ROME, JULY 17, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: How come "Ascension Sunday" is included in the counting of Sundays of ordinary time? I am more amenable to Pentecost Sunday being considered simultaneously as the resumption of ordinary time. My reason has to do with the 50-day Easter season. — A.A., Province of Isabela, Philippines
A: Actually, Ascension Sunday (or Thursday) is not a factor at all in calculating the Sundays of ordinary time. In those countries that move the Ascension from its traditional Thursday to the following Sunday, what loses out is the 7th Sunday of Easter, not a Sunday of ordinary time. The amount of time for Easter remains the same: It always runs 50 days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday.
The reason why ordinary time is sometimes 33 weeks and sometimes 34 is based on other factors.
In the Catholic Church, ordinary time begins on the day following the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The Church normally celebrates this feast on the Sunday after the solemnity of the Epiphany (Jan. 6). Some countries, however, always celebrate Epiphany on the Sunday after the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (Jan. 1). In this latter case if the Epiphany falls on Sunday, Jan. 7 or 8, they move the feast of the Baptism of the Lord to Monday, Jan. 8 or 9, respectively, and the 1st week of ordinary time starts the following day, Tuesday, Jan. 8 or 9.
There is a 1st week of ordinary time but no 1st Sunday of ordinary time. The Sunday following the feast of the Baptism of the Lord is always the 2nd Sunday of ordinary time.
Ordinary time continues until the day before Ash Wednesday, which falls between Feb. 4 and March 10 (inclusive) and marks the beginning of the season of Lent. Thus the period of ordinary time between Christmas and Lent may end amid the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, or 9th week of ordinary time.
Ordinary time resumes on the Monday following Pentecost Sunday, which can fall between May 10 and June 13 and concludes on the Saturday afternoon before the 1st Sunday of Advent (Nov. 27 to Dec. 3). Ordinary time thus always includes the entire months of July, August, September and October and most or all of June and November. In some years, ordinary time includes a portion of May, a day or two in early December, or both. The feast of Christ the King is celebrated on the last Sunday of ordinary time.
The length of the Advent season varies between three and four weeks, depending on which weekday Christmas falls. However, the Church wishes to ensure that the readings for the 34th week of ordinary time are always read. In order to achieve this, the Church often omits the week that would naturally precede the resumption of ordinary time following Pentecost Sunday.
For this reason the actual number of complete or partial weeks of ordinary time in any given year is mostly 33 and occasionally 34. For example, in 2012, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday was the 7th Sunday in ordinary time and the day after Pentecost Sunday began the 8th week in ordinary time and so we will have 34 weeks.
In 2013, however, the week before Ash Wednesday will be the 5th while the 7th week will start after Pentecost, omitting week 6.