Ordinary Time

I am writing this on the Sunday still called Pentecost, on the very eve of “Ordinary Time.” It is the great gift of post-Vatican II — the desert that howls before us. I have been a Catholic now for six years, four months, and 23 days, and am still fumbling through what used to be called the Divine Office.

That was one of my first liturgical questions. What is “Ordinary Time”? I’m sure there is an answer, just as I hope that I will never understand it.

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You see, I was an Anglican before, and therefore rather spoiled. I got used to this very Catholic calendar, and an Anglican Breviary that put into clear and elegant English “The Divine Office according to the general usages of the Western Church.” There was no “Ordinary Time” in it; only the Ordinary of the Mass. The whole year was consecrated. No time off for good behavior, or anything like that.

Today, May 24, 2010, is “Monday of Week 8 of the Year,” so far as I can make out (Psalm week 4). That would make the last one Ordinary Week 7, right? Wrong. That was Monday of the seventh week of Eastertide — another thing entirely.

In fact, I’m trying to figure out what happened to the seventh “ordinary” week. Maybe some reader can find it for me. I seem to remember we were in Ordinary Week 6 when Ash Wednesday suddenly intervened. Did someone lose count, or did I?

“Morning prayer,” “mid-morning prayer,” “midday prayer,” “afternoon prayer” . . . and so on. It is all of a piece with the glib responses; the kindergarten atmosphere in which it is assumed that Catholics are too stupid to understand Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers. Instead of raising the people to God, we will lower God to the people on our crankshaft apparatus. We will make Him ordinary; swivel the priest around. For that is what was done.

Next week will be the ninth ordinary one. (I’m fairly sure of this because I just checked with Universalis.) And from experience I know that we have a lot of ordinary weeks coming. They may seem to go on to eternity, but in my “Liturgy of the Hours” they cut out after week 34. In other words, there are 34 weeks in the year (if we’re lucky), plus “specials.” Not unlike shopping.

Now, I don’t want to lose my reader. So I will try to resist listing the innumerable other things that curl my ears as I inch through the “postmodern” liturgical year. Little things, mostly. But the devil is in the details.

Example: The other day, I intentionally wrote, in my very secular newspaper column, that Pentecost fell on the seventh Sunday “after” Easter. It is a concept every numerate person can understand: one plus 49 equals 50. I was then immediately flagged down by a Catholic friend, who began explaining that they were now Sundays “of” Easter.

This brought several questions to mind. Who did this? Why did they do this? And . . . well, let me suppress my next question, which was facetious anyway.

Notice I haven’t moaned about ICEL translations. I never moan about them. I try to ignore them; I try to think in Latin in order to do so, but often I can’t. But then I don’t moan: I wince. While no one is the custodian of the English language, I do entertain a protective feeling toward it, and I do not like to see it desecrated by writers with no poetical gift whatever. For that matter, I do not like to see the Mass desecrated with viciously ugly, and mischievously vague, “paraphrases” of received formulations.

So far, so naive. I knew perfectly well what I would be in for when I crossed the Tiber. Indeed, no Anglican as “high” as I was had failed to sneer at the illiteracy of neo-Catholic worship, nor squeal in anguish at what similarly motivated “reformers” had been doing to destroy the magnificent, and for the most part magnificently catholic, Book of Common Prayer.

The devil is in the details, as I learned on my father’s knee, though he was only referring to questions of design and artifice. It was the historical accumulation of fine details, got exactly right, that gave the Catholic liturgy its former majesty and conferred upon all of it that wonderful sense of confidence: that the discords would be musical, and not merely boorish. That the breaks would be intentional and dramatic and anticipated, and not like highway collisions with the sound of tearing metal.

I am confident that, over the coming generations, that majesty will be restored. For I am very confident that the Holy Spirit, and not a bureaucratic committee, is ultimately directing the affairs of our Church.

Moreover, I am persuaded that God is merciful. He will not give us only what we deserve. And I have no doubt that we deserved the hideous things that were done during the meltdown “after” (not “of”) Vatican II.

The same pope is dealing with this today who is dealing with the rest of the fallout from that period. The ghastly and perverted crimes committed by Catholic priests and religious; the disintegration of monastic orders; the surrender of Catholic education; the wholesale abandonment of Catholic life, worship, and discipline by most of the laity. These were hardly disconnected things.

We have been living through decades of “Ordinary Time,” in which the Church was subjected to humanly calculated “reforms.” Let us earnestly pray they will be over — that we may soon resume the practice of the extraordinary.


  • David Warren

    David Warren is a Canadian journalist who writes mostly on international affairs. His Web site is www.davidwarrenonline.com.

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