am familiar with Ordinary time (although our last parish in particular was extraordinarily Anglo-catholic). Having only been received into the Catholic Church yesterday, I cannot speak to the missals. That being said, my recollection is consistent with that of Jared B,, above, with one exception, namely, Lenten Sundays. Lenten Sundays in the Episcopal (and I think Anglican, generally) tradition, the Sundays in Lent are not fasting Sundays, because every Sunday is an Easter, in the same way that all Fridays, even outside of the Lenten season, are little “Good Fridays.” Thus, to indicate that the Lenten Sundays were not part of Lent proper, they were referred to in the format of the nth Sunday in Lent. And if you do the math from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, you will get the correct 40 days if you don’t count the included Sundays.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  • Mack

    Well, yeah, that’s about it. Catholics can sure be mean to each other. Is everyone infallible here?

  • John


  • kmk

    God bless you on the first day of/after your reception into our beloved Church! smilies/smiley.gif

  • Brennan

    Have to agree with the author; there really seems no point to jettisoning hundreds of years of organic development of the liturgical calendar and replacing large sections of it with “Ordinary Time”.

    If you want people to realize the sacred throughout the year, then you don’t call large parts of the year something that will be translated as “Ordinary Time”. Because most people are going to associate that with days that are merely “ordinary”, as in “nothing special going on here”.

    But then again, this type of reform seems to go along perfectly with so many of the counterintuitive and banal reforms to the liturgy that took place after Vatican II.

  • ddent

    To John: Re: Your posting of the Latin admonition. Thank you for this posting. I know just enough Latin to get into big trouble so I sat down and with a Latin grammar and dictionary I (think) I translated it. I am very glad I did. Had never heard or read this so I want you to know how much I appreciate the beauty of this maxim (L) or maybe aphorism (Gk)? It neatly sums up this whole argument and settles it wonderfully – so it’s a teaching gift as well. Doesn’t it make you then wonder how many having read your post and then reading this will go to the trouble to work it out if they don’t already know it – which says a great deal about where we Catholics are aesthetically, if not spiritually, after wandering 40 years in the desert of the last 40 years. Quidquid recipitur ad modem recipientis recipitur.

  • Jared B.

    Sundays after Pentecost: that’s precisely my point, MRA. Since Pentecost never was a season in itself the way e.g. Advent is (Pentecost just had an octave), it was the odd one out, after didn’t mean of. Ergo, the change in name from “X after Pentecost” to something like “Ordinary Time” made sense (the elimination of the Epiphany as a mini-season doesn’t make any sense to me either, tho). Maybe the final pick in name, Ordinary Time, was a bad one, but a name change was called for.

    “Of Advent” vs. “After Easter”: so what you’re saying is, pre-Vatican II, only Advent & Easter were “real” liturgical seasons, and Easter wasn’t?! I don’t think anybody’s trying to say that, but then what exactly did the of vs. after thing mean, if not season vs. not-a-season?

  • Hilary

    Good God, was that six years ago?!

    If I manage to get to heaven, I think one of the best things is that the passage of time will no longer so terrify.

  • Hilary

    Seriously David, you should just ignore the NO liturgy. It’s quite trendy now to be all Traddie, and even the Pope says its OK. I haven’t paid attention to all that ‘Ordinary Time’ stuff for years. It quite sinks off the radar once you start just paying it no mind.

    You’ve still got your Anglican Breev, and the Oratorians will give you all the Old Rite masses you need (daily, if I’m not mistaken). The old liturgical cycle, as you well know, is a treasure house waiting to fill your life with all sorts of chocolatey liturgical goodness.

    The new stuff?

    Irrelevant. Just not an issue any more.

    I solved all my liturgical crises in one foop by just not paying the slightest attention to it.

  • Hilary

    …and isn’t that David guy mean! Leading with the snark gets you a smack across the nose with a rolled up newspaper at my blog. Sheesh!

    “see how they love one another!”