It always feels that once we have celebrated the fast of St Peter and St Paul, the summer has truly begun. After the drama of Lent, Passiontide and Easter, and the big extravagant feasts of the Ascension, Pentecost, Corpus Christi and the Sacred Heart — and our own particular celebrations of St Philip’s Day, St Aloysius, First Holy Communions and Confirmations — the Church’s liturgy settles back down into Ordinary Time.
At first, the designation might seem a bit peculiar, since the word “ordinary” is associated with things that are unimportant, insignificant, or just downright boring. In light of all the solemnities we have been celebrating, the next three months or so are rather uneventful, in the sense of being without a major liturgical event. But Ordinary Time is called “ordinary” not because it is common but simply because the weeks of Ordinary Time are numbered. The Latin word ordinalis, which refers to numbers in a series, stems from the Latin word ordo, from which we get the English word order. Thus, the numbered weeks of Ordinary Time, in fact, represent the ordered life of the Church — the period in which we live our lives neither in feasting (as in the Christmas and Easter seasons) or in more severe penance (as in Advent and Lent), but walking with the Lord in the years of his public ministry, in watchfulness and expectation of his coming again.
We hear again of the miracles and teachings of Christ so that we can be reminded, reaffirmed, consoled, and challenged in how we are living the Christian way of life. Through Ordinary Time, we Christians are told once again to forgive, love others generously, be healed and serve as instruments of healing, seek peace, live humbly, pray and trust in our Lord’s care for us. The readings at Mass during this season provide us with an opportunity to take stock of our lives and examine our consciences. Do I pray in the way Jesus taught? How do I love my neighbour? What in my life needs the healing power of Christ? Do I work for the coming of God’s kingdom? While it is true that we have heard these readings, and the prayers of the liturgy, many times before, the circumstances of our lives are always changing. What we heard God saying to us this time last year may be very different to what he says today — and how we respond to him may be different too. What is unchanging is the call of Jesus to follow him, to shoulder his yoke and learn from him.
This season of life, growth, and discipleship is also then a call to live in the present moment. Pope Francis reminds us that:
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 deceived by sin. We go home with these words only: ‘How is my “today”?’ How is 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 questions we ask the Lord for the graces which each of us needs.
Our Lady and St Joseph’s lives were not ordinary after the birth of the Messiah. The Apostles could not go back to everyday life after Pentecost. We cannot be untouched by the mysteries we have celebrated. 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 lives are fed and upon which our celebration of the great solemnities of the year is grounded. If we don’t know the way of Jesus, how we can celebrate it? And if we celebrate the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Descent of the Holy Spirit, or the working of God in the lives of the great saints, how we can not shape our lives and our behaviour in response? 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.