Today in the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church, we go back to Ordinary Time. At first, the designation might seem a bit peculiar, since the word “ordinary” is oftentimes associated with things that are unimportant, insignificant, or just downright boring. The Church couldn’t possibly mean these types of things when speaking of the liturgy or a season of liturgies within the year.
And so, what exactly is meant by Ordinary Time?
Well, the first answer is very practical. In light of the past several high holy days – from Ascension, Pentecost, Holy Trinity Sunday, to Corpus Christi – today and the next several Sundays are rather uneventful, meaning, without a major event or teaching associated with them. After so many powerful feast days, the Church now returns to a season of typical Sundays and to a normal pace in the liturgy.
With this observation stated clearly, someone could innocently inquire about the focus of the Ordinary Time Masses. What does the Church give to believers who attend the liturgy during this season? This question might even be asked by those who regularly attend Mass but have never paid attention to the different seasons or to the shift in the various emphases of the seasons.
During Ordinary Time, the Church’s prayers and selections of readings from the Sacred Scriptures have believers accompany the Lord Jesus in his public ministry. The Church selects healings, signs, and essential teachings from the life of Jesus Christ so that followers can be reminded, reaffirmed, consoled, and challenged in how they are living the Christian way of life. Through Ordinary Time, the community of disciples are once again told by the Lord to forgive, accept others generously, be healed and serve as instruments of healing, seek peace, live humbly, pray and trust in his care for them.
With this understanding, an awareness – beyond the practical – can quickly be grasped that Ordinary Time is anything but ordinary. The purpose and benefits of this season are rather extraordinary, indispensable, and fundamental to our following of the Lord Jesus. In fact, the season is one of the sources from which our Christian lives are fed and upon which our celebration of the high feasts is grounded.
If we don’t know the way of Jesus Christ, how we can celebrate it? Ordinary Time, therefore, is the continuous echo of the Lord in the life of the church and in the hearts of those who love and follow him.
In approaching Ordinary Time in this way, some helpful spiritual lessons can be discerned from the season. As the Church slows its pace and returns to the public ministry and teachings of Jesus Christ, Christian believers (and people of good will) can see in this an invitation to slow the pace of their own lives, refocus attention on loved ones, evaluate personal convictions, and assess where their life is going and what changes they’d like to make.
Ordinary Time can serve as a welcome signpost along the path of our discipleship and of our lives. It can be an opportunity for us to put urgent things in check, so that they don’t dominate our existence, and a sacred time for us renew and cherish important things so that our lives can flourish and we can enrich the lives of others.
This examination of discipleship and of life, and the resolutions drawn from it, is a favorable chance to live in the present moment. Ordinary Time exemplifies the old Jesuit motto: Age quod agis, “Do what you’re doing.” Namely, we are told, don’t worry about tomorrow, or yesterday. Don’t worry about this afternoon or this morning. Live here, now. Do what you’re doing. Ordinary Time stresses God as the Eternal Now. It humbles us with the lesson that we are most with God when we are in the present moment.
This is a spiritual point frequently made by the world’s most famous Jesuit, Pope Francis, who tells us: “Today does not repeat itself: this is life. Place all your heart, your open heart, open it to the Lord, not closed, not hard, not hardened, not without faith, not perverted, not deceived by sin. We go home with these two words only: ‘How is my ‘today’?…’ But how are you, my today, in the presence of the Lord? And how is my heart? Is it open? Is it firm in the faith? Is it led by the Lord? With these two questions we ask the Lord for the grace to which each of us needs.”
As we enter the Sundays of Ordinary Time, we can take that question, “How is my today?” and let it assist us in walking with Jesus Christ, evaluating our lives, slowing our pace, and seeking God and our neighbor with greater sincerity.