We’ve entered the short ‘green time’

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | January 17, 2023

The church’s liturgical calendar is marked by several colors

Green is not my favorite color. Not that I don’t like certain greens — like emerald and mint. But not pea green or olive drab (though I do like olives).

But green does not seem that impressive to me — after all, there is a lot of it. From traffic lights to tree leaves to evergreens, grass, moss and lizards.

Green just doesn’t seem as flashy as red or as pulsing as purple or even as fresh as white.

Green is just a bit ordinary.

And now that we finished the Christmas season with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Monday, Jan. 9, we are in “the green time of the church.” The shorter green time.

Pope Francis, attired in vestments for Ordinary Time, gives the homily as he celebrates Mass at the Vatican in this CNS file photo. (CNS Photo | Vatican Media)

It is Ordinary Time on the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church.

There are two periods of “Ordinary Time” in the church calendar each year. The first runs from the end of the Christmas season to the beginning of Lent. (In 2023, Feb. 22 is Ash Wednesday.) The second — and longer — period runs from the end of the Easter Season (the Monday after Pentecost) until the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent.

After the excitement of Christmas and Easter, Ordinary Times may seem a bit, well, dull. Yes, there are plenty of feasts during those times, such as Candlemas Day (Feb. 2) and Corpus Christi in summer (June 11 this year.) But there is not the sense of preparation and building drama of Lent and Advent.

Green is the liturgical color of Ordinary Time, which makes up more than 60% of the church’s calendar. So we get used to seeing it on vestments, altar clothes and sanctuary decorations.

This time of the church year may seem a bit “ordinary,” like the color green. But it is not called “Ordinary Time” due to the fact that there is a lot of Ordinary Time. Rather it comes to us from the Latin word ordinalis, which means “ordered” or “counted,” because the Sundays of Ordinary Time are counted. That is why we have numbered Sundays — such as the Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays — in Ordinary Time.

The cycle of seasons did not develop all at once in our church history. In fact, it wasn’t until the time of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century that what we now call the “temporal cycle” of the calendar was formalized. (There is also a “sanctoral cycle,” which celebrates the feasts of the saints.)

The first “season” to develop was Easter. This central feast was the focus of the first liturgies of the church — and still celebrated each Sunday, the “first day of the week.” This day was marked by gatherings of Christians and it eventually developed into what we now know as Sunday Mass.

The color of Easter is white, as are the feasts of the saints who are not martyrs. (The color of Lent and Advent is purple and the color of the feasts of the Holy Spirit and martyrs is red.)

The other seasons developed naturally — Easter became the time to welcome new members into the church and they underwent a time of preparation before receiving the sacraments. Soon, others wanted to join in that time of preparation and Lent developed. Christmas took a few centuries to become a formal feast. It was predated by the Epiphany celebration, when the manifestations of Christ’s incarnation were honored. Following that, Advent developed as a preparation for Christmas.

Ordinary Time, while not highlighting any major church festival time, does highlight the life and teachings of the Lord Jesus. It is during these Sundays that we hear the parables, the Beatitudes, the stories of healing and of new life. Ordinary Time is when ordinary life happened all around Jesus — except that it was colored by his presence and became extraordinary.

In the same way, our celebration of “Ordinary Time” happens while we live in the ordinary seasons of life. But, as Christians, these ordinary times are made extraordinary because they are colored by the presence of Christ.

Sources: Simplycatholic.com; Aleteia.org; wordonfire.org; Sourcebook of Sundays and Seasons; Principles of Liturgy, The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia; The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism and The Catholic Encyclopedia?

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