Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Our Ordinary Walk of Life: Understanding “Tempus per Annum”

By Jennifer Gregory Miller ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 23, 2014 | In The Liturgical Year

Here’s a bit of Catholic trivia to use at your next Catholic gathering:

When is the First Sunday in Ordinary Time?

In the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite there is No First Sunday in Ordinary Time. The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is usually on Sunday and the following day is the First Monday of Ordinary Time. The years that Christmas fall on Sunday or Monday, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord will be on the Monday following Epiphany, making the Tuesday the first day of Ordinary Time.

As I mentioned in last week’s column, I find it helpful to understand the Liturgical Year and Calendar, and enjoy comparing the two forms of the calendar. At this time the Church has now entered into Tempus “per annum” which can be literally translated as

Time/Season through the Year
Time/Season during the Year
Time/Season of the Year
Time in the yearly cycle

But in the current or Ordinary Form of the Roman Missal, this is translated as Ordinary Time. In the calendar that precedes the 1969 reform, this time is divided into two different sections, depending when the weeks occur in the year, Time after Epiphany (or in the Missale Romanum also called “Before Septuagesima”) and Time after Pentecost. Currently this season is the “Time after Epiphany.”

For the current calendar, the Church’s official document, General Norms of the Liturgical Year and Calendar (GNLYC), explains Ordinary Time:

43. 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. This period is known as Ordinary Time.

And here is an explanation of the 1962 Calendar from the 1962 Saint Andrew Daily Missal:

Doctrinal Note: Between the Christmas cycle, which ended January 13 and the Easter cycle, which begins on Septuagesima Sunday, there is an intermediary period of a few weeks between these two important cycles of the mysteries of Christ.

With the difference that this period is very short, the liturgy of these Sundays, which follow the feast of the Epiphany, is very like that of the numerous Sundays of the Time after Pentecost. In both cases instead of being arranged to portray the progressive development of the mysteries of Christ, the prayer and teaching of the Church are given for their own sake, independently of any feast or particular occasion. These Masses give expression to the constant relations of the Christian people with its God and on each Sunday our mother, the Church, by uniting us to her prayer and reminding us of her teaching, imbues us with her spirit...

Continuing the Proper of Time

In both calendars, there are two cycles within the Liturgical Year, Temporal (or Proper of Time) and Sanctoral. The Temporal Cycle celebrates the mystery of the redemption and takes preeminence over other celebrations outside of the cycle. It is not just composed of the Easter and Christmas cycles of feasts, but the 33 or 34 weeks of Ordinary Time is an integral part of the Temporal Cycle. The Sanctoral Cycle consists of the feasts of devotion of Our Lord and Our Lady and feasts and memorials of the saints through the year.

The Liturgical Year is not a mystery play or chronological timeline that unfolds the historical life of Christ. “..[It] is not a cold and lifeless representation of the events of the past, or a simple and bare record of a former age. It is rather Christ Himself who is ever living in His Church” (Pius XII, Mediator Dei). Our Church calendar was not organized all at once with the intention of assigning appropriate dates for feasts of the mysteries of Christ throughout the year. The Liturgical Year began with the Paschal Mystery, and over time different feasts and seasons were added. The final calendar has been edited so many times, with additions and prunings over the centuries. We are presented the living Christ, with the Paschal mystery at the source and center of the year.


The Gregorian calendar has 52 weeks (possibly 53 Sundays) in each year, and it is necessary for the liturgy of the Liturgical year to match that total number of weeks. The table below breaks down the numbers of weeks for each calendar:


Current Calendar

1962 Calendar


4 Sundays

4 Sundays


2-3 Sundays

2-3 Sundays

Tempus per Annum /
Ordinary Time

32-33 Sundays

6 + 24 Sundays

Before Lent—5-9 Sundays

Time after Epiphany—0-6 Sundays

After Pentecost—24-28 Sundays

Time after Pentecost—24 Sundays



3 Sundays


6 Sundays

6 Sundays

Easter to Pentecost

8 Sundays

8 Sundays

Total Number of Sundays 52-54 Sundays 53-54 Sundays

In the 1962 Calendar, the Tempus “per Annum“ is divided into two sections. “Time After Epiphany” includes 6 weeks, and “Time after Pentecost” contains 24 numbered weeks. The liturgy provides 6 weeks for the time period between Epiphany and Septuagesima, but if Easter comes early, not all the weeks of “Time After Epiphany” are used. The period after Pentecost might have 28 weeks, but only 24 weeks in the liturgy, so some of the liturgy of the weeks 3-6 (never the 2nd) from “Time after Epiphany” can be inserted between the 23rd and 24th weeks of “Time after Pentecost”. 2014 has a late Easter, so there is no shuffling of liturgical weeks. “Time after Epiphany” will use all the weeks in the liturgy, and there will be 24 weeks of “Time after Pentecost.”

The 1969 reorganization of the calendar decided to have continuous numbering for the weeks of Tempus “per Annum” or Ordinary Time instead of the confusion of “Time after Epiphany” Sundays inserted at the end of the year. The first week of Ordinary Time follows the Sunday after Epiphany (which is usually the feast of the Baptism of the Lord). There is an interruption of the sequence of weeks with Lent and Easter, and then the Monday following Pentecost will be the next numbered week that was used before Ash Wednesday. The one exception is if a year has only 33 Sundays, one week of Ordinary Time will be omitted after Pentecost, to preserve the themes and order of the liturgy at the end of the year. So if Ash Wednesday is the 6th week in Ordinary Time, Monday after Pentecost will be the 8th week in Ordinary Time. This year, 2014, there are only 33 weeks, so the Church celebrates the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time before Ash Wednesday and then will celebrate the 10th week after Pentecost.

Not So Ordinary

One of the difficulties for English-speaking Catholics is grasping the translation Ordinary in the season Ordinary Time. With the usage of Ordinary and Extraordinary Form in the Roman Rite under Pope Benedict XVI, the terms got even more confusing.

In one sense the use of Ordinary is part of the Latin root word ordo, ordinis, meaning “order”, with derivatives such as the word “ordinal”. The weeks of Ordinary Time are ordered weeks, numbered sequentially.

But the second ecclesiastical meaning means customary, the usual. In the 1959 Webster New International Second Unabridged Edition, I find these definitions:

Ordinary, adjective: 1) Belonging to what is usual; having or taking its place according to customary occurrence or procedure; usual; normal.
3) Of common rank, quality, or ability; not distinguished by superior excellence or beauty; hence not distinguished in any way; commonplace; inferior, of little merit.

Extraordinary: 1) Beyond or out of the common order or method; not usual, customary, regular, or ordinary.
3) Exceeding the common degree, measure or condition; hence, uncommon; remarkable.

In current dictionaries, the primary definition is now #3 and not #1. American common usage has switched the primary definitions, and now “ordinary” tends to be thought as inferior, or second best. But in the Church’s sense these words Ordinary and Extraordinary use definition #1. Ordinary is the Customary, and Extraordinary means the Not Usual.

So the liturgical season “Ordinary Time” is the customary or usual liturgy, the season of the year.

Continuing through the dictionary, I found an entry (again, this is from 1959):

ordinary of the season: Eccl. The established service, or any part of it, appointed for any ordinary Sunday or weekday from the octave of Epiphany to the first Sunday in Lent, and from Trinity to Advent.

I’d love to find more references like this because this is clearly referring to the Tempus “per Annum” as Ordinary Time even before 1962! But I digress....

The Church also uses the word “Ordinary” in other ways, such as the noun in Ordinary of the Mass:

Ordinary of the Mass—those parts of the Mass which are relatively unchangeable in contrast to the Proper of the Feast or season. Also referred to as the Order of the Mass.

And again in this context the use of the unchanging, usual and also incorporating the root form of “order”.

I recently came across this usage of Ordinary and Extraordinary in context by Very Reverend Martin Hellriegel. The source was from a booklet from 1949 entitled Towards A Christian Sunday: An Apostolic Program, published by Grailville, with his piece being the Introduction (emphasis mine):

Unfortunately the Sunday highmass—and ‘highmass’ is the ‘ordinary, ideal form’ of celebrating the Holy Eucharist—is disappearing more and more. What a pity! The great parish solemnity, in which God’s family, with Christ the elder Brother, is to render to the majesty of God the Father all honor and glory, by holy word and sacred song in Christian fellowship, is disappearing! The ‘low’ Mass on the ‘high’ day of the Lord! By the way, the first Mass in the Cenacle was a highmass. “Do this in commemoration of me!“ The low Mass will ever remain the Extraordinary and less ideal form of celebrating the Holy Eucharist.

Msgr. Hellriegel is referring to the high and low Masses of the Latin Rite before Vatican II. This passage helps clarify the usage of Extraordinary and Ordinary in Pope Benedict’s Summorum Pontificum. (Hellriegel’s talk was on The Lord’s Day, see The Lord’s Day by Hellriegel to read in its entirety.)

The Ordinary Walk of Life

The Christmas Season is over. The Church gives us a necessary period of rest with no feasts before we enter the next cycle of preparation and feasts. Our life returns to its usual daily order. As Joseph Pieper explains, we cannot have festivity without have our usual “ordinary” life:

...[W]ork is an everyday occurrence, while a feast is something special, unusual, an interruption in the ordinary passage of time. “A holiday every day”—even every other day—is an idea that cannot be realized in practice; even though it may not necessarily run counter to the concept of festivity in itself, it is hardly feasible in the lives of men existing here and now. The festive quality of a holiday depends on its being exceptional. A festival can arise only out of the foundation of a life whose ordinary shape is given by the working day. (In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity, 1963, pp. 4-5)

Drawing on the root word of ordinary, this is a time when we are ordering our life towards God. We are putting order into our days. I was thinking about how Catechesis of the Good Shepherd refers to this as the “growing time”. Green vestments are worn during this liturgical season with the color green being the symbol of hope and victory, but also new life and growth. We are growing in our relationship with God.

And so the Church provides for us this time of growth. We have been given special gifts during the Advent and Christmas seasons, and now it is a time to put these gifts into action. We are seeking God in our usual ordinary walk of life. This is a time for us to live as Christians, guarding and strengthening the life received at Baptism. We deepen our relationship as children of God, and fulfill our purpose as alter Christus (another Christ) and look forward to His Final Coming. We are contemplating, entering deeper into the mystery of Christ as revealed through this unchanging, customary and ordered Ordinary liturgical Time of the Year.

Jennifer Gregory Miller is a wife, mother, homemaker, CGS catechist, and Montessori teacher. Specializing in living the liturgical year, or liturgical living, she is the primary developer of’s liturgical year section. See full bio.

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