Some random musings on “ordinary” and “extraordinary”

Just a reminder:

Going back to what "Ordinary" and "Extraordinary" mean in liturgical or ecclesiastical terms.

Ordo in Latin, has to to with putting things or people in an order.  That is, organizing them according to a scheme.

Our trusty Lewis & Short Dictionary reminds us that the adjective ordinarius means "of or belonging to order, orderly; according to the usual order, usual, customary, regular, ordinary". 

If we apply ordinarius to a person in the Church you wind up with the an "ordinary", the usual example of which is the local diocesan bishop (though others also are "ordinaries" too).

In a religious order, people live according to a rule.

Men who are ordained are in Holy Orders, so that they can help to put order into God’s people and live in a certain way. 

When we get to the word "ordinary" in English but in Church terms, we shouldn’t automatically assume that something is of, for example, less quality or undeserving of attention.  It means essentially that something is in the proper scheme of things.  Consider "Ordinary Time" in the liturgical year.  These Sundays are not unusual in the way that, say, Easter is out of the ordinary.  In a sense, Easter is out of the ordinary because not every Sunday is Easter Sunday (yes, I know that some say every Sunday is a little Easter… but you get my point).  In fact, Easter does come along regularly each year in the proper order of things.  It is perfectly ordinary to find Easter at the conclusion of Lent and Holy Week.  It is not rare.

On the other hand, Latin extraordinarius means, as you might expect "out of the common order, extraordinary".  It is something that does not occur in the ordinary course.   That does not mean that extraordinarius is therefore assumed to mean "rare".  On the contrary, the idea of ordinarius seems to assume that there are regular interruptions because extraordinarie, the adverb, means in later Latin – for example in St. Jerome’s writing, "with excessive frequency".  So, ordinarie suggests that there are regular deviations from a pattern, and that extraordinarie can be either something special or unexpected or a more than usual interruption of the regular order.

I don’t think it is fair to cast extraordinarius as simply "rare".

And I think we must exclude also the common British use of "extraordinary" in a negative sense or in the American usage for something remarkably good.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Phil says:

    Father, can I ask for a small digression on the difference in “Extraordinary” Form, and “Extraordinary” Minister of Holy Communion? I find it hard to belive that the term is used in the same sense in both cases.

  2. When Extraordinary Ministers can be employed is actually spelled out with greater clarity than the frequency of the use of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

    The word shows some flexibility, obviously, as I indicate above.

    You would think that, given the constant, unnecessary and nearly overwhelming use of Extraordinary Ministers in some places, that the Extraordinary Form of Holy Mass would also be driving out the Ordinary Form. Ironic, no?

    But there is that “excessively frequent” meaning, I gave above.

    Frankly… it is hard to know what to do with these terms.

    It seems to be that if people in a parish and the priest want to use the Extraordinary Form even quite often, they should be able to do so, given the various possible applications of “extraordinary”.

  3. Vincenzo says:

    Press Interview with Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos

    The Tablet: In the Motu Proprio, the Pope’s emphasis is on one rite and two forms, and he describes the Tridentine Rite as “extraordinary”. Extraordinary therefore means exceptional, not something that we celebrate every Sunday.

    Cardinal Castrillón (CC): Not “exceptional”. Extraordinary means “not ordinary”, not “exceptional.”

    The Tablet: Should it therefore supersede the new Rite? Should we go back?

    CC: It is not going back: it is taking a treasure which is present, but was not provided.

  4. skeeton says:

    I have always thought the Holy Spirit to have been working in mischievous ways, when He nudged the Holy Father to rename the 1962 form as the Extraordinary Form. Perhaps a message was being sent from above that the 1962 form should be just as ‘extraordinary’ as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, who are titled as ‘extraordinary’ but are altogether quite ordinary in practice, as is frequently lamented here.

  5. Roland de Chanson says:

    Excellent analysis of the ordinary / extraordinary dichotomy, Fr. Z. A couple of additional points:

    Though the novus ordo and the usus antiquior are plainly different rites, inasmuch as the Ambrosian, Gallican, Mozarabic, Carthusian and Roman are different rites, the use of the term “forma extraordinaria” is interesting. As “forma” is a classical word for “beauty”, “forma extraordinaria” means “exceptional beauty”, which is clearly appropriate when the Traditional Mass is compared with the Bugnini fabrication.

    On the other hand, as L&S point out, “extraordinarie”, the adverbial form, means “with excessive frequency.” In this case the term is a glaring misnomer as things stand, but perhaps can be said to express the hope of Pope Benedict for the long term.

    But there is an ironic meaning as well: “extra ordinem” is “outside the (usual) ordo (missae)”. That the Mass of the Ages should have been so ambiguously designated is either a sardonic joke or betrays an unintended glimpse into this scholarly Pope’s thinking. I cannot but note that the Bishop of Rome has yet to celebrate the TLM in his own diocese at all, let alone with excessive frequency. If and when he finally does, we will witness its exceptional beauty in its fullness.

    In the meantime, perhaps he might ponder the words of Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk, with whom he met recently in the Vatican. This prelate of the Russian Orthodox Church had some sharp commentary on the Bugnini service and the rupture with Tradition.

  6. Roland: Re: forma as beauty… very clever.

    I would add yet another note, considering that you brought in the issue of rite.

    I also think that the older, traditional, extraordinary “use” or “form” of the Roman Rite is really a different rite and not just a different use.

    What Summorum Pontificum did was make a juridical distinction, rather than a theological, or liturgical or historical, etc.

    Summorum Pontificum does not settle the scholars questions about whether or not the Novus Ordo constitutes a different rite of Mass.

    The juridical distinction of the older form as a “use” made it unncessary that any priest of the rite would have to have a separate faculty in order to use it.

    For example, if I, as a priest of the Roman Rite, want to say the, say, Maronite or Ukrainian Rite, I would need a special faculty to do so.

    If you say juridically that the older form of the Roman Rite is a separate rite, then you would need a separate faculty.

    So, this juridical distinction also has an impact on how extraordinary the older form of Mass is.  A priest has the right to use his RITE as an ordinary matter of course.

  7. Sedgwick says:

    I think it is very unfortunate, to say the least, that the “Time after Pentecost” is now called “Ordinary Time.” Very un-evocative…we had a wonderful sermon last year from an excellent FSSP priest on the duties of Catholics during the Time after Pentecost, having to do with self-examination and the development of the virtues.

  8. Malta says:

    Speaking of “extraordinary,” and “ordinary,” in the new liturgical climate.

    I have often wondered how the traditional Latin rite escaped the deconstruction aimed directly at it by the documents of Vatican II? For anyone who has not read the document on the liturgy, it did not call for creating a new rite, but for “amending,” the old.

    Ironically, but thank God Bugnini came along and created a new, sub-standard, rite, to save the old, in amber, to be dug-out, and discovered anew, thanks to our new Pope, instead of adulterated, and watered-down, as the prescriptions of Vatican II advised could be done. You know if the modernists had gotten their fingers on the old rite, they would have had a devilish hay-day. Somehow, it was spared, even though, like I said, Vatican II called for something else.

  9. mpm says:

    Since “extraordinary” is a juridical term in both “extraordinary form” and “extraordinary minister” of Holy Communion, the simple sense must be “not the usual”. Benedict XVI actually mentioned at the time of writing that it was not usual to find priests with the Latin or training to be able to celebrate the EF. I think all the other musings about the word are a bit lyrical (and remind me a little bit of Stephen Maturin when he enlarges on some theory about which he is not quite certain, and so commences his remarks with, “And you are to remember…”. ;>

    If we take that meaning, “not the usual”, as a baseline, to me it says more about the abusiveness of ubiquitous “extraordinary ministers” of Communion than it does about the “expected” frequency of finding celebrations of the EF. Regarding the latter, I think the Pope has a lot more faith in the Holy Spirit than to think personally that “it will never be much celebrated”, and Cardinal Castrillon has given us his own view that the Pope would be happy to see it celebrated regularly in every parish. If it were celebrated only once every Sunday, and there were a total of 10 or 12 Masses each week in a parish (as in mine) it would be both “not the usual” and “regular”.

  10. ssoldie says:

    Words, words, words, I believe the church launguage of words have taken on a very political sound in the last forty years. Spin, ambiguity, doubletalk, etc, etc. Are we ever going to get it right. If the “Gregorian Rite of Mass’ is the extraordinary, and the New Order Mass is the ordinary, are also the ‘Ambrosian Rite of Mass’ ‘Mozarabic Rite of Mass’ are also extradinoray? If the word is that, extraordinary, as in extraordinary ‘ministers’ are to be used rarely, does the same word mean that the extraordinary “Gregorian Rite of Mass” is also used rarely? Words, Chaos, Confusion, Disunity, Deterioration, Deceit. Words, words, words.

  11. Tim Ferguson says:

    And yet, ssoldie, THE Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us. Our very redemption has come because of the Word, so be careful about being so disparaging about words.

    I understand what you’re saying and don’t mean to make light of it. There has been a tremendous amount of dissembling over the last several decades, and words that should be taken at face value have not been (e.g. “Gregorian chant is to be given pride of place” = (in most places) trotting out an occasional Kyrie or Agnus Dei during a penitential season). The corruption of words strikes at the very heart of the Church, which is built on the Word, and which is daily attacked by the father of lies.

    Yet despair is not the solution. The solution is, as I believe Fr. Z is trying to lead us to, a closer attention to the words we use, and thus to the Word that God is calling us to adhere to. Greater fidelity to the words can lead to greater fidelity to the Word. So yes, let’s parse the words, let’s dissect them, let’s try and try and try to gain a deeper insight into them.

  12. Roland de Chanson says:

    Thanks for that distinction, Fr. Zuhlsdorf. I wasn’t aware of the juridical sense of the term. I do recall that Fr. Walter Ciszek made the point about the special faculty in his With God in Russia when he trained in the Byzantine Rite for missionary work in Russia.

    As a point of information, does a Roman Rite priest need a special faculty to say the Ambrosian Rite, or does that apply only to the Eastern Rites? (The other Western rites have, it seems, largely fallen into desuetude though I read recently that attempts at reviving the Rite of Braga have been made.)

    Re the “forma” as beauty – the word certainly has an abstract sense in Latin but a concrete one as well. It denotes “shape” or “figure” and its adjective “shapely” as in mulier formosa, whence Spanish mujer hermosa and Portuguese mulher formosa. We French, as well as the Italians, are more vulgar Latins with our belle and bella. ;-)

  13. Eric says:

    Daggone that guy who built that tower in Babel.

  14. Eric says:

    I think his name was Nimrod.

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