Ordinary Time puts us in touch with our “ordinary” God who, in Christ, walked the roads with ordinary folk like us, had to find food and shelter, had to find a place to sleep. It puts us in touch with an incarnate God who loved parties, hated oppression, got angry, and told jokes (Jesus seems especially to have loved puns). It is the time when we meet God “in street clothes”—for example, as the nameless woman kneading yeast into a loaf of dough until the whole loaf is leavened (see Matthew 13:33) or as the woman who catches us up short with unexpected insight: “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:28).
Most of the liturgical year is spent in Ordinary Time, also known in the liturgical books as the tempus per annum (“time through the year”). It is the time that does not require any great energy in preparation or celebration—just the ordinary commitment to doing the liturgy with “conscious, active, and full participation . . . namely in body and in mind, a participation fervent with faith, hope, and charity, of the sort which is desired by the Church and which is required by the very nature of the celebration and to which the Christian people have a right and duty in virtue of their Baptism” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 18).
There is a second meaning to “ordinary”: Besides “commonly encountered,” this word can also mean “ordered,” from its Latin root ordo. So “ordinary” time is ordered time, counted time, numbered time—time that focuses on now in the sequence of before and after and on Sunday as the day that gives meaning to the rest of the week. Such time celebrates the God who first “ordained” time and its order: “God, whose almighty word/Chaos and darkness heard/And took their flight” (John Marriott, 1780–1825).
There are two parts to Ordinary Time. This first part falls between the end of the Christmas Season (Monday after the Sunday following January 6) and the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday. The second part begins on the Monday after Pentecost and lasts until Evening Prayer I of the First Sunday of Advent.
The post-Christmas and pre-Lent part actually starts with the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord replaces the First Sunday) and begins a semi-continuous reading of a particular Synoptic Gospel. (The first reading is usually chosen because of its connection to images and phrases in the assigned Gospel text; the second reading is also semi-continuous but is not linked directly to the Gospel text, though one may often find a connection without forcing the point.)
(This introduction has been excerpted and adapted from Singing the Year of Grace: A Pastoral Music Resource [NPM Publications, 2009].)