It is surprising how many ecclesiastical meanings this word has. In the liturgy of the Eucharist it refers to the fixed part of the liturgy, as distinguished from the parts (called ‘Propers’) that vary with the seasons of the Church calendar. Then there is the phrase ‘ordinary Sundays’ to designate the Sundays following Trinity Sunday. The description ‘ordinary’ seems to follow from the fact that most of the seasonal divisions of the ecclesiastical year fall in the first half, so that the Sundays of the second half run in regular order (from Latin ordo = rule, order, regularity) to its end. A third meaning refers to the jurisdiction attaching to a bishop or other cleric by virtue of his office, such as the bishop’s jurisdiction within his diocese. Sometimes a bishop is referred to as the ‘Ordinary’ of his diocese. A historical instance of this usage is the description of the chaplain of Newgate Prison, in London, as the ‘Ordinary’ of the prison. It was his particular duty to prepare condemned felons for death, and to preach the ‘condemned sermon’ to them on the Sunday before their execution. This usage ceased when Newgate was pulled down in the 19th century.
A Word in Season