nothing ordinary about Ordinary Time. Christ’s dying and rising has changed
human history; even time is redeemed. Time is no longer inexorable; it
no longer means either fleeting happiness or episodic sorrow. The calendar
is no longer an inescapable cycle of despair. Every minute, if not full
of grace, is at least pregnant with it. The mundane, the stuff of “every
day” and “all the time,” “the usual” is potent with the divine. Of course,
violence and tragedy still happen all too routinely these days. Apathy
still sets in and boredom debilitates. But not forever. Not for long. We
now know that this is not what God intends for us. These days — our days
— are numbered: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
of the Latin tempus ordinarri into “ordinary time” confuses our
understanding of the major portion of the liturgical year because of the
connotations of the English word “ordinary.” Ordinary Time is more precisely
“ordinal” time — counted time, numbered days. We Christians count down
the days until Christ returns in glory to stop the ticking of the clock,
to judge the living and the dead, and to usher us into that new city of
peace where night will never fall and the day will be eternal — the eighth
day of the week that is forever.
mystical about this counting. There’s no great spiritual benefit to knowing
whether this Sunday is the Second or 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. It’s
simply a way of marking our time, of keeping in order for good use the
Scriptures in the lectionary, the psalms in the psalter, and the prayers
in the Roman Missal.
is not even a season per se. But for pastoral purposes, many parish leaders
have found it fruitful to see the three sections of Ordinary Time that
occur each year as seasons: Winter Ordinary Time (that begins after Christmastime
and ends with Ash Wednesday), Summer Ordinary Time (that begins after Eastertime
and runs until Holy Cross Day [Sept. 14] or the first day of autumn [Sept.
21] or maybe Labor Day in the United States [the first weekend in September]).
In each of
these segments of Ordinary Time, the lectionary presents scriptural themes,
images, and motifs that change with the seasons. The readings in Winter
Ordinary Time, for example, pick up and continue the motif of the growing
light that Christmas introduced. In Summer Ordinary Time, we often hear
parables of farming and harvesting. Fall Ordinary Time brings us apocalyptical
readings that lead us into Advent’s eschatology.
three segments as related but distinct seasons allow for better music planning.
While a parish can easily sing the same Mass parts during Winter Ordinary
Time, which can last from five to 12 weeks, trying to sing the same parts
every Sunday from mid-May until late-November will be taxing. So by breaking
that long stretch into Summer Ordinary Time and Autumn Ordinary Time, you
can use two different settings of the Mass parts.
The color of
Ordinary Time is green, but there are many shades of green and many complementary
palates. Perhaps the green of Winter Ordinary Time continues to be the
deep, hunter green of Christmas holiday décor. Perhaps the green
of Summer Ordinary Time is a combination of dark and light greens, complemented
with blues and bright yellows. These same greens can serve Autumn Ordinary
Time, but the blue and yellow accents are replaced with brown and orange.
can benefit from keeping Ordinary Time as three related but distinct seasons
as well. Since many students will not formally gather during the Christmas
season, Winter Ordinary Time is a time to savor the Christmas mysteries.
Instead of putting the crèche up in the classroom in November and
then taking it down in January, perhaps the crèche could be put
up right before the students go on holiday recess and left up until Feb.
2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the temple, or Candlemas
(Candelaria in Spanish). This is a tradition in some parts of Europe
as well as in Peru.
At first glance,
Summer Ordinary Time may seem to be vacation from catechesis. While it
is true that we all need a break, perhaps we can seize the opportunity
that summer affords us to engage in some creative catechesis. This may
mean calling forth, training, and commissioning a group of “summer catechist
commandos” who work on brief, intense summer catechetical experiences while
those catechists who serve during the academic year have some time off.
Unique to Matthew
Among the Wheat
in the Vineyard
of the Nations
summer catechetical opportunities look like? You could always purchase
a summer vacation Bible school kit, but why not pay attention to the lectionary
of this very year? We are reading through the Gospel of Matthew, which
has 10 parables that do not appear in the other three Gospels. (See the
chart above.) Four of these parables are read on two Sundays in July this
year. The first, read on July 17, is the parable of the weeds deliberately
sown among the wheat. The next three, read on July 24, are the parables
of the treasure hidden in the field, the pearl of great value, and the
net cast into the sea. A month after school has been out, why not gather
folks to explore and savor these parables?
a simple session of some exegesis and faith sharing could be arranged the
week prior to the 17th and the 24th. If you have a nice courtyard or rectory
backyard or meditation garden, have this outside if the weather cooperates.
Serve lemonade and iced tea. This session could be offered twice, once
in the morning to coincide with a children’s activity and once again in
the evening to accommodate those who work during the day.
the local culture of your teenagers, a session like the one described above
for adults could be arranged for them. Or you could arrange something more
active and age-specific. What about setting them loose in teams of five
with video cameras, challenging them to create film versions of the parable
each week? They would need to work first on some kind of script or plan,
then do the taping, and finally present it. Or what about a fishing expedition?
Fishing plays a central role in the Gospels, and young people who have
never gone fishing might gain some insight into the Gospel references if
they have the chance to experience it. The parable could be read as all
begin to fish, pondered in the necessary silence, and then discussed when
the catch is gathered and the decision made to throw any of the smaller
fish back. Or how about this shopping exercise: Have the young people bring
CDs, DVDs, videos and books that they would be willing to sell at a resale
shop. Then, with whatever money they realize, they go in search of the
“pearl of great value,” which is something that each buyer will give to
the St. Vincent de Paul Society or neighborhood shelter for someone in
need. The parable could be read before setting out, and then once again
with faith sharing after shopping.
gather the week before the 17th and the week before the 24th and turn the
parables into stage plays, complete with sets. (These might be what the
teenagers videotape, too.) Or they could create illustrated storybooks
of the parables, which communion ministers to the sick and homebound could
take with them each Sunday. The parable of the weeds and wheat calls for
some planting of seeds that the kids could monitor and water for the next
few weeks. The parable of the treasure hidden in the field almost begs
for some variation of a treasure hunt. Teams could be sent in search of
items reminiscent of the parables themselves: coins, costume jewelry pearls,
plastic fish. The prize for each team could be a small religious icon or
the teens or children produce could be displayed or presented after Sunday
If the summer
parables activities work well, why not build on the success for the remaining
six parables that we read in the fall? You will need to integrate the September
parables with regular religious instruction, but that’s possible. It’s
also possible to run this separately from both school and the religious
education program, mixing the kids from both. Use your “summer catechist
commandos” so as not to burden the regular teachers. The parables of the
unforgiving servant (Sept. 11) and the wedding banquet (Oct. 9) beg to
be dramatized. The parables of the laborers in the vineyard (Sept. 18)
and the talents (Nov. 13) can easily be acted out with money (play or real).
The parable of the two sons (Sept. 25) is perfect for an ethics/values
clarification exercise with teens. (Is it better to be sweet and say what
your parents want to hear and then go do what you’re going to do anyway?
Or is it better to tell what you think and will do straight out?)
The final parable,
the judgment of the nations, would be well served by illustrations of all
kind, especially illustrations using contemporary images from current events.
But most importantly — and for all ages — would be listing the good works
that Jesus names: feeding the hungry, giving drink, welcoming the stranger,
clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned. Then,
in age-appropriate ways, consider how each group might set about doing
these things from now until Christmas. This could also be the start of
any community service component of confirmation preparation. Parish ministries
that engage in some of this work — communion ministers to the sick, for
example, or those who collect and distribute food and clothing — these
folks could visit with the young people and show them how they do it and
when. Perhaps the children and teens could assist for a month or so as
A net and
essayist Annie Dillard wrote: “How we spend our days is, of course, how
we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we
are doing. A schedule is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on
which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time”
(The Writing Life). Summer Ordinary Time this year is a net with
which we can catch the unique parables of the Gospel of Matthew, examine
them, untangle them, savor them — and then let them go for a time. Autumn
Ordinary Time this year is a scaffold on which we stand shoulder to shoulder
to labor with both hands at once at building the reign of God. During this
year’s Ordinary Time, it seems that our labor is sowing seeds, digging
for buried treasure, finding the purest pearl, casting wide nets, forgiving
debts, tending vines, speaking forthrightly, searching out peaceable tenants,
dressing properly for a wedding, investing wisely, and, most importantly,
feeding the hungry, slaking the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing
the naked, soothing the sick, and visiting those in prison. No vacation
from vocation! LC
the editor of this magazine, works with parish staffs and ministers to
better integrate the work of liturgy, catechesis, and charity/justice.
Write him at DavidP@rpinet.com.
What do YOU
Send an e-mail
to LC Editor or post an entry
on the LC Current Issue Discussion Board. (All
submissions become the property of RPI and may be edited for length.)