What is Ordinary Time?

Don’t mistake Ordinary Time for a season of dull routine.

My friend Juan is originally from Guatemala, and his first language is not English. Recently, he mentioned that for breakfast he had “potato cylinders” along with his bacon and eggs. At first, I had no idea what he was talking about. But I realized he was talking about tater tots and that Juan had described them perfectly: Tater tots are literally potato cylinders.

This is the challenge of language. Juan’s description was accurate, but my association with the words prevented me from understanding. I think this is the same problem we Catholics have with our understanding of Ordinary Time. When we think of the word ordinary, our natural associations are words such as typical, routine, or even mundane. Why would the church dedicate an entire season to this?

The ordinary in Ordinary Time does not refer to a season of dull routine but rather the listing of ordinal, or sequential, numbers. This is what is meant by the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, etc. (Interestingly, there is no First Sunday in Ordinary Time, because it is replaced by the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.) Rather than making a statement about degrees of importance, the term Ordinary Time refers to the order of Sundays in the church year that do not fall into the major liturgical seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, or Easter.

The season of Ordinary Time consists of 33 or 34 weeks and is divided into two parts. The Roman Missal – Third Edition instructs that Ordinary Time “begins on the Monday following the Sunday after January 6 and continues until the beginning of Lent; it begins again on the Monday after Pentecost Sunday and ends on the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent.” Prior to the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, these periods of Ordinary Time were referred to as “the season after Epiphany” and the “the season after Pentecost.” Although Ordinary Time takes place in two parts, it is still considered a single season.


It is easy to mistakenly think the liturgical year is about sanctifying time. The truth, however, is that the liturgical year is about growing in relationship with Jesus Christ. The richness of Ordinary Time is found in the opportunity to know Christ more intimately in the everyday realities of life. The scripture proclaimed in Ordinary Time reveals the teaching and healing and mission of Christ, allowing us to better understand God who became human. We learn that Christ is about humility rather than pride, vulnerability rather than power. We learn that Christ is about including the excluded, eating with social and religious outcasts, and dismantling structures of sin and injustice. We learn that Christ is about self-giving love that is only possible through authentic relationship.

Ordinary Time is anything but monotonous. These are the days where we grow into who we are called to be by imitating the lived reality of Jesus. 

This article also appears in the July 2023 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 88, No. 7, page 49). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: Unsplash/Mateus Campos Felipe

This article is also available in Spanish.

About the author

John T. Kyler

John T. Kyler is an author, educator, musician, and speaker. He is the author of Welcome All as Christ: Reimagining Parish Hospitality (Liturgical Press, 2023).

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