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Ordinary Time
Counted Time of the Church Year

Dennis Bratcher

Most of the Seasons of the Christian Church Year are organized around the two major festivals that mark sacred time, Christmas and Easter. The Christmas Season encompasses the time of preparation during Advent and the celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas and Epiphany in early January (the 6th). The Easter Season encompasses the time of preparation during the 40 weekdays of Lent and Holy Week, and is linked with Pentecost Sunday 50 days later. While there are other individual holy days within the church year, these seasons mark the movement of sacred time within the church calendar.

The rest of the year following Epiphany and Pentecost is known as Ordinary Time. Rather than meaning "common" or "mundane," this term comes from the word "ordinal," which simply means counted time (First Sunday after Pentecost, etc.), which is probably a better way to think of this time of the year.  Counted time after Pentecost always begins with Trinity Sunday (the first Sunday after Pentecost) and ends with Christ the King Sunday or the Reign of Christ the King (last Sunday before the beginning of Advent).

Many Protestant church traditions consider the Sundays following Epiphany a season of Epiphany that runs until the beginning of Lent. Those traditions that follow the Roman Catholic calendar only count January 6th as Epiphany and do not think of a season of Epiphany, so consider the Sundays following part of Ordinary Time. In either case, the Sundays after Epiphany are counted (1st Sunday after Epiphany, etc.) so technically are Ordinary Time. However in most Protestant churches Ordinary Time usually refers to the Sundays after Pentecost Sunday before the beginning of Advent.

The 33 or 34 Sundays of Ordinary Time after Pentecost (23 to 28 Sundays after Pentecost) are used to focus on various aspects of the Faith, especially the mission of the church in the world. The Lectionary readings for these Sundays tend to be semi-continuous readings through certain sections of Scripture, especially through the Synoptic Gospel of the year. However, many ministers use Ordinary Time to focus on specific themes of interest or importance to a local congregation rather than building sermons around the Lectionary readings. Even so, most pastors who observe the church year will continue to follow the Lectionary readings in public worship even if they are not the topic of the sermon in order to preserve the continuity of the spoken word of Scripture being heard by the congregation (see Word and Table).

The sanctuary color for Ordinary Time is dark green, although other shades of green are commonly used. Green has traditionally been associated with new life and growth. Even in Hebrew in the Old Testament, the same word for the color “green” also means “young.”  In Christian tradition, green came to symbolize the life of the church following Pentecost, as well as symbolizing the hope of new life in the resurrection.

However, many churches introduce variety into the color scheme during this part of the year. Some churches use colors that match the décor of the church, so that the special seasons of the church year are marked by a change of color from the ordinary. Some churches coordinate parament colors with sanctuary banners that present various biblical themes during this part of the year. The most often used alternate colors for Ordinary Time are bronze or copper, olive, and aqua with maroon showing up occasionally.

Some church traditions only celebrate Pentecost Sunday and Trinity Sunday (the first Sunday after Pentecost), and then begin Ordinary Time with the Second Sunday after Pentecost that runs until Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday before the beginning of Advent. Other traditions observe a Pentecost Season extending for the eleven to sixteen Sundays (depending on the date of Easter) beginning with Pentecost Sunday and running through the next to last Sunday of August. Then beginning with the last Sunday of August, they count the remaining thirteen or fourteen Sundays until the beginning of Advent as Kingdomtide (in the Methodist tradition) or Dominiontide (in other churches), climaxing with the Christ the King Sunday. This serves to break up the long stretch of Ordinary Time following Pentecost into two seasons that can carry different emphases.  

The season of Pentecost usually focuses on the evangelical mission of the church to the world and its responsibility in carrying out that mission of proclamation. That emphasis often extends into Ordinary Time.  Some Protestant churches also celebrate Reformation Sunday (end of October) and All Saints Sunday (first Sunday in November). These are becoming increasingly popular ways to flesh out the themes of the Church in the World during Ordinary Time by focusing on heritage and the faithfulness of those in the past.  The season of Kingdomtide celebrates Christ as King and Sovereign of the world, emphasizing God's Dominion over all of creation.  The focus in this season is often on social justice and action as an expression of the Lordship of God over his people and the world.

-Dennis Bratcher, Copyright © 2013, Dennis Bratcher, All Rights Reserved
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