The Church year has four distinctive seasons, each with a distinctive character, that celebrate a specific mystery of Christ. The seasons are those of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. The rest of the year, either thirty three or thirty four weeks, is called Ordinary Time - not ordinary in the sense that there is nothing special celebrated during these weeks, but only in the sense that this time is not a liturgical season. Ordinary Time begins on the Monday after the Christmas season comes to an end. Then in a few weeks Lent begins, and Ordinary Time will not resume until about ninety days later, after the Easter season, on the Monday following Pentecost Sunday. Ordinary Time ends with the Saturday before the first Sunday of Advent.
Those who pay attention to the numbering of the Sundays and weeks of Ordinary Time are often confused, and justifiably so. It must seem that the committee who designed Ordinary Time after the Second Vatican Council either never double-checked their design, or else their design was a compromise among members who could not agree on a final configuration for the new liturgical calendar. For example, the Christmas season ends with the Sunday celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. The next day ordinary time begins, but the following Sunday is called the Second Sunday of ordinary time. What happened to the First Sunday of Ordinary Time? The official liturgical books are content merely to explain that “The feast of the Baptism of the Lord takes the place of the First Sunday of Ordinary Time.”
The centerpiece of Ordinary Time is, of course, its Sundays. The Sunday scripture readings are in a three-year cycle. Thus the readings we hear proclaimed next Sunday will not be heard again until the year 2017. As on all the other Sundays of the year, there are four scriptural readings, including the psalm which is normally sung. The first reading has a relationship to the gospel of the day, whereas the second reading usually contains a theme independent of the first reading and the gospel.
This year we are in the first of our three-year cycle, called Year A. The three year cycle of Sunday readings, and the two year cycle of weekday readings, are a happy result of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Prior to the Council, the same daily readings were repeated year after year. The cycles of readings allow many more scripture readings to be heard over the course of three years. This liturgical year we will be hearing readings from the gospel of Matthew at least thirty-two times. We begin with Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and we will end with his words on the Last Judgment.
As always, we gather in church from week to week, no matter whether it be in Ordinary Time or in one of the great liturgical seasons, to celebrate the paschal mystery, the mystery of Christ’s dying and rising. So in a very real sense there is no time that is “ordinary.” As we proclaim in our prayer each year at the great Easter Vigil, “All time belongs to Christ and all the ages.”