Regarding the Superiority of Lectionaries to the Lack Thereof   9 comments

Snapshot_20130616_16

Above:  The Author Studying the 2004 Irish Prayer Book on Sunday Afternoon, June 16, 2013

My review of The Book of Common Prayer (2004) is here:  https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/the-book-of-common-prayer-2004/.

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I admit it:  I am a ritualist.  I am, in fact, a happy, contented, and unapologetic ritualist.  Rituals create a sacred environment in which worship comes naturally to me.

Many Protestants–a great number of Evangelicals and Fundamentalists especially–do not understand this tendency.  They are heirs to a tradition which has thrown out the baby with the bath water since 1517.  Many of them might not know this, for, as Karen Armstrong wrote:

…fundamentalism is antihistorical.

A History of God:  The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1994, page xx)

She wrote that referring to theological developments (especially changing God concepts) over time, but the principle applies to broader matters.  I have met many Protestants who did not know the difference between Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr.  I have also encountered professing Baptists who did not know that they were Protestants.  In fact, many people are quite ignorant of the traditions they profess to embrace and practice.

I, as a student of history, seek to know as much as possible about not only my tradition but others.  How else can I  be an informed practitioner of my faith?  Part of Judeo-Christian heritage is ritualism–from the Law of Moses to missals and Prayer Books to lectionaries to bowing at crosses and high altars.  Some very conservative, Low Church Protestants bristle at all of it, calling it “going through the motions” dismissively.  From time to time I have had unpleasant encounters with some of them–usually the sort which the late Molly Ivins called “Shi’ite Baptists.”  (I do live in the U.S. South.)  They do not understand, for they mistake the simplicity of worship for the purity thereof.  Those are actually separate matters.

The combination of my inherent interests and my youthful experiences brought me to the embrace of full-blown ritualism.  My father, a United Methodist minister in the South Georgia Conference, seldom preached from a lectionary, the existence of which I knew of vaguely.  But I always like more ritual and beauty of worship than those rural congregations practiced.  My adolescent self-directed study of pre-Protestant Reformation Christianity brought me closer to Roman Catholicism.  But I was too Protestant to cross the Tiber River.  So I walked the Canterbury Trail instead.

Order appeals to me.  I practice it in my living space, in my being, and in my public and private worship of God.  Tying the Bible study to lectionaries, plans for reading the Bible in an orderly manner, has provided the discipline necessary to sustain the practice consistently for years.  Converting that Bible study into a blogging project (http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/, and http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/) has encouraged me to write more, thereby increasing my comprehension and retention of material.

I collect worship books and books about worship.  Thus I have hymnals, Prayer Books, and related volumes from a variety of denominations and decades.  Many of these books contain lectionaries, all of which stand within Judeo-Christian tradition.  This post is not a history of lectionaries, but a few details are appropriate here.  Lectionaries go back to Judaism, before the birth of Jesus.   Thus they entered Christianity via Judaism.  Although the oldest known year-round Christian lectionary dates to the 600s, established, orderly plans for reading Scripture in Christian public worship existed in first century CE.

I have easy access to a variety of lectionaries.  The Jewish Study Bible (2004) and The Orthodox Study Bible (2008) contain a lectionary each.  But I, being a Western Christian, not a Jew or an Eastern Orthodox Christian, find other lectionaries more applicable or at least interesting.  Episcopal Church lectionaries for Sundays and major feast days have changed over time.  The first editions of The Book of Common Prayer (1928) contained one, but copies printed since 1945 and contained another.  The Book of Common Prayer (1979) debuted a new lectionary, since superceded (in 2007 and later printings) by the Revised Common Lectionary.  The 1979 BCP also debuted a new two-year Daily Office cycle, altered slightly and reprinted in the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship from 1993 (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/book-of-common-worship-1993/).  U.S. Presbyterians have had one proper Sunday lectionary or another since their 1946 Book of Common Worship (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/the-book-of-common-worship-1946/).  The oldest volume in my collection of U.S. Lutheran service books is the 1917 Common Service Book, which contains a Sunday lectionary.  U.S. Methodism has had one Sunday lectionary or another since at least the 1945 Book of Worship for Church and Home (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/the-book-of-worship-for-church-and-home-1945/).  That is a partial list of liturgies in my library.

But the fact that a church body authorizes a lectionary does not mean that many people use it, especially in much of U.S. Protestantism, affected negatively by

  1. Puritan hostility to lectionaries and rituals;
  2. the reality of frontier life and worship in the colonial era and the early republic; and
  3. widespread anti-Roman Catholicism, quite virulent, for example, in the 1928 and 1960 Presidential election campaigns.

Revivalism has thrived and become its own tradition in these circumstances.  Jerald C. Brauer, author of Protestantism in America:  A Narrative History (Westminster Press, 1953), summarized revivalism as follows:

The whole thrust of revivals was to get results in the moral life.  This could be done only by concerting individual souls.   Thus revivalism was not concerned so much with theology or with the structure of society; it was concerned with personal morality and personal conversion.

–Quoted in Kenneth G. Phifer, A Protestant Case for Liturgical Renewal (Philadelphia, PA:  Westminster Press,  1965, page 104)

Revivalism is insufficient and founded too much on emotionalism.  It was, however, the style of religion which my great-grandfather, George Washington Barrett (1873-1956), practiced.  He was a Southern Methodist minister of the old school–no ritualism, no lectionaries, no alcohol, no playing cards–and a preoccupation with personal sin at the expense of addressing societal, structural sins properly.  I know this because I have undertaken an effort to post as many of his sermon outlines as possible online (http://taylorfamilypoems.wordpress.com/2012/07/28/family-tree-of-george-washington-barrett/http://taylorfamilypoems.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/spiritual-religion-and-ritualism/, etc.).  The effort is in progress.

A study of his sermons reveals a pattern:  The man preached variations on the same sermon again, again, and yet again.  I wonder how the variety of material a lectionary would have provided would have changed his preaching.  I know that this variety expands my horizons theologically.  For, as Richard Bauckham wrote:

The final context which is authoritative for the meaning of a biblical text is the complete canon of Scripture.

The Bible in Politics, 2d. Ed.  (Louisville, KY:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011, page 17)

There is a more basic reason for using lectionaries, especially in public worship.  A good Sunday lectionary, such as either of those near-twins, the Revised Common Lectionary and the most recent Roman Catholic lectionary, provide for reading aloud much of the Bible in church during three consecutive years (A, B, and C).  This is a good things for one who values Scripture, is it not?  Among the content read are passages which a minister might have skipped over otherwise for reasons of discomfort.  But now he or she must address such material, perhaps even wrestle with it.  That is also a positive activity.

There is a story, perhaps apocryphal.  Somewhere in the U.S. South, an old Baptist minister always preached on baptism by immersion, regardless of the biblical text.  Finally, some members persuaded him to preach on a text with no relation to baptism.  The pastor addressed that context seriously for a brief time before making a segue:

That brings me to baptism by immersion.

The Bible contains many germane topics.  Following lectionaries helps one cover them well and to establish connections between and among passages.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 16, 2013 COMMON ERA

PROPER 6–THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

THE FEAST OF NORMAN MACLEOD, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER; AND OF HIS COUSIN, JOHN MACLEOD, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

(They were quite interesting!  http://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/feast-of-norman-macleod-and-john-macleod-june-16/)

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN FRANCIS REGIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH BUTLER, ANGLICAN BISHOP

THE FEAST OF RUFUS JONES, QUAKER THEOLOGIAN

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Books Which Influenced This Post, Yet Which I Neither Quoted Nor Named Therein:

Jones, Cheslyn, Geoffrey Wainwright, Edward Yarnold, and Paul Bradshaw, eds.  The Study of Liturgy.  Revised Edition.  New York, NY:  Oxford University Press, 1992.

Micks, Marianne, H.  The Future Present:  The Phenomenon of Christian Worship.  New York, NY:  Seabury Press, 1970.

Wainwright, Geoffrey, and Karen B. Westerfield Tucker, eds.  The Oxford History of Christian Worship.  New York, NY:  Oxford University Press, 2006.

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