Saturday, 14 June 2014

"Ordinary Time" is the Time after Pentecost

Prior to the liturgical changes of Pope Paul VI, the season following the feast of Pentecost was named, well, the Time after Pentecost. Today, it is commonly referred to simply as "ordinary" time; I think this is its name in at least the English missals, anyhow. This may seem insignificant at first; and indeed, it seems that even before the changes, the season after Pentecost was often casually referred to as “ordinary.” I am not so much concerned now with giving a critique of the change, but mostly with taking the opportunity to make what should be a fairly obvious observation about the liturgical year, and the reasoning behind the traditional system.

Throughout the liturgical year, starting with Advent, we celebrate the history of the Church. First we consider the advent of Christ’s birth, then His birth itself at Christmas, His presentation to Simeon, the visit of the kings at Epiphany. The readings for the Sundays after Epiphany pertain to the childhood and public life of Christ – the finding in the temple, the Baptism, the wedding at Cana, the leper and the centurion, the calming of the storm, and some of his parables. Septuagesima serves as a preparation for the season of Lent, wherein we celebrate Christ’s passion and death, culminating in Holy Week, and terminating in the feast of Easter. During the Paschal season we celebrate the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, and then the feast of Pentecost itself, the “birthday of the Church.”

Thus far we have progressed more or less in chronological order through the life of Christ. By the time we reach Pentecost, Christ has completed the work which He performed whilst walking on the earth. Now the fruits of that work are to be harvested by the Church, to whom Christ promised the aid and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has often been called the “soul” of the Church. The soul is the principle of life; a body is alive by virtue of its having a soul. On Pentecost, the Spirit came down, as Christ promised, and thus life was infused into the Church; the Church was definitively born or conceived that day. 

The time after Pentecost – usually lasting 23 to 27 weeks – represents the life of the Church throughout history after Christ, unto the end of time. This, for Christians, is “ordinary time,” the time of the Church, the time of the Holy Spirit, the time after Pentecost. Though it may seem “ordinary” to us, since now the Church is following her normal course of existence, nonetheless the action of Christ and the Holy Spirit which is at work in this time is really just as “ordinary” as every other action that we celebrate in the liturgical year. There is no strictly “ordinary” time. Everything that we celebrate in the liturgical year is extraordinary, it is supernatural, it is divine. What is “ordinary” to us is in fact the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in the Church, a divine institution with a divine purpose.

Readers can use their own judgment about how these considerations affect the matter of the choice of naming in the New Calendar. In practice that might be a matter of little significance, I do not have a strong opinion yet, I have not thought or researched much about it (I've read in places that "ordinary" doesn't have the connotations that one might think at first). But the theology and spirituality of the liturgical year itself is not insignificant, and it was, I think, well reflected in the traditional name. We ought to learn from and receive what the liturgy gives us, and to immerse ourselves in the mystery which it celebrates. 

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