Ordinary Time: Anything but ordinary

January 8, 2024 at 11:02 a.m.
The view of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica from Bishop O'Connell's hospital room in Rome. Staff photo
The view of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica from Bishop O'Connell's hospital room in Rome. Staff photo


For the last several days, I have looked out my window in the cardiac care wing of Santo Spirito Hospital in Rome --- the oldest hospital in Europe --- only to see the dome of St. Peter's Basilica close by. For those who live here, this is an "ordinary" although still spectacular view. For me it is a powerful reminder of the faith of the Roman Catholic Church at its center. St. Peter's Basilica contains the tomb of St. Peter himself, the very vicar of Christ, and those of so many of his successors who steadfastly handed on and defended that faith.

A bishop is referred to as a "successor to the apostles," a title that is as humbling as it is instructive. It is amazing for me to consider the fact that I almost lost my life during the past few days in the same city and burial place of the apostles, although without any act of apostolic heroism or spiritual determination. I simply had a heart attack while visiting the eternal city, nothing more profound than that, an experience some might call commonplace or "ordinary" among men my age. I can assure you, however, that my thoughts in these days --- and the incredible response of so many wonderfully concerned people to my experience ---have been anything but "ordinary."

With the Christmas Season behind us, Catholics now enter into a period referred to as “Ordinary Time” in the Church’s liturgy. In our vernacular usage, the word "ordinary" describes what is commonplace, "everyday" or without uniqueness or special distinction.

The fact is that "Ordinary Time" makes up most of the Church's calendar year, roughly 34 weeks between the first and final Sundays of the liturgical calendar. The Lenten and Easter Seasons constitute, for lack of a better term, an “interruption” of “Ordinary Time” before Advent and Christmas come again. There are also individual feast days and solemnities that appear in the liturgical calendar “interrupting Ordinary Time” here and there.

The expression "Ordinary Time" itself comes from two Latin root words referring to the “order” of numbering the weeks of the year in the “ordered life” of the Church, beginning after the solemn feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which takes the place of a “First Sunday in Ordinary Time,” and ending with the solemn feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, the “Final Sunday in Ordinary Time.”

What takes place in the Church’s official prayer during “Ordinary Time” is anything but ordinary. It is the unfolding in Masses, Scripture readings and prayers of the whole life of the Lord Jesus Christ between the “seasonal celebrations” of his Incarnation and Birth and his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

The Church’s liturgical calendar is “ordered” in three cycles of Scripture readings on Sundays – Years A, B and C (we are currently in the Year B cycle of Sundays of 2024) – and two cycles of Scripture readings on weekdays – Years I and II (we are currently in the Year II cycle of weekdays of 2024). This arrangement was established in the revisions of the Church’s liturgical calendar after the Second Vatican Council.

The vestments used by the priest and deacon at Mass during “Ordinary Time” are green in color. Green is used to represent hope in Christ’s Resurrection that characterizes each day in “Ordinary Time.” Different colors are used to correspond to other seasons and times and on other days and occasions celebrated during the liturgical year – white (sometimes gold) for Christmas and Easter seasons and on special feasts of the Lord, the Blessed Mother or saints who were not martyred; violet for Advent and Lent (rose may be worn on the 3rd Sundays of these seasons) and Masses for the Dead; red for Masses of Palm Sunday, the Lord’s Passion, Pentecost, the Apostles, Evangelists or other saints who were martyred. Black is sometimes worn in Masses for the Dead.

With all that in mind, Catholics should use “Ordinary Time” to deepen their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and his Gospel, to nourish their reading and understanding of the Word of God, to enhance and grow in their spiritual lives and prayer and to strive for personal conversion. “Ordinary Time” should be the opportunity to make progress in putting the Catholic faith into action with ongoing works of charity toward others, respect for and protection of human life in all its stages, support for marriage and family life, respect for the environment as our “common home,” and personal witness to the Lord Jesus Christ.

One's experience need not and hopefully will not be as dramatic as mine has been these last few days. It can and, indeed, will be more "ordinary." But "Ordinary Time" can and will take on special spiritual significance if we live it "intentionally" as noted above. I think of the encouragement provided by St. Catherine of Siena: “Be who God intended you to be, and you will set the world on fire." In that way, "Ordinary Time" can become anything but ordinary for you.



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For the last several days, I have looked out my window in the cardiac care wing of Santo Spirito Hospital in Rome --- the oldest hospital in Europe --- only to see the dome of St. Peter's Basilica close by. For those who live here, this is an "ordinary" although still spectacular view. For me it is a powerful reminder of the faith of the Roman Catholic Church at its center. St. Peter's Basilica contains the tomb of St. Peter himself, the very vicar of Christ, and those of so many of his successors who steadfastly handed on and defended that faith.

A bishop is referred to as a "successor to the apostles," a title that is as humbling as it is instructive. It is amazing for me to consider the fact that I almost lost my life during the past few days in the same city and burial place of the apostles, although without any act of apostolic heroism or spiritual determination. I simply had a heart attack while visiting the eternal city, nothing more profound than that, an experience some might call commonplace or "ordinary" among men my age. I can assure you, however, that my thoughts in these days --- and the incredible response of so many wonderfully concerned people to my experience ---have been anything but "ordinary."

With the Christmas Season behind us, Catholics now enter into a period referred to as “Ordinary Time” in the Church’s liturgy. In our vernacular usage, the word "ordinary" describes what is commonplace, "everyday" or without uniqueness or special distinction.

The fact is that "Ordinary Time" makes up most of the Church's calendar year, roughly 34 weeks between the first and final Sundays of the liturgical calendar. The Lenten and Easter Seasons constitute, for lack of a better term, an “interruption” of “Ordinary Time” before Advent and Christmas come again. There are also individual feast days and solemnities that appear in the liturgical calendar “interrupting Ordinary Time” here and there.

The expression "Ordinary Time" itself comes from two Latin root words referring to the “order” of numbering the weeks of the year in the “ordered life” of the Church, beginning after the solemn feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which takes the place of a “First Sunday in Ordinary Time,” and ending with the solemn feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, the “Final Sunday in Ordinary Time.”

What takes place in the Church’s official prayer during “Ordinary Time” is anything but ordinary. It is the unfolding in Masses, Scripture readings and prayers of the whole life of the Lord Jesus Christ between the “seasonal celebrations” of his Incarnation and Birth and his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

The Church’s liturgical calendar is “ordered” in three cycles of Scripture readings on Sundays – Years A, B and C (we are currently in the Year B cycle of Sundays of 2024) – and two cycles of Scripture readings on weekdays – Years I and II (we are currently in the Year II cycle of weekdays of 2024). This arrangement was established in the revisions of the Church’s liturgical calendar after the Second Vatican Council.

The vestments used by the priest and deacon at Mass during “Ordinary Time” are green in color. Green is used to represent hope in Christ’s Resurrection that characterizes each day in “Ordinary Time.” Different colors are used to correspond to other seasons and times and on other days and occasions celebrated during the liturgical year – white (sometimes gold) for Christmas and Easter seasons and on special feasts of the Lord, the Blessed Mother or saints who were not martyred; violet for Advent and Lent (rose may be worn on the 3rd Sundays of these seasons) and Masses for the Dead; red for Masses of Palm Sunday, the Lord’s Passion, Pentecost, the Apostles, Evangelists or other saints who were martyred. Black is sometimes worn in Masses for the Dead.

With all that in mind, Catholics should use “Ordinary Time” to deepen their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and his Gospel, to nourish their reading and understanding of the Word of God, to enhance and grow in their spiritual lives and prayer and to strive for personal conversion. “Ordinary Time” should be the opportunity to make progress in putting the Catholic faith into action with ongoing works of charity toward others, respect for and protection of human life in all its stages, support for marriage and family life, respect for the environment as our “common home,” and personal witness to the Lord Jesus Christ.

One's experience need not and hopefully will not be as dramatic as mine has been these last few days. It can and, indeed, will be more "ordinary." But "Ordinary Time" can and will take on special spiritual significance if we live it "intentionally" as noted above. I think of the encouragement provided by St. Catherine of Siena: “Be who God intended you to be, and you will set the world on fire." In that way, "Ordinary Time" can become anything but ordinary for you.


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