January 15, 2023

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

The Solemnity of the Lord’s Epiphany last weekend, and the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord that followed, have marked the last day of the Christmas season. We now once again begin the liturgical season of Ordinary Time, at least for the next seven weeks. Ordinary Time will be interrupted from February 22-May 29, during which we celebrate the seasons of Lent and Easter.

For some people, Ordinary time could well be just the season opposite extraordinary time. And we would think of the Church’s special celebrations like Advent, Christmas, Lent, Triduum, Easter, and other feasts, as extraordinary times.  But truth be told, the Church’s Ordinary Time which we celebrate in our liturgical calendar is never “ordinary” in the way we normally understand it. The term “Ordinary Time” is not meant to convey that this season is common and, therefore, unimportant. It comes from the Latin “ordinalis”, which means “ordered or numbered”, and refers to numbers in a series. This is why we name the Sundays of Ordinary Time as the first Sunday, second, third, fourth, and so on, all the way to the thirty-fourth. Etymologically, “Ordinalis” comes from the Latin root word “ordo”, from which we get the word “order”. Thus, the numbered weeks of Ordinary Time represent the ordered weeks in the life of the Church. In fact, the guidebook that contain all liturgical indications to be observed by the Church throughout the year, found in every church’s sacristy, is still called the “Ordo” book. 

During the weeks of Ordinary Time, we are not focused on a particular aspect of the mystery of Christ, but on the mystery of Christ itself. As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops explains, “Christmas Time and Easter Time highlight the central mysteries of the Paschal Mystery, namely, the incarnation, death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Sundays and weeks of Ordinary Time, on the other hand, take us through the life of Christ. This is the time of conversion. This is living the life of Christ. Ordinary Time is a time for growth and maturation, a time in which the mystery of Christ is called to penetrate ever more deeply into history until all things are finally caught up in Christ. The goal, toward which all of history is directed, is represented by the final Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” (USCCB: Prayer & Worship-Ordinary Time).

Ordinary Time is thus a specific season in the Church that focuses on the life of Christ during his three years of public ministry. That is why the start of Ordinary Time begins with the Baptism of the Lord, as that is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The Second Sunday of Ordinary Time follows suit, focusing on the Wedding Feast at Cana, also known as Jesus’ first public miracle. An interesting symbol of Ordinary Time is the use of the color green for vestments and church decorations. Green is representative of new life and growth. Ordinary Time is like springtime, where everything is green, fresh, and growing. This is associated with the time after Pentecost, the period in which the new Church, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, began to grow and to spread the Gospel to all nations. This is to be a time of growing in our knowledge and love of Jesus. It is a time “ordered” to spiritual growth, walking in the footsteps of Jesus’s public life. 

For these reasons, the return to Ordinary Time should not be viewed as just packing up the Christmas decorations and “getting back to normal”, but as a continuation and deepening of our faith as we travel the path that will eventually lead us to the glory of heaven. 

As you are reading this letter, your humble servant is nearing the end of his trip. I have been able to celebrate a special Memorial Mass for my beloved dad John Thu Pham on the second Anniversary of his return to God, in the presence of my mother, all our extended family and friends in Saigon. The tremendous outpouring of support we received these days has brought us some relief and peace as we seek closure and move on with life in the way my dad would have wanted for us. I have also attended an Episcopal Ordination of a close friend, and the Profession of First Vow of a religious who is one of my spiritual sons. These events have made the start of my own Ordinary Time nothing but extraordinary.

Looking forward to returning soon to you and praying that everyone is well and safe at home, I assure you of my spiritual closeness.

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham