Counting Ordinary Time

And More on Vestment Colors

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ROME, JULY 17, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: How come "Ascension Sunday" is included in the counting of Sundays of ordinary time? I am more amenable to Pentecost Sunday being considered simultaneously as the resumption of ordinary time. My reason has to do with the 50-day Easter season. -- A.A., Province of Isabela, Philippines

A: Actually, Ascension Sunday (or Thursday) is not a factor at all in calculating the Sundays of ordinary time. In those countries that move the Ascension from its traditional Thursday to the following Sunday, what loses out is the 7th Sunday of Easter, not a Sunday of ordinary time. The amount of time for Easter remains the same: It always runs 50 days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday.

The reason why ordinary time is sometimes 33 weeks and sometimes 34 is based on other factors.

In the Catholic Church, ordinary time begins on the day following the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The Church normally celebrates this feast on the Sunday after the solemnity of the Epiphany (Jan. 6). Some countries, however, always celebrate Epiphany on the Sunday after the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (Jan. 1). In this latter case if the Epiphany falls on Sunday, Jan. 7 or 8, they move the feast of the Baptism of the Lord to Monday, Jan. 8 or 9, respectively, and the 1st week of ordinary time starts the following day, Tuesday, Jan. 8 or 9.

There is a 1st week of ordinary time but no 1st Sunday of ordinary time. The Sunday following the feast of the Baptism of the Lord is always the 2nd Sunday of ordinary time.

Ordinary time continues until the day before Ash Wednesday, which falls between Feb. 4 and March 10 (inclusive) and marks the beginning of the season of Lent. Thus the period of ordinary time between Christmas and Lent may end amid the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, or 9th week of ordinary time.

Ordinary time resumes on the Monday following Pentecost Sunday, which can fall between May 10 and June 13 and concludes on the Saturday afternoon before the 1st Sunday of Advent (Nov. 27 to Dec. 3). Ordinary time thus always includes the entire months of July, August, September and October and most or all of June and November. In some years, ordinary time includes a portion of May, a day or two in early December, or both. The feast of Christ the King is celebrated on the last Sunday of ordinary time.

The length of the Advent season varies between three and four weeks, depending on which weekday Christmas falls. However, the Church wishes to ensure that the readings for the 34th week of ordinary time are always read. In order to achieve this, the Church often omits the week that would naturally precede the resumption of ordinary time following Pentecost Sunday.

For this reason the actual number of complete or partial weeks of ordinary time in any given year is mostly 33 and occasionally 34. For example, in 2012, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday was the 7th Sunday in ordinary time and the day after Pentecost Sunday began the 8th week in ordinary time and so we will have 34 weeks.

In 2013, however, the week before Ash Wednesday will be the 5th while the 7th week will start after Pentecost, omitting week 6.

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Follow-up: Vestment Colors at a Concelebration

Related to our column on liturgical colors (see July 3) there was a question regarding a change of color. A reader from Oregon asked "whether a priest can add or change the liturgical color assigned for each liturgical season? For example, during Advent instead of purple, the pastor at my parish uses blue as the color of the season. He explained that so as not to confuse Advent with Lent and also in honor of Mary, blue is a more suitable color."

Blue is not one of the normal liturgical colors. Blue vestments may be used, however, as a papal privilege. This privilege has been granted to some Marian shrines and to some countries for major solemnities of the Blessed Virgin. It cannot be used as a substitute for violet.

If a pastor believes that it is a good idea to distinguish Advent from Lent, then he can easily do so by using different shades of violet vestments. There is no need to contravene liturgical laws by incorporating colors not approved for general liturgical use.

Another reader asked: "Why is it that on the feast of the Sacred Heart the Mass vestments are colored white? This always confuses me because votive Masses of the Precious Blood use red-colored vestments."

The reason for the difference is rooted in the history and meaning of both celebrations.

In the present Roman Missal the celebration of the Precious Blood is simply the formula of a votive Mass. In the calendar of the extraordinary form it remains a feast.

This celebration apparently originated in 16th-century Spain. It was introduced into Rome by St. Gaspar del Bufalo (1786-1837), the founder of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood.

The feast was first granted for this congregation and assigned to the Friday after the 4th Sunday of Lent. Some dioceses around the world, including those of the United States, also adopted the celebration.

It remained a local feast until 1849. In that year due to political disturbances Pope Pius IX had to flee Rome for Gaeta. In his exile he was accompanied by Venerable Giovanni Merlini, superior general of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. This holy priest suggested to the Pope that he make a vow to extend the feast of the Precious Blood to the whole Church if he were to return to Rome. The Holy Father considered that it was not opportune to make such a vow but would gladly extend the feast anyway. That day was Saturday, June 30 and coincidentally the day Rome was freed from the insurgents. For this reason the Pope decreed that the feast would be celebrated every first Sunday of July.

Therefore, in many places the same office was celebrated twice, once in Lent and in July. Later Pope Pius X in an effort to reduce the number of celebrations held on a Sunday fixed the date on July 1. Pius XI raised its liturgical rank in 1933 on the occasion of the 1900th year of Jesus' death, but it was again reduced, in the reform of Pope John XXIII.

In 1969 it was removed from the universal calendar. The reason given was: "because the Most Precious Blood of Christ the Redeemer is already venerated in the solemnities of the Passion, of Corpus Christi and of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and in the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. But the Mass of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ is placed among the votive Masses."

It is logical that red vestments be used since the origin of this feast is more closely tied to Christ's passion. This is logical insofar as his blood is precious because it is the ransom he paid for the redemption of mankind.

The feast of the Sacred Heart, while the passion theme is not absent, is far more centered on the themes of Christ's continuing love for us and it is intimately related to the veneration of the Eucharist. For this reason, and because it is a liturgical solemnity, white vestments are more appropriate.

This difference of accentuation can be seen in the opening prayers of the respective Masses:

"O God, who by the Precious Blood of your Only Begotten Son have redeemed the whole world, preserve in us the work of your mercy, so that, ever honoring the mystery of our salvation, we may merit to obtain its fruits. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son …."

"Grant, we pray, almighty God, that we, who glory in the Heart of your beloved Son and recall the wonders of his love for us, may be made worthy to receive an overflowing measure of grace from that fount of heavenly gifts. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son …."