Baptism of the Lord and Ordinary Time

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Baptism of the Lord and Ordinary Time

ROME, 15 DEC. 2009 (ZENIT)

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Is the feast of the Baptism of the Lord part of the Christmas season? It seems that it is, according to Sections 32 to 38 of the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar. Also, when does Ordinary Time start? Section 44 seems to say that it starts on the Monday after Baptism of the Lord. — J.T., Singapore
A: Here are the relevant texts from the introduction to the lectionary:
"33. The Christmas season runs from evening prayer I of Christmas until the Sunday after Epiphany or after 6 January, inclusive.
"38. The Sunday falling after 6 January is the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
"43. Apart from those seasons having their own distinctive character, thirty-three or thirty-four weeks remain in the yearly cycle that do not celebrate a specific aspect of the mystery of Christ. Rather, especially on the Sundays, they are devoted to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects. This period is known as Ordinary Time.
"44. Ordinary Time begins on Monday after the Sunday following 6 January and continues until Tuesday before Ash Wednesday inclusive. It begins again on Monday after Pentecost and ends before evening prayer I of the First Sunday of Advent."
From this, I think it is clear that the feast of the Baptism of the Lord is part of Christmastide and brings it to a close.
The Monday which follows it initiates the first week of Ordinary Time and, like the week following Pentecost, is a "week" of six days, Monday through Saturday.
The following Sunday is the second Sunday of Ordinary Time, or perhaps more precisely, Sunday of the second week of Ordinary Time. This latter formulation allows us to see more clearly why there is no first Sunday of Ordinary Time in the missal, a fact which might have induced some, including a widely diffused missal for the faithful, to state that the Baptism of the Lord was in fact the first Sunday.
That this is not the case is also shown from the fact that the feast is sometimes celebrated on a Monday that is Jan. 9. This happens only in those countries that transfer the Epiphany to the Sunday between Jan. 2 and 8. When Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, Epiphany falls on Jan. 8, and so the Christmas season ends the following day.
It is further confirmed by the rubrics of the Liturgy of the Hours. After the concluding prayer of this feast's vespers, a rubric laconically proclaims: "The end of Christmastide."
We outlined a brief history of this feast on Jan. 29, 2008.

* * *

Follow-up: Baptism of the Lord and Ordinary Time [1-12-2010]

Pursuant to our piece regarding the feast of the Baptism of the Lord as part of Christmastide (see Dec. 15), an English reader added further information which might help explain why some have mistakenly considered it as the first Sunday in Ordinary Time. To wit:

"I recall seeing in a Roman lectionary, perhaps the first edition using the RSV and which is rarely used in churches (England, Ireland, etc., have had the second edition with the Jerusalem Bible since the early 1980s), this feast described as a feast of the Lord in Ordinary Time and it was placed with the other feasts of the Lord. I was surprised by this. Perhaps it was a publisher's error, but it would help create confusion, especially in priests' minds, and particularly since Volume 1 of the breviary for the same region includes the weeks of Ordinary Time between Christmas and Lent."

Effectively, this publisher’s error might have contributed to the confusion regarding this feast which, as I mentioned before, is also found in some other popular missals. Let's hope that the eventual publication of the new translation will clear up these oversights.

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