In the modern Anglican and Roman Catholic calendars, this is the day the church emerges, blinking, from the successive dramas of Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide and Pentecost, and returns to the steady cycle of “ordinary time”.
Despite what I’ve said in the past about the “long green season”, over the past couple of years I’ve become a lot fonder of ordinary time, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me. (I was only joking on Twitter when I said it was because I’m turning into a liberal Catholic. I think. 😉 )
As for the name “ordinary time”, there is some uncertainty in online sources over whether this refers to the “ordinal” numbering of Sundays, or whether it is linked to, well, the ordinary meaning of “ordinary” (see this page for more details). The Latin term which it loosely translates – Tempus per annum, “time through the year” – suggests the latter meaning more than the former.
Timothy Radcliffe OP gives some compelling reasons to love ordinary time in his book What is the Point of Being a Christian?, though he begins by acknowledging that it can at first seem a little drab compared to the other seasons of the church year:
We inhabit a story that gives us hope, the Christian year. This carries us from Advent, when we wait for Christ to come as a child, to the end of the year, when we wait for him to come at the end. … Much of the year is what we call “ordinary time”. This sounds rather boring, as if we were just hanging around waiting until the next exciting event in the liturgical year. It fills the gap between the fun of Christmas and Epiphany and the drama of Holy Week, and then between Pentecost and the end of the year.
However, it is a mistake to see ordinary time as just a dull interlude (as I’ve been guilty of doing in the past):
Ordinary time celebrates what is fundamental to being human, which is that we are ordered, pointed beyond ourselves. It has its own contribution to make to showing the point of Christianity. We are ordered to each other. We cannot flourish alone. And we are ordered towards the Kingdom, in which we shall finally flourish together. …
Ordinary time is about community and, though Fr Radcliffe doesn’t use the word, vocation (in the “Lutheran” sense):
The Church should be a community in which one discovers the delight of being ordinary, of belonging to each other. God says to St Catherine of Siena, “I could well have made human beings in such a way that they each had everything, but I preferred to give different gifts to different people, so that they would all need each other.”
This is then reflected in the role of church leaders (and here I’m sure Fr Radcliffe would acknowledge he is moving beyond whatever is the literal etymology and meaning of “ordinary time”!):
Bishops are called our “ordinaries” not because they are boring but because they are charged with cultivating a community in which we may learn how to belong together. In the eighteenth century the word was also used for people who delivered messages, the early equivalent of postmen, who were vital to the interchanges of the community.
All this is reflected in the liturgical colour for the season:
The liturgical colour of “ordinary time” is green, because it is the season in which we learn to flourish together.
So whether you’re starting ordinary time today or next week, let us go forth and “learn to flourish together” over the next 188 days…