Entering Into the Mystery of Christ: The Beauty of Ordinary Time
‘We focus on how to live out the Paschal Mystery in our day-in, day-out vocation in Christ.’
We have returned to Ordinary Time. The white vestments of our feasts have given way to green as the celebratory poinsettias and pine trees have disappeared from the sanctuary. We return to the regular readings.
While Ordinary Time doesn’t have the same focus on a particular part of Christ’s life as do Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter, these weeks contain their own riches — saints’ feasts, Marian celebrations and Scripture readings that allow us to contemplate the Christ of the Gospels in his humanity and divinity. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops explains:
“The Sundays and weeks of Ordinary Time … take us through the life of Christ. This is the time of conversion. This is living the life of Christ.
“Ordinary Time is a time for growth and maturation, a time in which the mystery of Christ is called to penetrate ever more deeply into history until all things are finally caught up in Christ.”
Ordinary Time marks precious weeks of meditating on Christ’s life — the particular ways he served and loved others, his friendships, the revelation of his identity as Son of God. We would do well to lean into Ordinary Time for growing in intimacy with the Lord, whose life offers us a model for our own.
History of Ordinary Time
In the “General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar,” composed in 1969 with the revision of the liturgical calendar, we can find the vision behind Ordinary Time:
“Besides the times of year that have their own distinctive character, there remain in the yearly cycle thirty-three or thirty-four weeks in which no particular aspect of the mystery of Christ is celebrated, but rather the mystery of Christ itself is honored in its fullness, especially on Sundays” (43).
Though in English we may be tempted to interpret “ordinary” as synonymous to everyday, common and bland, the origin of “ordinary” suggests a season of “ordered time.”
As Msgr. Stuart Swetland, a Register contributor and president of Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas, puts it, Ordinary Time “is meant to focus on what the extraordinary reality of divine grace can and should do in our ordinary life throughout the year. In Ordinary Time, we focus on how to live out the Paschal Mystery in our day-in, day-out vocation in Christ.”
How can we enter more deeply into this season? Below are a few ideas for celebrating Ordinary Time:
There are a number of Catholic resources for living more deeply the Church’s many celebrations and feasts throughout the liturgical year. The lovely thing is that many of these celebrations fall within Ordinary Time. If you’re looking for ways to cook liturgically, check out the Register’s compilation of Catholic cookbooks, “5 Cookbooks for Catholics Who Like to Eat and Drink,” in which talented Catholic cooks offer recipes for foods and drinks that correspond with saint feast days and other celebrations in the Church calendar.
CatholicAllYear.com and The Catholic All Year Compendium: Liturgical Living for Real Life, both by Kendra Tierney, offer a number of ways to live life liturgically — from recipes and crafts to prayers and home décor. Of the short season between the end of the Christmas season and the start of Lent, Tierney acknowledges the value of Ordinary Time as offering a “reset between seasons.” One way she and her family lean into this part of Ordinary Time is by celebrating Candlemas on Feb. 2. “There are lots of great traditions associated with Candlemas,” she said, “like eating crepes and taking candles to Mass to get blessed. We use those candles throughout the year at all of our dinners and during our saint-day celebrations. We also try to make it through the day without using electric lights, just our candles. This helps us feel connected to Catholics who came before us.” Creating family traditions around celebrations that fall during Ordinary Time also makes this season special.
Praying With the Gospels
Another way to enter more deeply into the life of Christ is to spend time with the Gospels. Consider choosing one of the four Gospels for a time of personal or small-group study. As you get to know Jesus more deeply through your study, consider keeping a journal of particular verses that stand out to you and insights you receive in prayer.
For those inclined to imaginative prayer, consider adding The Chosen, a TV series that profoundly depicts the life of Christ, as part of your viewing. The episodes can serve as springboards to personal meditation. You may also decide to commit to a weekly adoration hour, where you can spend time allowing the mystery of Christ to “penetrate ever more deeply into history” and your own story.
Growing in Knowledge about the Life of the Church
Another way to celebrate Ordinary Time is to learn more about the Church and our faith. If you’ve ever wanted a guide through the beliefs of our Church, Father Mike Schmitz’s latest podcast, The Catechism in a Year (newly released in 2023), is a good place to start. The Hallow app is another useful tool for joining the Church in her rich prayer life. From saint stories to daily meditations, from novenas to sacred music, Hallow helps users deepen their intimacy with Christ. Attending your parish’s RCIA classes is yet another way to gain renewed appreciation for the beauty of our faith. Also partake in EWTN programming to enrich your faith journey.
The Life of Christ in Our Lives
Ordinary Time, then, becomes one in which our lives are knit more closely to the life of Christ and Christ becomes more closely knit to us. As the hymn Lord of All Hopefulness proclaims, Christ is “there at our waking … our labors … our homing … our sleeping,” the One whose life sets the rhythm and pattern of our own. An intimate invitation into the mystery of Christ, Ordinary Time is a season that calls us to transformation as we walk with Christ.
Lindsey Weishar writes from Kansas City, Kansas. She writes for a variety of outlets, including Verily magazine. Her column, “My Vocation is Love,” appears in The Catholic Post, the newspaper of her home Diocese of Peoria, Illinois.
Editor’s Note: She is the also the executive assistant to the president of Donnelly College.