Living in the Church’s Green Meadow

The non-festival half of the Church Year, that is, the “Time of the Church,” has now begun following the Feast of the Holy Trinity. This long stretch of Sundays is also known in some circles as “Ordinary Time,” not in the sense of mundane or unimportant, but as normative and normal, the baseline standard of the Church’s ongoing life on earth. During this Time, the Church settles into the regular rhythm and stable patterns of practice within which the people of God are able to rest themselves and to grow and mature in the confidence of their confession.

Especially during this “Ordinary Time,” the Sunday Lections, Collects, and other Propers serve to shape the Church Year on a week-by-week basis, in contrast to the way the great feasts and their festival seasons govern and guide the Lections and Propers from Advent through Holy Trinity. In the Time of the Church the weekly Propers come to the fore in defining each respective Sunday, instead of the Scriptures being chosen in connection with seasonal emphases.

Although the life of the Church is a continuation of the life that was poured out upon the Body of Christ in and with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Day, the Time of the Church is not specifically shaped or governed by the Feast of Pentecost, nor by the Feast of the Holy Trinity. Each of the Sundays throughout this Time is rather a participation in the eternal Eighth Day of the Resurrection, all the while the Church on earth continues to live under the Cross in faith, hope, and love. The Church lives, therefore, not so much “after,” but within the Paschal Mystery of her Lord Jesus Christ. And during the second half of the liturgical Year she settles into the ordinary rhythm of her life within the narrative of His Gospel and all that He continues to do and teach.

In contrast to the unique emphases occurring from one week to the next in the appointed Propers, frequent fluctuations in the order and setting of the Divine Service are not advised. Such variety would be counterproductive to and out of sync with the “ordinary” character of this Time. Clarity and consistency of liturgical practice should rather be the rule governing this portion of the year; not without any movement, change, or growth, but not haphazard, arbitrary, or vacillating, either.

In Around the Year with the Trapp Family (1955), Maria Augusta Trapp describes the second half of the Church Year as “the Green Meadow,” especially because of the green paraments and vestments that are used for the Sundays throughout the Time of the Church. The image of a “Green Meadow” is especially appropriate to the character of this Time, which is tranquil, peaceful, and gentle, yet living and life-giving. Here the nations find a home in the lush green pastures of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the outstretched branches His Tree of Life.

The “Green Meadow” lives and grows and changes gently and gradually, almost imperceptibly, from Sunday to Sunday. There is a rich and vibrant life in the Propers, Prayers, and Hymns of the Church Year — colorfully so across the festival seasons — but now more quietly and patiently throughout Ordinary Time, firmly established in the Ordinary of the Liturgy. So does the Church put down deep roots, soak up the sunshine and rain, extend her branches, grow many leaves, and bear good fruit, like a great Tree planted by streams of living water (Psalm 1:3). Deriving her life from the Tree of the Cross, the Church herself becomes a living and life-giving tree, bearing fruit after its own kind for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:1–2).