What is Ordinary Time in Catholicsm?


Hello All,
I was listening to EWTN radio the other day to a taping of a Catholic worship service and they something about it being the “third week of ordinary time” or something to that effect.

Can someone explain to this protestant lad (Ok, I admit I’m not a lad anymore except in spirit) what ordinary time is and what other special times there are in Catholicism?

Much appreciated. Thanks!


In the liturgical calendar, Advent is the period before Christmas. Lent is the period of preparation for Easter. Other days are “ordinary time.”



There are Sundays of Easter as well.

Basically the Sundays after Easter and after Epiphany are Sundays in Ordinary Time. I believe they comprise 30-31 Sundays of the year.


Not entirely. Additional distinct liturgical periods, not considered Ordinary Time, are Sundays after Easter and Sundays after Christmas, during which the liturgical color is white, not the green of Ordinary Time.


The Church sanctifies the entire year with liturgical seasons - the Church gives us different themes and aspects of the Christian mystery to meditate on throughout the year. The liturgical year starts with Advent (rather than Jan 1 as with the civil year) which begins in late November / Early December. Advent is a time to reflect and prepare for the coming of Christ into the world at Christmas. We are mystically brought back to the time of waiting, of anticipation, and also call to mind the Church’s current wait and anticipation of Christ’s second coming and the consummation of all things. For traditionally minded Catholics, it is not appropriate to put up all of your Christmas decorations nor to “celebrate” Christmas during Advent. Advent is a time of prayer, penance, and spiritual preparation.
Christmas itself warrants its own season - the celebration of the Incarnation - the Word made flesh - which includes Christmas day, the Christmas Octave (the eight days of Christmas) culminating with the feast of Mary, Mother of God (who gave birth to Christ), Epiphany (celebrating the coming of the wise men as an image of Christ being revealed not just to the Jews but to all the Gentile nations), and the feast of the baptism of the Lord which is in early January. We then return to Ordinary Time until Lent. Lent begins in February / March (depending on the year) with Ash Wednesday (we are literally anointed with ashes on this day just as the Jews of the Old Testament put on “ash and sackcloth” as a sign of repentance). Lent is a period of 40 days (symbolically - it isn’t exactly 40 days though it is close) representing Our Lord’s 40 days in the desert and Israel’s 40 years in the desert. Lent is a time of self-denial - of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. During Lent we prepare ourselves for Easter. Easter, the the greatest feast of the year, the celebration of the resurrection, is celebrated during the Easter Tridiuum, which is its own season. The Tridiuum recalls the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. It begins with Holy Thursday where we celebrate the Last Supper (the institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist). Then Good Friday where we commemorate Our Lord’s death. On Holy Saturday the Church is quiet as we remember Our Lord dead in the tomb. On Easter Sunday we celebrate His resurrection with great joy. There is then the Easter season which follows Easter and includes 40 days of celebrating the resurrection followed by the feast of the Ascension of the Lord into heaven and then the feast of Pentecost (the coming of the Holy Spirit). After Pentecost we are back into Ordinary Time until the next Advent.



In addition to everything that everyone else has already said, let me add this: the ‘ordinary’ in ‘ordinary time’ doesn’t mean “normal”, it means “in order”. If you remember from math class, there are cardinal numbers, nominal numbers and ordinal numbers. Cardinal numbers are ‘counting’ numbers (1, 2, 3), and nominal numbers are ‘identifiers’ (like a number on a football player’s uniform). Ordinary numbers, though, show order (1st, 2nd, 3rd).

When the Church talks about ‘ordinary time’, it’s simply identifying the weeks of the year with an ordinal number (2nd week, 3rd week, …, 30th week).



So far the posters have addressed only the Ordinary Form of the Mass. There is also the Extraordinary Form, not to mention different Rites within the Catholic church.

The Extraordinary Form follows a different liturgical calender. Its one that was used prior to and during 1962. The term Ordinary time was used after Vatican II. The weeks after Epiphany and the pre-Lenten Sundays of Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima were dropped. For the most part these times became “Ordinary time” along with several other periods.

I would suggest that you visit a Catholic church and attend a Mass. Study the missals and then try to meet with a priest to answer your question.



Thanks to everyone for the understandable replies. It makes a lot more sense now when I think of it in terms of specific liturgical seasons.

Follow up question:
What is the difference in what happens during a Mass presented in Ordinary Form and Extraordinary Form?

Would the EF Mass be held in Latin more than in English? Are there any other main differences? Thanks again to everyone for the helpful info.


Time before christmas is advent time and easter on sundays … Rest all days have ordinary times


The Extraordinary Form is the term Pope Emeritus Benedict used to describe the mass as celebrated according to the 1962 Missal (the book that describes how the mass is celebrated) when he gave all priests of the Roman Rite permission to celebrate according to this older form in 2007. The Ordinary Form is used to describe the 1970 Missal (slightly revised a number of times since then) promulgated by Pope Blessed Paul VI in response to the Second Vatican Council’s call for liturgical reform. The Ordinary Form gives the priest a lot more options, so as a result the way the mass is celebrated from parish to parish varies much more considerably than you would have found in the past. If the priest elects to use a number of the more “traditional” options, which includes chanting the mass in Latin, it won’t appear that different, on the surface from an Extraordinary Form mass…but in practice, the OF mass is almost always celebrated in the vernacular (local languages, such as English) and often with more modern forms of music. The Extraordinary Form, as I mentioned, is based on the 1962 Missal, but that Missal was only a minor revision of the previous Missals…essentially, the Extraordinary Form goes back 1500 years to the early Church and is more broadly known as the Gregorian Mass (named after Pope St. Gregory the Great - 6th century). It is always celebrated in Latin and the priest always faces “the East” (same direction as the people - leading us in worship and looking expectantly towards the East for the Lord’s return).
The Scripture readings will also vary. In response to the Second Vatican Council, the Ordinary Form mass includes a wider selection of Scripture - we now hear readings on a three year cycle while in the Extraordinary Form, the same readings are repeated each year.


Thanks, twf. Very helpful. :thumbsup:


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