Introduction to the Ordinary Sundays
Between the two high points of the liturgical year, Christmas time and Easter time, with their respective preparation, Advent and Lent, fits the Ordinary Time.
Usually it is called not in a pejorative sense as if it were insignificant, but because we can not live all year in the extraordinary, high feelings, overwhelming regrets and overflowing enthusiasm. After hearty meals we need substantial, “ordinary” food, not the heady wines, but an ordinary one, large regular.
We’ll take the roads and paths that start from the banks of the Jordan, through the villages of Galilee and painfully ascend to Jerusalem. Three years of the life of Christ, intense and decisive, the years of His public life, made of sermons and miracles (He roamed the villages preaching and healing, Mt 9,35), gradually unveiling His identity which will lead Him to the cross.
Three years during which each of all three Synoptic Evangelists will meditate the facts according to its own view angle, according to his own spirituality.
Three years leading me closer to Christ, to know His person, His message, His profound intention. I hear Jesus say to me, the paralytic, “Take your mat and walk”; to me, the helpless, “Fear not, do only believe”; to me who stumble and fall “Go, thy sins are forgiven thee”; to me with generous impulses “Come, follow me”.
And Sunday by Sunday, I will answer those calls or I’ll pretend to not hear them, the liturgies will be either... events or ceremonies.
Easter and Christmas cycles have each a content and a well characterized style. Readings between them and the prayers and songs that frame them make a coherent whole.
The thirty-three Sundays of Ordinary Time that slip between these two cycles (between Epiphany and Lent, and after Pentecost) do not have this particular color, although they have a specific structure. We could talk about celebrations with cursory reading, as opposed to Easter and Christmas cycles that do have selective readings: while they choose the readings according to their mystery, their celebration, the Sundays of Ordinary Time read during three years the synoptic Gospels, each year one of the three synoptic Gospels specifically, chapter by chapter, “on file”. The second reading takes, just, letters of the apostles in their essential pages, where the expression “semi-continuous reading” comes from.
Given the abundance of the Old Testament, it was impossible to make a cursory reading. Also are those reading extracts chosen according to the Gospel of the given Sunday. Enhancing thus the correspondence between the two Testaments.
And the Gospel of John, do you say? The tradition actually read this gospel during Lent and Eastertide, and that every year.
The vow of Vatican II to replace the ancient texts, always the same and, moreover, hardly representative, by a more abundant proclamation of Scripture is abundantly realized. From 68 texts we went up to 297 only for the Sundays of the Ordinary Time!
This is a lot, and this creates some problems.
The overabundance of texts does not facilitate their digestion. To what one can answer that these texts are made to be listened a lifetime. Gradually such a slow and gentle drizzle, they will penetrate the heart. After a few years, one will be able to recognize the passage, especially if a biblical catechism initiation or group of adults prepares and accompanies the Sunday liturgy.
Another difficulty is that every Sunday has two interests. Indeed, the short second reading runs on its own rail regardless of the Gospel and the first reading that make a whole. No doubt can one remove the problem by removing the second reading. But then we miss half the New Testament. What a loss! The two interests are not a misfortune. They avoid “theme Masses” of which one gets quickly tired, they provide a listening diversification. Everyone is not on the same wavelength, and one will be sensitized to that reading while it will not say anything to the other. Hence this “alternative in the menu.” Moreover, this approach is based on a very ancient tradition which we listened to, in the following order, the Prophet (Old Testament) the Apostle (epistles) the Lord (the gospel).
So rich food, substantial, A GREAT ORDINARY. It is the nourishing Word that we need. The Word of God. It is not enough to listen to it, even suspended at the lips of Christ (Lk 19,48) as the people who a few days later let Him down. We will have, having heard this word, to put it into practice (Lk 8,21).
A final difficulty is that the antiphons (entrance songs, Offertory, Communion) and prayers (in formal order) remain the same for the three years of the cycle, while the readings, they vary. We must renounce to harmonize them, especially so as the liturgy allows us to choose other appropriate songs.
Non-biblical texts for the Mass
It is not uncommon for groups use other texts during Mass: songs, poems, newspaper clippings, Hindu texts ...
Scripture always needs to be updated, translated. We can prepare, extend readings, official prayers by external inputs. This has always been done, were it not only by preachers who love to enamel their sermons with quotations from authors.
Everything is in the know whether these contributions update Scripture or supersedes it. In the latter case, it is a false track. Because the Word of God, the story of God’s interventions in our history, is the center of our Christian meditation, and can not be replaced by any human speech. Scripture, in this case alone is normative.
This need for something else has to be decrypted: Is it a simple desire for change? Allergy to the Bible that one does not know well? Or the will to update it?