Ordinary Time, the longest portion of the church year, fills the weeks which do not celebrate a specific aspect of the mystery of Christ. It's the no-particular-reason season. The Christmas cycle honors the birth of Christ. The Easter cycle rejoices in the resurrection. Ordinary Time is devoted to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects.
The number of the weeks of Ordinary Time replaces the old counting of weeks after Epiphany and after Pentecost. The old calendar suggested that Pentecost ran for six months. The new calendar gives Pentecost a day. Then we return to Ordinary Time.
At first glance the principles of Ordinary Time seem basic enough. Start counting the weeks after the Christmas season. Break for Lent and Easter. Resume after Pentecost and keep counting until Advent. Basically, thats how it works. But we have a few quirks.
For example, there is no First Sunday of Ordinary Time; however, there is a first week. Usually the Christmas season ends on a Sunday with the Baptism of the Lord. (Some years, the Baptism falls on a Monday, but that's another story.) Ordinary Time then begins on a weekday. When the next Sunday rolls around we start Week Two.
On the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, we see the last of Ordinary Time until after Pentecost. Even then, it emerges only on weekdays. Trinity Sunday always follows Pentecost Sunday, and The Body and Blood of the Lord comes the next Sunday in the United States. (In countries where The Body and Blood of the Lord is a holy day, it falls on a Thursday.) So when the numbered Sundays of Ordinary Time return in summer, we start out a little higher than when we left off.
Sometimes we skip one or two entire weeks of Ordinary Time during the Easter break. We want to close the Sundays of the year with Christ the King, one week before Advent. Christ the King always falls on the 34th Sunday of Ordinary Time. So, we determine the week number after Pentecost not based on where we left off before Lent but counting backward from Christ the King. One or two weeks may evaporate while Ordinary Time serves the mystery of Christ.(This bulletin insert originally appeared in MODERN LITURGY, copyright (c) 1996, Resource Publications, Inc. It may not be reproduced without permission. Send permission requests to firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Paul Turner, pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron, MO, holds a doctorate in sacramental theology from Sant' Anselmo University.)