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Our days are numbered!
David Philippart

There’s 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. 

The translation 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. 

There’s nothing 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

Ordinary Time 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. 

Treating these 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. 

Catechesis 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. 

Parables in summer
Parables Unique to Matthew
The Weeds Among the Wheat Mt 13:24–30   July 17, 2005
The Buried Treasure Mt 13:44 July 24, 2005
The Fine Pearl  Mt 13:45–46 July 24, 2005
The Thrown Net Mt 13:47–48  July 24, 2005
The Unforgiving Servant  Mt 18:23–35 Sept. 11, 2005
The Laborers in the Vineyard Mt 20:1–6 Sept. 18, 2005
The Two Sons  Mt 21:28–30 Sept. 25, 2005
The Wedding Banquet Mt 22:2–14  Oct. 9, 2005
The Talents Mt 25:14–30 Nov. 13, 2005
The Judgment of the Nations  Mt 25:31–46  Nov. 20, 2005

What might 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? 

For adults, 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. 

Depending on 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.

Children could 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 image. 

Anything that the teens or children produce could be displayed or presented after Sunday Mass. 

Parables in fall

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 apprentices. 

A net and a scaffold

The American 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

David Philippart, 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.

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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.)

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