The brand new PC(USA) Book of Common Worship (2018) calls the Sundays after Epiphany “Sundays after Epiphany,” and the Sundays after Pentecost “Propers.” (That is, it has entries for Proper 4, Proper 5, … Proper 28. Proper 28 falls on Sunday, November 13-19, the Sunday before Christ the King Sunday).

This is a switch from the old PC(USA) Book of Common Worship (1993), which called the Sundays after Epiphany and the Sundays after Pentecost “Sundays in Ordinary Time.”

The switch felt more like a jolt to me. I only started to learn this liturgical rhythm back in 1994 when I became a Presbyterian. It was “love at first rite,” and the Ordinary Time language has been part of that since the beginning – the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, I think. Besides which, I like the intrinsic charm of Ordinary Time, with all its beaming summer Sundays marching along decently and in order like letters in the alphabet or 1st graders in order of height. Besides which, the rhythm of Ordinary Time reinforces the rhythm of the agricultural year here in rural southern Indiana, with Ordinary Time lining up with summer and fall, and the splashy liturgical seasons of the Christmas and Easter cycles bracketing the winter/fallow period. Besides which, there was the time when knowing about Ordinary Time allowed me to explain the title of a book he was reading to my Mennonite dad.* All in all, I have a genuine fondness for the Sundays in Ordinary Time.**

Moreover, what even is a Proper?

According to Funk and Wagnalls, in ecclesiastical use the words “proper” and “ordinary” have specific meanings related to the celebration of Mass in the Roman Catholic communion. The “proper” is that portion of the Mass that contains “the prayers and collects suitable to special occasions or feasts,” while the “ordinary” is “the practically unchangeable part of the Mass.”

“Ordinary Time,” then, according to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, is that portion of the year that follows Epiphany, and then again Pentecost, during which the liturgy focuses less on special days and what they commemorate, and more on the study of the teachings and works of Christ.

Ordinary Time is actually a relatively recent addition. Before 1970, the liturgical calendar was divided up differently, with more emphasis on the distinctiveness of the time after Epiphany and Pentecost.

Presbyterian pastors don’t celebrate Mass. Many Presbyterians have, however, embraced liturgical renewal, along with its liturgical calendar and (to a greater or lesser extent) its approach to the ordering of worship around the year. The new Book of Common Worship has specific liturgical texts for each particular Sunday of the liturgical year, keyed to the lectionary readings for the day. That may explain the use of the “Proper” terminology. What’s given in the book for each date is variable liturgical material, namely, the lectionary readings for the day, along with “opening sentences” and a “prayer of the day.”

This all seems to mean that we can keep calling each Sunday itself the Nth Sunday in Ordinary Time. As the Book itself says,

The Sundays after Pentecost (like the Sundays after Epiphany) are sometimes called Ordinary Time – not because they are routine or mundane but because their primary rhythm has to do with following the Sundays “in order.”

The challenge will be checking which dates match up with which ordinal number, without a handy table like the one in the old Book of Common Worship. But those of us who are fond of Ordinary Time will no doubt find a way.


(*) Songs in Ordinary Time, Mary McGarry Morris.
(**) Not everyone feels this way. (This gentleman, for instance.)

staring up at the ceiling
staring at the ceiling