For those who pray the Liturgy of the Hours in the full four-volume text published after Vatican II, today is change day, from Volume III (Ordinary Time, Weeks 1–17) to Volume IV (Weeks 18–34). Putting away one volume, which has curled comfortably to conform to the shape of my hand over the past four months, and bringing out the next is like a change of season. It reminds me—because it’s early Sunday morning, and I’m free-associating here—of St. Patrick’s Day in New England. Time to put away the tools of winter and bring out the deck chairs. “What comes out on St. Patrick’s Day?” “Paddy O’Furniture.”
When I first started praying the Liturgy of the Hours, it was with the white-hot fervor of the convert. Golly, some days early in 2008, in the weeks after my set arrived from (where else?) Amazon, I even prayed the three minor hours and sang a few hymns. Now, I almost always do the Office of Readings at the beginning of the day, but after that it’s anybody’s guess: Even on good days, I may only squeeze in Evening Prayer and, before bed, Night Prayer.
Still, change days always remind me of the liturgical calendar, and this change day is especially interesting to me as someone who is finally settling into the thought, “I am a Catholic.” I looked it up and discovered, to my surprise, that Ordinary Time is a new term, dating from 1969, post–VC II. My unfailing source of all things true—not Scripture, not the Church, I’m talking Wikipedia—says that
The term Ordinary Time was first used with the liturgical reforms which followed the Second Vatican Council. The reformed liturgical calendar took effect on the first Sunday of Advent in 1969. Before this there were two distinct seasons known as the season after Epiphany and the season after Pentecost.
I had assumed that for two thousand years the Catholic Church (unlike the Protestant denominations of my early years) had embraced this lovely word Ordinary. It is a word both humble and powerful. Ordinary = everyday, not particularly important. Yet also ordinary = order, something that keeps my life in order, aligned with God’s law and the teachings of the Church. I guess that will have to remain my own private meaning.
Whatever its source, the term Ordinary Time does remind me how lucky I am to be a Catholic. As a boy in the Congregational and then Episcopal Churches, I loved Advent (what child doesn’t?) and I developed an imprecise but uncanny feeling about Lent, especially Holy Week. But the rest of the year was fuzzy and liturgically adrift. I know the Episcopal Church retains the rudiments of the liturgical calendar, but I was never educated in its structure and so wandered through the year from one Christmas to the next without a map, much as even we Catholics wander through the week, from the obligation of one Mass to the next.
What I love about the Catholic Church is that it calls to me every day, and at each hour of every day. Whether I pull Volume 4 from my briefcase to read the Noon hour or not, I know that it’s in there calling to me. Even that is a comfort.