Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Lectionary (1)

What exactly is the point of the lectionary?

Just about every time I have been in a conversation concerning the virtues of the lectionary, someone will say something like this: ‘a great merit of following the lectionary is that, by following it everyday, it takes you through the whole of the Bible in x number of years.’

OK, let’s test that proposition out.
Monday 15 October Romans 1:1-7
Tuesday 16 October Romans 1:16-25
Wednesday 17 October Romans 2:1-11

Something is missing in this sequence: Romans 1: 26-32.

This is an interesting passage whose interpretation is strongly contested. It is also a passage which is uncomfortable for those living lifestyles which are warned against (e.g. gossips, disobedient children). Further the passage speaks of the wrath of God. Why is it omitted? Is the lectionary a tool of a particular theology (or ideology?) which seeks to advance its cause by omitting uncongenial passages? Or does the lectionary simply reflect the thinking of some very nice people who prefer to upset as few people as possible?

Personally I cannot help feeling it reflects a certain theology because a little further on there is another interesting omission:

Tuesday 6 November Romans 12:5-16
Wednesday 7 November Romans 13:8-10

Between Romans 12:17- 13:7 we have some (currently) difficult concepts:
- ‘ “Vengeance is mine: I will repay,” says the Lord’ (12:19)
- ‘Let every person be subject to the governing authorities’ (13:1)
- ‘for [the ruler] is your servant God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer (13:4)

And there is the small matter of the insistence that Christians pay taxes (13:6-7).

When we talk about the lectionary we should be accurate. To say the lectionary is ‘selected readings from Scripture’ is better than ‘all of Scripture apportioned into daily readings’.


Bosco said...

This is a helpful reflection, Peter,

There are several daily lectionaries in wide use and their organization varies. The one you are quoting from is the daily Eucharist lectionary produced by the Roman Catholic Church (included in our NZ Anglican lectionary). It reads through all the gospels each year and a selection of other biblical texts in a two year rotation.

Alongside these daily readings, the Roman Catholic Church has a daily “Office of Readings”. It states: “The cycle of readings from sacred Scripture in the office of readings takes into account both those special seasons during which by an ancient tradition particular books are to be read and the cycle of readings at Mass. The liturgy of the hours is thus coordinated with the Mass in such a way that the scriptural readings in the office complement the readings at Mass and so provide a complete view of the history of salvation.” (General Introduction to the Liturgy of the Hours #143) I do not have a reverse lectionary to check when the whole of the letter to the Romans is read – but I suspect it would be completely covered in the Office of Readings, which, as I hope I’ve clarified, is there to complement this eucharistic lectionary.

If people are seeking one simple daily reading cycle that covers the whole of the scriptures and also takes into account our liturgical seasons I would suggest they might investigate the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church, or earlier lectionary revisions such as found in the 1928 BCP.

I am also a strong proponent of reading a book straight through - this gives a much better feel for the whole book and its particular approach.

In the end, reading some scripture regularly has to be beneficial – whatever one’s method.

In Christ


Peter Carrell said...

Thanks for the informative notes, Bosco. I quite agree that when a reading is apparently missing from a lectionary sequence, it may well be present on another day of the year for understandable calendrical/festal reasons. Nevertheless the question remains why some 'holes' appear in some sequences and seemingly not in others. One wet Sunday afternoon I shall have to do a bit of reverse lectionary sleuthing to see whether my thesis is falsified or not!