Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Return to “Tempus Per Annum” or Ordinary Time

By Jennifer Gregory Miller ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 11, 2014 | In The Liturgical Year

On Sunday we celebrated the end of the Easter Season with the Solemnity of Pentecost. The reorganization of the Liturgical Calendar in 1969 removed the octave, so the day after Pentecost we entered into Tempus per Annum or Ordinary Time, also known as “Time after Pentecost” in the 1962 calendar. It seems a letdown to completely end the Easter season on such a high note and change to the green vestments. Yes, one can say that this season is the time of the Holy Spirit, and we are living the effects of Pentecost every day, but it is not the same celebratory season.

Celebration and Reinforcement

I personally hope that the Church will add a few days, if not an octave, to ease into Ordinary Time instead of having an abrupt end to Pentecost. Throughout the Liturgical Year the Church builds up expectation and preparation for a feast or season, and then echoes and reinforces liturgical elements in the following days. This is most obvious in liturgical seasons of Advent preparing for Christmas, and Lent preparing for Easter with Christmas and Easter having an octave and also a season. But it is also repeated in small ways in the weeks of the different seasons the year, with the Sunday laying down the “theme” for the week. Now feasts of devotion, such as the upcoming feasts of Holy Trinity or Corpus Christi are not connected to the temporal cycle, which is the celebrates the mysteries of Christ’s redemption. But the feast of Pentecost is an integral part of the temporal cycle and the Easter season. To immediately follow the Sunday into Ordinary Time without any reinforcement or connection to Pentecost is not typical of the Church’s liturgy. We prepare and eagerly await for Pentecost and then it arrives and becomes an orphan feast.

The way we celebrate at home echoes the way the Church celebrates. Pentecost marks the birthday of the Church. In our family, we celebrate our birthdays, honoring the birthday person on the actual date of birth, but we also tend to expand the celebration. If the birth date lands on a weekday, we might not be able to celebrate with extended family and friends. requiring a party to be moved to a Saturday or Sunday. We also have what we call “Birthday Octave.” This isn’t a protracted birthday party, but little ways where the person is the honoree—choosing preference for dessert or dinner, what movie to watch throughout the eight days following the birthday. In really busy times, we apply a “birthday month”. This merely means that when celebrations get postponed we might need to celebrate within the month, and not just within the octave. This was in fact what happened with my husband, who celebrates a birthday on the traditional feast of the Epiphany. Seeing as I was recently recovering from open heart surgery from the previous month, we had to find creative and little ways to celebrate his 50th. And this is the same with our anniversary this month—the actual day might be a quiet celebration at home, but if we want to have a special date or weekend, it will have to be moved to an open weekend without baseball or classes.

And so I argue for a Pentecost octave, or at least a week of Ordinary Time that is dedicated to the theme of Pentecost. I think it would reflect the liturgy’s pattern, but also the human tendency to needing a more than a day to really embrace the mystery of the celebration.

What Is Ordinary Time?

This liturgical season is probably the most misunderstood season of the liturgical year, mainly because of a confusing name and even weaker translation. Tempus ad Annum, “The Season Throughout the Year,” is most commonly referred to as “Ordinary Time.”

From the General Norms of the Liturgical Year and the Calendar we have the official explanation of this season:

43. Apart from those seasons having their own distinctive character, thirty-three or thirty-four weeks remain in the yearly cycle that do not celebrate a specific aspect of the mystery of Christ. Rather, especially on the Sundays, they are devoted to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects. This period is known as Ordinary Time.

44. Ordinary Time begins on Monday after the Sunday following 6 January and continues until Tuesday before Ash Wednesday inclusive. It begins again on Monday after Pentecost and ends before Evening Prayer I of the First Sunday of Advent.

This is also the reason for the series of liturgical texts found in both the Roman Missal and The Liturgy of the Hours (Vol. III —IV), for Sundays and weekdays in this season.

Because there are only 33 weeks in Ordinary Time this year, the Church celebrated the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time before Ash Wednesday and now we are in the 10th week in Ordinary Time the Monday after Pentecost. I refer you to my previous post, Our Ordinary Walk of Life: Understand Tempus Per Annum which covers this season in depth, comparing it also to the 1962 Calendar of Time after Pentecost. I will try not to repeat myself too much here.

We should remember that this is the time we order our life towards God. We have been filled with the Holy Spirit and this is the time to put our faith into practice. The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd refers to Ordinary Time 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. Bernard Strasser elaborates on the color green and this season:

...[I]t is the color of the verdant life of nature. [This] is the time for the growth and maturing of the kingdom of God on earth, both in the Church at large and in the individual soul. Green is also the color of hope, for the postpentecostal season is the time of joyous hope in the blessed fulfillment of all things in heaven. We are growing in our relationship with God (With Christ Through the Year, p. 181)

We must have this time of work and growth, seeking God in our usual ordinary walk of life. Pentecost, in particular, highlights the work of the Holy Spirit. This is our time to work in the kingdom of God, whether it means in the quiet of our domestic church or out in the world in our jobs and apostolate. As I mentioned before, we are contemplating, entering deeper into the mystery of Christ as revealed through this unchanging, customary and ordered Ordinary liturgical Time of the Year.

Sunday Emphasis

Now that we have entered into Ordinary Time, there is no emphasis on a particular mystery of Christ, but this time allows us to really witness Sunday as the Church intends.

I know I’m always referring to the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, but this is the voice of the Church explaining the Liturgical Year and the Calendar. At times the Calendar can get very intricate. But at times like Ordinary Time, we can draw out the very basics of the Liturgical Year. The Paschal Mystery is central to the whole year, and

4. [t]he Church celebrates the paschal mystery on the first day of the week, known as the Lord’s Day or Sunday. This follows a tradition handed down from the apostles and having its origin from the day of Christ’s resurrection. Thus Sunday must be ranked as the first holyday of all (GNLYC, 4).

P. Jounel, as quoted by Adolf Adam explains that

“[t]hese Sundays [within Ordinary Time]...are Sundays in a pure state. They have no secondary traits but simply embody the very essence of the Christian Sunday or Lord’s Day as presented to us in the tradition of the church. Each of them is an Easter, each a feast.” (The Liturgical Year, p. 160)

We can use the remaining 23 Sundays in Ordinary Time (excepting the special solemnities that fall on Sunday) to bring that emphasis to this fundamental feast day. For further meditation and ideas on implementing this, see Pope Benedict’s Sunday: Primordial Nucleus of the Liturgical Year and Without the Lord’s Day, Sunday, Life Does Not Flourish and the Apostolic Letter of St. John Paul II, On Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy (Dies Domini).

Saints and Feasts

As we transition from the long fifty festive days into the standard walk of life, we can see that the weeks will not be only wearing green vestments, but are highlighted with flowers and fruits of different Marian and saints’ days. The month of June alone will be marked with several solemnities: three Feasts of Devotion (feasts not related to the life of Christ): Most Holy Trinity, Most Holy Body and Blood (Corpus Christi), and the Most Sacred Heart (third Friday after Pentecost). Fixed solemnities of June are the Birth of John the Baptist (which is really a feast of the temporal cycle) and Saints Peter and Paul. Usually a month only has one or two solemnities at the most, so this is highly unusual.

Besides the Solemnities, there are more feasts, memorials and optional memorials throughout this season. I have always loved Mary Reed Newland’s chapter title “Summer Saints and Some Are Not” from her book The Year and Our Children, which highlights the multitude of saints’ days we especially have in the summer. This is not a coincidence, but very intentional. Several saints’ feasts were moved out of the Lenten or Advent seasons (for example, St. Benedict from March 24 to July 11, St. Thomas Apostle from December 21 to July 3rd) to give more preeminence to the liturgical season and allow full celebration of the saint’s feast. Again, from the GNLYC:

8. As it celebrates the mystery of Christ in yearly cycle, the Church also venerates with a particular love Mary, the Mother of God, and sets before the devotion of the faithful the memory of the martyrs and other saints.[4]

9. The saints of universal significance have celebrations obligatory throughout the entire Church. Other saints either are listed in the General Calendar for optional celebration or are left to the veneration of some particular Church, region, or religious family.[5]...

56f. The cycle of the liturgical year should stand out with its full preeminence, but at the same time the celebration of the saints should not be permanently impeded. Therefore, dates that most of the time fall during Lent and the octave of Easter, as well as the weekdays between 17 December and 31 December, should remain free of any particular celebration, unless it is a question of optional memorials, feasts found in the Table of Liturgical Days under no. 8 a, b, c, d, or solemnities that cannot be transferred to another season. The solemnity of Saint Joseph (19 March), except where it is observed as a holyday of obligation, may be transferred by the conferences of bishops to another day outside Lent.

And why is it important to have these witnesses of the saints? Father Bernard Strasser ties in the relationship with Pentecost and the saints in Ordinary Time:

In the Acts of the Apostles (2:14ff.), we read with what courage and success St. Peter delivered his first sermon at Jerusalem on the first Pentecost after the coming of the Holy Spirit. It was the same Peter who a few weeks before had denied his Master out of fear of a mere maidservant. This courageous frankness and the fact that “about three thousand were baptized” was the work of the Holy Ghost.

A little later the apostles went out to all parts of the world at the express, apostolic command of our Lord. All the apostles, except St. John who was miraculously preserved from death, shed their blood as martyrs for Christ and His Church. It was the work of the Holy Ghost, and everything great and noble that was realized in any of the saints is the work of the Third Person of the Trinity. That is why, in the time after Pentecost, the Church now celebrates so many feasts of the Mother of God and of the saints. They are put before us as models. We can becomes saints like them by faithful co-operation with the grace of the Holy Spirit and by persevering battle against evil (Strasser, With Christ Through the Year, pp 181-182).

While it is hard to leave the Easter season, Tempus per Annum is a wonderful time for growth in the kingdom of God. As Virgil Michel explains:

The Sundays after Pentecost, occupying about half a year, show us the ordinary life of the Church, receiving its vigor from Christ, the head of the mystical body, and growing as the kingdom of Christ on earth is destined to do....(The Liturgical Year, p. 144).

We ask the Holy Spirit to guide us during this ordered season, to help us keep Sundays holy, to celebrate and imitate Mary and the saints in our path to eternal life.

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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  • Posted by: jgmiller - Jun. 14, 2014 5:41 PM ET USA

    It is unfortunate that the definition of the word ordinary in our common life is typically the "common" usage. But the Church uses the definition "Ordinary" as unchanging and the usual form in several places, such as the "ordinary of the Mass". I went through this in detail in this post: I personally like most of the revisions of the new calendar. I would prefer the Extraordinary Form unite with the current calendar.

  • Posted by: Bernadette - Jun. 13, 2014 8:33 PM ET USA

    I never liked the misnomer "Ordinary Time" that, heaven forbid, anything involving our Catholic faith should be considered "ordinary." It sounds so offhandish, banal, unimportant, so "ordinary." I opt for a return to the old calendar, for adding some of our newer saints, and closing up the gap with the Extraordinary Form. Ut Unum Sint!