Regarding the Lectionary   Leave a comment

Above:  Five Lectionary-Related Books from My Library, April 16, 2017

Photograph by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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I wrote this text for the May 2017 edition of The Gregorian Chant, the newsletter of St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia.

The Episcopal Church follows a pattern of the ordered reading of scripture in worship, as does the majority of Christianity.  Our Eastern Orthodox brethren follow their own calendar and have their own lectionary.  In the realm of Western Christianity the Revised Common Lectionary (1992) and the second edition of the Roman Catholic Lectionary for Mass (1998) are quite similar.  Much of the time, in fact, the readings for any given Sunday are identical.  This relative uniformity with regard to the assignment of readings from scripture per Sunday creates opportunities for ministers from various denominational backgrounds to gather weekly, study the Bible, and develop ideas for sermons in an ecumenical setting.

Nevertheless, diversity regarding lectionaries exists within Western Christianity.  Many ministers disregard all lectionaries routinely.  I know of the existence of two four-year lectionaries—one published in book form and the other available as a PDF online.  One can also purchase two unauthorized supplements to the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL).  Presbyterian minister Timothy Matthew Slemmons offers Year D (2012) and United Church of Christ clergyman David Ackerman proposes Beyond the Lectionary (2013).  Furthermore, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, in its Lutheran Service Book (2006), offers two lectionaries—a one-year cycle and a three-year cycle—not the RCL.  In contrast, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America uses the RCL.

Greater diversity in lectionaries used to exist.  One could find many active lectionaries for one, two, and three years during a survey of worship materials as late as the early 1980s.  The Episcopal Church has replaced the lectionary in The Book of Common Prayer occasionally, as it did in 1945 and 1979.  The Methodist Book of Worship for Church and Home (1945 and 1965) offered a one-year cycle.  The Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (1946) broke with U.S. Presbyterian tradition and included a lectionary–a two-year cycle borrowed from The Church of Scotland.  The Presbyterian provisional Book of Common Worship 1966) included a new lectionary, a two-year cycle abandoned in 1970. Lutherans of various denominations also used a range of lectionaries, from one to three years in duration.

Everything began to change in 1969.  That year the Roman Catholic Church unveiled its new Lectionary for Mass, which moved from a one-year cycle to a three-year cycle.  Other Christian denominations produced variations of that lectionary.  U.S. Presbyterians, for example, created their new lectionary in 1970.  During the 1970s Lutherans and Episcopalians, who were revising their books of worship, developed their new lectionaries also.  The United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ also changed their lectionaries.  By 1981 The Evangelical Covenant Church of America, in its new Covenant Book of Worship, used a hybrid lectionary—one based primarily on its traditional Swedish Lutheran lectionary yet anticipating the Common Lectionary (1983), which harmonized many of the Protestant variations on the Roman Catholic lectionary.  The RCL, offering a greater range of readings, replaced the Common Lectionary in 1992.  By 1996 The Evangelical Covenant Church had adopted the RCL, which they included in their new hymnal (published that year) then in their revised Covenant Book of Worship (2003).

Since 2007 new editions of The Book of Common Prayer have included the RCL, which the National Church has adopted in lieu of the former Sunday lectionary.

The RCL covers about a quarter of the Protestant Bible.  The RCL, for all of its richness, does tend to avoid many of the uncomfortable passages of scripture, such as a host of the angry Psalms and angry portions of Psalms.  I have read in books particular to lectionaries that a seven-year cycle would be necessary to cover nearly all of the Protestant Bible.  To make the transition to a seven-year lectionary would be to create the opportunity to hear those difficult passages of scripture read during worship and addressed in sermons.  If we are not ready for that, we should be.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 16, 2017 COMMON ERA

EASTER SUNDAY, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT BERNADETTE OF LOURDES, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

THE FEAST OF CALVIN WEISS LAUFER, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMNODIST

THE FEAST OF ISABELLA GILMORE, ANGLICAN DEACONESS

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