The hiccup in Ordinary Time
Posted by universalis on 17 May 2013
Someone has asked me why, after the four-week psalm cycle got to week I on Shrove Tuesday before it was interrupted by Lent and Eastertide, it now continues directly to week III. I thought that other people might have the question but not be asking it, so here is the answer.
The first week of Ordinary Time begins on the Sunday after 6 January. The last week of Ordinary Time ends the day before the Sunday after 26 November. There isn’t a whole number of weeks between 6 January and 26 November, so in some years there is room for 34 weeks of Ordinary Time and in some years there is only room for 33. (Two out of seven normal years are ‘long’ ones, and three out of seven leap years).
The liturgy provides for 34 weeks of Ordinary Time, just in case. You might think that ‘short’ years would just use weeks 1 to 33, but they don’t. This is because the final weeks of Ordinary Time are very much a run-up to the coming of the Lord and leaving out the very last week (a sort of prologue to Advent) would make no sense.
So the weeks of Ordinary Time are numbered upwards, 1, 2, 3,… from the beginning until Lent interrupts it; and they are numbered backwards 34, 33, 32,… from the end all the way back to Pentecost.
This means that the hiccup of the omitted week is swallowed up in the greater hiccup of Lent and Eastertide and nobody notices it – except for people who come back to their books and see that the bookmark is in the wrong place!
Before the reforms of the 1970s, the calendar was a bit different, in two ways. The time after the Epiphany and the time after Pentecost were treated as two separate units, which meant that they both varied in length quite a lot. Any necessary omissions always preserved the last three weeks before Lent and the last week before Advent, and because years with a long Pentecost season have a short Epiphany season, in those years the extra weeks after Pentecost borrowed readings from the unused weeks after Epiphany.
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