Pentecost and Ordinary Time

Growing up Roman Catholic I did not understand Ordinary time. To be fair though, I never really thought about it until some time in college. As a child this is how the Church’s liturgical year broke down: Advent – Christmas time celebrating gifts, caroling, good cheer, etc. etc. until Christmas day inclusive; Christmas – ordinary time beginning the day after Christmas and ending on Easter Sunday (with a little interruption by Ash Wednesday); Lent – ordinary time; Easter Sunday – candy and bunnies; Easter season – ordinary time until Advent; Ordinary Time – indistinguishable from Christmas season, Lent, and Easter season. The only real change to this understanding in high school concerned the season of Lent. Lent was a time to give something up to prepare for Easter. I embraced the seriousness of giving something up, but the penitential aspect was lost on me. My deepest understanding of Lent was that it was spending time with Jesus in the desert so that meant I had to give something up. At university I began to have a proper understanding of Advent. It is not Christmas; it is a preparation for Christmas. In addition it is also a penitential time of year which is why the liturgical color for Advent is purple just like Lent. (I was also beginning to learn about liturgical colors). The cool thing about learning this about Advent was that I also learned something about Christmas – it was definitely longer than one day (awesome) and this brought great relief because now the “12 Days of Christmas” wasn’t so mysterious. I also entered deeper into the mystery of the season of Lent and the accompanying joy of the Easter season. In grad school I learned that Fridays outside of Lent are still penitential days, which in America means you either don’t eat meat or you choose to do another penance in place of not eating meat. This was a major revelation to me. I had never heard this before and dutifully began to observe all Fridays as a day of penance. This led to something else that was really cool: learning about octaves, more specifically, the Octave of Easter. Very simply put, an octave is an eight day period beginning on a major feast in which that feast is continued to be celebrated. The Octave of Easter is by far the coolest. Every day from Easter Sunday to the Second Sunday of Easter is a solemnity. That means on Easter Friday you can eat meat and not do any penance. It’s not a penitential day; it’s a solemnity like Christmas and Easter Sunday. Some such as myself like to call it Meat Friday. As I learned more about the Church’s penitential seasons and practices, I learned more about the Church’s celebration and living of Christian joy. However, I, a graduate theology student at the time, still did not know anything of real substance concerning Ordinary time. It was still an ordinary time  merely distinguished by the color green. And why green? I get white, purple, and red. I get blue (if you’re in certain parts of Spain). But why is green the liturgical color of Ordinary Time?

It was at this point that I encountered the Ruthenian rite of the Catholic Church and learned that there is much more to the Catholic Church than just the Roman rite. Byzantine calendars do not count Sundays in Ordinary time as the 1st, 2nd, etc. Sunday of Ordinary Time. Instead it was the 1st, 2nd, etc. Sunday after Pentecost. I later found out that the Roman calendar prior to the liturgical reforms after Vatican II also referred to these Sundays as “after Pentecost.” This was quite the revelation to me; I finally had a context for Ordinary time – it was the time of Pentecost, a pentecostal season. But this was not the revelation that would truly blow me out of the water. There was still confusion over the color green; after all, the color for Pentecost is red. So I was still left with the question: Why green? Once again it was in the Byzantine rite that I found my answer. There is only one day in the entire liturgical year that Byzantines use the color green – the feast of Pentecost. Green is not only the color of the vestments and the various linens used in the sanctuary; the church on Pentecost is decorated with a lot of green foliage such as ferns. It is quite striking and beautiful when you spend the entire year only seeing white, purple, red, and occasionally blue. So why do Byzantines use the color green on Pentecost Sunday? The Holy Spirit is the Lord and Giver of Life and green is the color of life. This is the same reason that green is the color of Ordinary time in the Roman rite; and this is not a Byzantine interpretation on my part of the Roman rite. It is only recently that the name of Sundays in Ordinary time stopped referring explicitly to Pentecost in the Roman rite. The Catholic Encyclopdia from the early 20th century also states that green being “the hue of plants and trees, bespeaks the hope of eternal life,” that life which is given by the Holy Spirit, which imbues the Church and has been handed on by Her since the day of Pentecost. Ordinary time has a very strong and specific dimension. It is missionary. It is the time of planting, watering, nourishing, sinking our roots deep and spreading our limbs far. It drives us to the triumph of the Cross and the heavenly universal kingship of Jesus Christ, a triumph and kingship in which we participate. It is the time to “be not afraid,” to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and our salvation, to go forth and baptize all nations, to sanctify the world in which we live in all its aspects; it is the time to live as Christians, those anointed by the Holy Spirit, and  bring the One Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life to all people through His Body, the Church, of Whom we are members.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love.

V. Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created.
R. And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

Let us pray.
O God, Who didst instruct the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant us in the same Spirit to be truly wise, and ever to rejoice in His consolation. Through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

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