Beliefs Faith Opinion Thomas Reese: Signs of the Times

Listening to God’s word between Christmas and Lent

The daily Scripture readings used at Mass during Ordinary Time provide Christians with the opportunity to get acquainted with the Bible. The title "Ordinary" actually comes from "ordinal," as in "ordinal numbers," since these weeks are numbered. Image courtesy of Adam Dimmick (

(RNS) — The beginning of the calendar year is a time for making resolutions, but in the Catholic liturgical year it is called “Ordinary Time” — a boring title for the part of the year that’s not Advent, Christmas, Lent or Easter.

But it is also an opportunity to be an extraordinary Catholic — one who reads the Scriptures daily.

In the bad old days, Catholics were discouraged from reading the Scriptures because clerics feared their parishioners would become like Protestants and start thinking for themselves. “You don’t need the Scriptures; just memorize the catechism and do what I tell you.”

Today, the church encourages Catholics to nourish themselves with God’s word, and has some of the best Scripture scholars in the world. But sadly polls show that Catholics still read the Scriptures less than their Protestant brothers and sisters. Only 17 percent of Catholics read the Bible every day as compared to 38 percent of Protestants.

There are lots of ways to read the Scriptures, but one of the best is to read the passages used during Mass, even if you do not attend daily Mass. Over its two-year cycle, the weekday lectionary gives readers a comprehensive taste of the best passages in the Old and New Testaments. The Sunday lectionary follows a three-year cycle.

These lectionaries are also used by many Protestant churches. When you pray over these readings, you are united with Christians across the world who are reading the same passages. It is an experience that can be shared in prayer groups or with family and friends.

The daily Scripture readings during Ordinary Time provide Christians with the opportunity to get acquainted with the Bible. The word “ordinary” comes from “ordinal,” as in “ordinal numbers,” since these weeks are numbered. The first weeks of Ordinary Time use the first chapters of Mark’s Gospel, and during even numbered years, the first reading is from the Book of Samuel.

These readings often have relevance today.

For example, during the first week in Ordinary Time, the First Book of Samuel begins with his mother, Hannah, who like many women today is being badly treated by her culture and her priest. She is told she has no value unless she has a son. When she prays in the temple, the priest Eli accuses her of being drunk. The only person on her side is God who hears her prayer.

The evangelist Mark in the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, designed by Michelangelo. Photo by Rene Shaw.

I first got acquainted with the Gospel of Mark in high school when for homework we were told to read one of the Gospels from beginning to end. Word quickly spread that Mark was the shortest Gospel, so being high school seniors, you know which Gospel we read.

Later, as a student of theology, I learned more about Mark. It is generally thought by scholars to be the first written Gospel, which Matthew and Luke had at their sides when they wrote their Gospels. Most scholars also believe that the original Gospel ended with the appearance of Jesus to the women at the tomb.

Mark is a challenging. Mark’s Jesus demands uncompromising personal commitment. In Mark’s mind, nobody understands Jesus, not even the Apostles and his mother Mary. At the end of the Gospel, the women do not tell the disciples that Jesus is risen. Rather, they “fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

With such a downer for an ending, it is no surprise that someone added to Mark’s Gospel the appearances to Mary Magdalene and the disciples. It was not that Mark was ignorant of the appearances; he did not include them because he wanted to keep on message to his fellow Christians: “You just don’t get it.”

Mark’s Gospel was sufficient in the early days of Christianity when people had to make a personal choice for Christ, but as time went on it was hard to live with his relentless calls to total commitment. Matthew realized that Christianity was not only about personal commitment, but about a Christian community that needs teaching, structure and rules. Luke understood that we never are as committed as Mark wanted and therefore need a compassionate message that gives hope.

Each of the four Gospels has a special message. At the beginning of Ordinary Time, Mark tells us that we need to make a personal commitment to Christ and this commitment needs to be absolute. But lest we get too proud, we also need to be reminded that no one really understands Jesus. If we think we do, we need to return to Mark.

There are many ways to get the daily Mass Scripture readings, including buying hardbound missals or monthly missalettes with the readings. The readings are also online in text and audio at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

For those with smartphones or tablets, there are also free apps, like iBreviary. Or they can be heard on iTunes in “Daily Readings from the New American Bible.”

Catholics need to be nourished by the word of God, and this is a way to do it with the whole Catholic community, even if they don’t go to Mass every day. This is a great New Year’s resolution. If every day is more than you are willing to commit, at least read the Sunday Scripture readings during the week before attending Mass.


About the author

Thomas Reese

The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest, is a Senior Analyst at RNS. Previously he was a columnist at the National Catholic Reporter (2015-17) and an associate editor (1978-85) and editor in chief (1998-2005) at America magazine. He was also a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University (1985-98 & 2006-15) where he wrote Archbishop, A Flock of Shepherds, and Inside the Vatican. Earlier he worked as a lobbyist for tax reform. He has a doctorate in political science from the University of California Berkeley. He entered the Jesuits in 1962 and was ordained a priest in 1974 after receiving a M.Div from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley.


Click here to post a comment

  • Mark’s gospel? Father Reese got it right about Mark’s gospel being the true gospel but he should have noted said gospel as all the gospels have been analyzed by rigorous historic testing by NT exegetes such as Professor JD Crossan and Professor Gerd Ludemann . From Ludemann’s studies (e.g. Jesus After 2000 Years), the following are the passages from Mark that pass testing i.e. they are authentic.

    Mark 7-32—35
    Mark 1.9
    Mark 8.12
    Mark 1.17
    Mark 8.29, 33
    Mark 1.23—27*
    Mark 10.9
    Mark 1.29—31
    Mark 10.11 (Matt. 5-32/Luke 16.18)
    Mark 2.5
    Mark 10.15
    Mark 2.18b—19a
    Mark 10.17b—22
    Mark 2.27
    Mark 10.25
    Mark 3. 14a

    Mark 3.17b*
    Mark 11.15—16.19
    Mark 3.21
    Mark 11.23
    Mark 3.24—27
    Mark 12.17
    Mark 13.28-29
    Mark 14.25
    Mark 14.58
    Mark 15.26
    Mark 4.21-22
    Mark 4.26-29
    Mark 6.3
    Mark 7.15
    Mark 7.18b-19

    The remaining passages are inauthentic. Such studies show that less than 30% of the NT is authentic with the Resurrection and Ascension failing to make the grade as being historic.

  • Because in her eyes all who don’t fall into lock step behind her brand of dogma deserved every assault they comes their way. Even children abused by her fellow sycophants had it coming to them for some twisted reason.

  • If you are looking to man to proclaim the reality of Christ’s word, then you are looking in the wrong place.

    Colossians 2:8English Standard Version (ESV)

    8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

  • Sorry Navy….I gain nothing but the pride of knowing I helped another to find an eternity of love and goodness with Jesus.

  • That’s a truthful statement, largely because you stated “should” instead of “need to.” Nonsense if course, but rooted in a truth of sorts.

  • It’s a truthful statement because it’s your opinion. Opinions are always the truth. I happen to disagree with your opinion. The answer to your question is probably not in your eyes depending on how you define blessed. I believe deities do not exist and live my life that way.

  • Your favorite deity breathed souls into billions of Muslims and Hindus who were unfortunate to be born into those families, many with little to no exposure to your favorite deity, yet somehow they’re expected to break free from their way of life and adopt a system of belief they know practically nothing about, else be tortured for eternity, because someone wrote that in a book written during the iron age?? Essentially an impossibility. Anyone who subscribes to that thinking is a very troubled person, and in fact a fairly horrible one.

  • they will know of the reality of Christ and they will be able to make the choice
    Malacni 1:11 – English Standard Version

    For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.”
    they will learn of Him.

  • No. Opinions are not always the truth. The truth is the truth and Jesus is truth.
    Well, I’m here to tell you Christ does exist.
    He has been proven through Jewish records.
    His reality has been shown by His disciples who died awful deaths because they would not recant what they taught about His reality.
    There were over 500 witnesses who watched Him rise to Heaven.
    More than 66 books all speak of Him in one way or another and tell of His glory.
    He has written His laws on your heart and that is how you know right from wrong.
    He exists and He loves you and offers you eternal life in His love and blessings.

  • Opinions are the truth meaning people believe their own opinions are true. I don’t mean to state that the content of their beliefs is true. You sure seem to live in a world of make believe, but your opinion is that your world is true. Knock yourself out but as far as I’m concerned, that’s only your opinion. I bid thee farewell however because your circular reasoning and hiding your fear of being truthful behind cherry picking Bible quotes instead is hardly stimulating conversation.

  • No need to cherry pick, but I will advise you that using the term “cherry picking” indicates that you have nothing to disagree with the reality presented. (for future reference)
    It is a term used by those who have nothing to argue.

  • And you hover over them making sure to shame them into submission when they fail to measure up to your dictates…er, your interpretation of the dictates.

  • That is a non-answer and exactly the response I received from men in my church…as I was a female questioning contents in the bible.

  • Honey, if I cannot answer your questions, I’ll ask my hubby, or I’ll point you to resources where we can both learn. Just tell me….

  • Sometimes yes. Most times when I do such on the internet is because I don’t want vulnerable people believing their lies. I love people and want to see them in a good relationship with Jesus.

  • She typically irrationally spews whatever enters her head, largely unchecked. I wanted to state that she’s well intentioned, but she has expressed belief that she’s glad her deity tortures non-Christian children for all eternity for not being Christian. Morality at it’s worst.

  • “However, as with several epistles attributed to Paul, critical scholarship disputes this claim.[11] One ground is that the epistle’s language doesn’t seem to match Paul’s, with 48 words appearing in Colossians that are found nowhere else in his writings and 33 of which occur nowhere else in the New Testament.[12] A second ground is that the epistle features a strong use of liturgical-hymnic style which appears nowhere else in Paul’s work to the same extent.[13] A third is that the epistle’s themes related to Christ, eschatology and the church seem to have no parallel in Paul’s undisputed works.[14]”