February 27, 2020

A Lectionary F.A.Q.

ist2_57158_lectionary.jpgUPDATE: Josh S does some “lectionary criticism” at his blog. Just so you know it’s not a flawless medium. Even with the flaws, I recommend using it. I also recommend “filling in the gaps” whenever possible.

Sam is a worship leader at a local Southern Baptist church, and he called me tonight to talk about the lectionary. He’s just discovered it, and his questions reminded me that some of you reading this web site have no idea what a lectionary is or how it can be used.

So here’s an F.A.Q. on the lectionary, aimed at beginners, but hopefully helpful to all of you on the post-evangelical(*) journey. (I’ll be generously borrowing from other sources in some of my answers.)

P.S.- I wrote this to persuade Baptist types. Sorry that I didn’t include some of the things now appearing in the comments, but I didn’t want to scare anyone with words like Eucharist.

1. What is the lectionary?

Lectionary: “Schedule of readings from Holy Scripture for use in the weekly (or daily) liturgy. In current use are both an historic, one-year lectionary with readings that have been in use for centuries, and a more recently developed three-year lectionary called the “Revised Common Lectionary.” Use of a lectionary provides the congregation with the opportunity to hear carefully chosen sections from the entire Bible and provides an individual with various scripture passages for daily reading, worship or study.”

2. Is the lectionary related to the Church Year?

Yes, lectionaries are one of the main ways a Christian or a congregation stays “on track” with the liturgical or Christian year.

3. What is the difference between a daily and a weekly lectionary?

Weekly lectionaries usually contain the scripture lessons used in public worship by liturgical churches. The Revised Common Lectionary is an attempt by many different denominations to coordinate worship by means of the same lectionary.

Daily scripture readings vary much more widely from source to source.

4. Where can I find lectionaries for Sundays and every day?

The PCUSA has printable daily and weekly lectionaries at their web site. Many other sources are available, such as the daily Book of Common Prayer lectionary that can be emailed to you.

5. Do Roman Catholics and Protestants use the same Sunday lectionaries?

The texts in Roman Catholic lectionaries are usually the same as Protestant lectionaries most of the time. There are some deviations where the RCC observes a different feast, especially in regard to Marian veneration or distinctives of RC theology. Look for Daily Mass Readings for daily lectionaries in the RCC.

There are also differences between the 1979 Episcopal Book of Common prayer and the new Revised Common Lectionary, but these will eventually be the same.

The U.S. Catholic bishops have an on-line lectionary of mass readings here. It’s major drawback is the use of the RC’s New American Bible, a terrible translation not to be confused with the New American Standard. Catholics are allowed to read from a Catholic version of the Revised Standard Version. Please do so.

6. Why do some churches not use the Christian year or lectionary readings for worship and/or preaching?

That’s a complicated question. The primary reason seems to be the changes of worship style from “traditional” to “contemporary” that have caused leaders to judge scripture reading as being “un-friendly” to church growth and a bad use of time. Ironically, conservative churches that affirm a strong belief in the Bible often have little or no public reading of scripture, while liberal and liturgical churches- who are often accused of not believing the Bible- have several lectionary scripture readings. Whatever the reasons, they are deplorable.

7. What is a “lesson?”

A scripture reading from the Old Testament, Psalms, Epistles or Gospels. The Psalm may be a responsive reading.

8. What is lectionary preaching?

Most lectionary preachers preach the Gospel reading as the basis of the sermon. Often, other scripture lessons are “woven” into the sermon as well. Various denominations have more or less loyalty to this tradition.

9. What are the best reasons to use a lectionary?

It puts the church in sync with all of the Bible, the Christian year and other worshipping Christians. In the three year Revised Common lectionary, much of the whole Bible is covered during the three years. It also maintains a tradition that goes back into ancient Judaism. Jesus was doing a lectionary-type reading in Luke 4. It restores scripture reading to public worship, where scripture commands it.

10. What would be your response to those who oppose the use of the lectionary by evangelicals as being influenced by Catholicism?

Anything that restores the public reading of scripture to worship and that emphasizes it in devotional life should be encouraged. There is nothing particularly “Roman” about the use of a lectionary. Baptists have long used “Read through the Bible” plans of various kinds. The lectionary is very similar, and is generally more accessible to the average person. A church that uses the Bible in worship shouldn’t be discouraged because Catholics do as well. That’s quite foolish.

There are problems with how some lectionaries select texts, especially in omitting parts of texts, but these problems can be easily corrected.

11. Do lectionaries use the Apochrypha?

Some Apocryphal material is used as alternate readings, since the RCC and the ECUSA both have traditionally included some of them.

(*)”Post-evangelical refers to evangelicals reaching back into the larger, older Christian tradition for sources in renewing their own spiritual journey.

Comments

  1. I find Textweek to be a very useful source – with a site so massive there is a certain proportion of dead links, but on the whole it is useful resource for

    a)Just seeing what the lectionary readings are – from all of the common lectionaries

    and

    b) Resources for lectionary-based teaching and preaching.

  2. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also has a nice lectionary site: http://www.usccb.org/nab/

    Nice post!

  3. PCUSA offers theirs in a nice simple RSS as well: http://www.pcusa.org/devotions/lectionary/index.htm

  4. On the subject of “Why do some churches not use the Christian year …?” I think that the classical answer actually is “There is no Biblical warrant for it” — keeping times and seasons is an Old Covenant thing specifically disavowed in several places in the epistles.

    While I disagree with this view, I can respect it when it is sincerely held and consistently implemented.

    What I have a real problem with is the fact that many evangelical churches “pick out the raisins” so to speak, in that they DO observe Christmas and Easter after a fashion, but without the preparation provided by an observance of Advent and Lent. Thus, the only preparation people in such churches get for these feasts is that provided by the world — crass commercialism in the case of Christmas, and “Spring, new life, bunnies, etc” in the case of Easter.

    I personally cannot cruise along in “ordinary time” mode until Dec. 23 and then suddenly drop into “Christmas” mode — unless I have the preparation of Advent, Christmas is largely empty and meaningless.

    On the subject of the public reading of Scripture: I have heard more than one person in evangelical churches assert that Evangelicals read so much scripture privately that we don’t need to waste time doing it in a Sunday service which is not evangelistically oriented — and we don’t need to do it in evangelistic services either because non-Christians would not understand it and be turned off by long readings. I think that the first assertion grossly overestimates the amount of Scripture reading going on in the average Christian’s life (my own included!), and the second one denies the power of God’s Word spoken.

  5. An additional reason for the Lectionary is for use in Eucharistic worship where the idea is that the readings are realized and actualized in the Holy Communion. In this case, the readings are seen to relate typologically. In fact, virtually always, the O.T. reading and Psalm will have a typological connection to the gospel. The idea is that Christ completes, fulfills, caps off God’s work of redemption inaugurated in the O.T. Hence the gospel reading last. Then what is set forth in scripture is made present in the sacrament and actualized in the lives of faithful recipients.

    I am preaching through the lectionary only for the first time this year. I am looking forward to it greatly!

  6. Wolf Paul:

    On no Biblical warrant for it:

    Exodus 12:1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you.

    That’s God ordering the year around Passover.

    I’ll agree with you on New Covenant warrant, but how does someone get away with saying devaluing the whole calendar and handing us the secular calendar is a better way to keep the fourth commandment, i.e. honor God with time?

  7. I have written a client-side only JavaScript script for embedding the daily lectionary reading in Web pages. It’s the lectionary for the LCMS, but it’s pretty similar to everyone else’s. You can see it at work under the “Daily Reading” in the upper left of my blog, http://lordibelievehelpmyunbelief.blogspot.com. For how to get the code and use it see http://lordibelievehelpmyunbelief.blogspot.com/2007/05/these-are-days-that-youll-remember.html and http://lordibelievehelpmyunbelief.blogspot.com/2007/10/these-are-days-that-youll-remember-part.html, or leave a comment on my blog on one of those posts. It is open source and free to use, see the script comments for details.

    Jim

  8. You wrote: “Daily scripture readings are not part of the Revised Common Lectionary, and vary much more widely from source to source.”

    Actually, the folks behind the Revised Common Lectionary – the Consultation on Common Texts – published Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings in 2005. This daily lectionary appears in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, the new worship book of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I’m not sure how widely it is used by Lutherans or anybody else, but I have started posting the weekly readings on the Daily Prayer page of my blog, and it is by far the most visited page or post on my blog.

    Peace to you!

  9. Good post. I do hope that there is a true rediscovery of the Lectionary in some form in Evangelicalism. Emphasizing the “teaching” of the Word to the near total exclusion of the public reading of such is very unfortunate. This public “reading” has an important place in Church gatherings right alongside exhortation and teaching (1Tim.4:13).

  10. Michael,

    As a Southern Baptist pastor who’s been using the Revised Common Lectionary for four years now, I want to say that I really appreciate your post. The lectionary has helped me to be mindful of my “common” fellowship with the rest of Christendom when gathering with the local church on the Lord’s Day.

    Billy Belk
    Macedonia Baptist Church
    Monroe, NC

  11. The primary historical reason for why many churches do not use the traditional lectionary is simply that Calvin and Zwingli abandoned the old Roman lectionary in favor of lectio continuo on the grounds that the old lectionary omitted huge portions of Scripture and chopped up the books into disconnected pieces and thus has little to do with the contemporary worship movement (for the record, this is one of the areas where my sympathies lie more with Calvin than with Luther). The 3-year series in the RCL originates with Vatican II. I may be wrong, but I don’t think the Presbyterians used the Roman lectionary prior to V2. “Preaching through the Bible” is basically the historic Reformed non-Anglican practice, and it was this that was abandoned by the contemporary worship movement, not a particular lectionary.

    The 1-year series was first created by Jerome, revised by Alcuin of York, and updated once or twice later. The 3-year series was created out of whole cloth at Vatican II. The RCL is based on V2’s 3-year series, and the LCMS uses its own 3 year series which is largely the Vatican II series with the missing verses put back in, as the Catholic series tends to omit verses concerning hell, judgment of heathens, and Hebrew history even when they occur in the middle of the pericope.

    While lectionaries have their advantages, the disadvantage of lectionaries is that the selection of texts often reflects the theological leanings of the committee in charge.

  12. Josh: Good criticisms. Just remember that in my world, there is no systematic, public reading of scripture at all. Preachers do series on “success” and “stress” with selected verses at best. Many sermons make no reference to Jesus or the Gospel and the idea of the Christian year is taboo. I’ll take anyone’s lectionary over the almost total abandonment of the place of the actual texts of the Bible that has overtaken my corner of evangelicalism.

  13. Josh point is well taken. Lectionaries presuppose a hermeneutic. Typically a lectionary assumes the preacher is going to approach the texts with a more canonical and historical/redemptive reading of the scripture than with a grammatical/historical approach with heavy emphasis on authorial intent. This is not to say the two approached are mutually exclusive it is more of a difference in emphasis. However, in my own preaching, the use of the lectionary has moved me to be more attentive to canoncial echoes, allusions and links in the canon rather than fixate only on the one text before me.

  14. I serve at a small SBC church and when our Pastor got sick in December I preached through the lectionary texts through a good bit of advent. I go to Asbury and it is a fairly common thing here to use them, but not in Baptist world.

    I enjoy it because it puts the world wide church together in a way. I know that my friends are at their church and are reading the same things that day.

    I grew up with the normal evangelical arguement that most church goers read the bible enough, but I think that is hog wash. I teach an adult Sunday School class and many of my members are life long church go-ers but have the bible literacy of a high schooler.

    I wish that we could read through more scripture in service…especially when using the lectionary I really enjoy all of the readings together.

  15. Our pastor just finished a 40 day fast in the week before Christmas. During those weeks, I just sat in the pew and wondered “why?” In the first place, his health was not so good to start, having caught a “bug” during a mission trip in Africa (parasite, most likely). Then I wondered on the timing. Why do this now when the proper season would be to join the church at large in such a fast during lent? Advent just didn’t seem the right time to start a fast.

    Lastly, I though it would do him well to follow during lent, since Sundays are never fast days and it would give his body some respite. As it is, he fasted for 40 days straight with no break.

    Your comment “It puts the church in sync with all of the Bible, the Christian year and other worshipping Christians.” has much bearing. We too often do things in isolation when the church year could put us in sync with one another as bodies in Christ.

  16. Caine,

    If your pastor was influenced by the Eastern Orthodox, then an Advent fast is more understandable. They do fast during Advent, and their fasts tend to be stricter than Catholic ones. For example, they give up all meat, all dairy and I’m not sure what else.

  17. Having used the lectionary for years (I’m an Episcopalian); my take is that it is a useful servant, but a bad master. I keep an eye on it and am aware of where it is going; but too strict adherence to it means the death knell expository preaching on consecutive passages of the Bible.

    Some of our congregations have only heard the gospel of the day preached – and even then, there are gaps in the lessons read.

  18. Is there anyone out there who is / has used the lectionary reading while at the same time remaining a free agent when it came to sermon series choices? For instance other than a “break” for Advent and the Easter season ( our two week version) I have been preaching through Ephesians….is there anyone out there in the wilderness, who has ploughed their own rows like this preaching wise, yet has adhered to the lectionary, in a sort of “hearing /listening” to God’s word just because it is worth it because it matters? While at the same time having that reading not necc connected directly to the sermon? Does this just lead to even more disjointed worship or have you found it works?
    johnblackman@rogers.com