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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

The Revision of the Lectionary

The Revision of the Lectionary

Very early on in the Second Vatican Council, the Bishops of the Church, recognizing that “Sacred Scripture is of paramount importance in the celebration of the liturgy” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 24), called for certain reforms and changes so that this truth might become a living and pastoral reality in the Church. They said there should be “more reading from holy Scripture” and it should be “more varied and suitable” (CSL, 35); or, to put it in more poetic fashion, “the treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God's Word” (CSL, 51). Thus, one of the first major reforms following on the Council was a revision of the Lectionary, that is, the biblical readings that are set down for each Sunday and weekday of the year, and also for use in the celebration of the sacraments, on Feast Days, at funerals, and for Votive Masses and Masses for Special Occasions.

The reforms envisaged by the Council meant not only that the readings would be in English, but that new and previously unheard sections of the Bible would need to be introduced both on Sundays and at weekday Masses. In the centuries since the Council of Trent, the Roman Missal of Pius V (1570) had prescribed a set series of Gospel passages on a yearly basis, and a second reading usually from the Epistles; very few passages from the Old Testament were ever heard at Sunday Mass.

To fulfill the Council's mandate, a committee was established by Rome in 1964; liturgical, scriptural, and pastoral experts, along with bishops around the world, were consulted. The work was completed in 1969 with the publication of the Lectionary for Mass, and introduced in all churches throughout the world on the First Sunday of Advent, 1971. In January of 1981 a second edition of the Lectionary was published with a few minor additions and changes, plus an expanded and very helpful Introduction, which explains more fully the goals and purpose of the Lectionary.

The revision of the Lectionary has been one of the most extensive and significant reforms of the Council. Unfortunately, it has not always been given the attention it deserves, nor are some of its fundamental principles always well understood, either by the clergy who preach on these readings or by the laity who hear them. Our appreciation of the Scriptures in the liturgy can be greatly enriched by a more careful examination of the Lectionary.

Why a Lectionary at All?

Before we look at more specific questions about how the Lectionary is put together and exactly which passages are chosen, it is helpful to step back and ask the more fundamental questions: “Why a lectionary at all? What do we gain by using a lectionary?”

The decision to use a lectionary means that the readings for a given Sunday or weekday are predetermined; they are a given, and therefore they are the starting point for the planning of the liturgy as a whole and the homily. On certain other occasions (for instance, celebrations of marriages, funerals) there are more options given for Scripture readings, and a choice is to be made of what is most appropriate to the pastoral needs of a given congregation. When a special group gathers for a one‐time occasion (a Retreat Day, a meeting), it is recognized that the given readings for the day may not be appropriate, and provision is made for using readings “that are more suited to the particular celebration, provided that they are chosen from the texts of an approved lectionary” (Masses with Special Groups, 6e). Interestingly, the greatest flexibility is allowed in choosing readings for Masses with children, although a reading from the Gospels is always to be included (Directory for Masses with Children, 43).

The norm in the Roman Catholic tradition is that the Scripture readings are set; they are not the choice of the priest or anyone else in the congregation. Certainly a case can be made (and has been made in the Reform and Free Church traditions) for the freedom and spontaneity to choose readings suitable to a specific community and occasion. But the Catholic tradition has opted for a structured and planned system of readings that “provides the faithful with a knowledge of the whole of God's Word, in a pattern suited to the purpose” (CSL: Introduction, 60).

The imposition of a lectionary seeks to lessen the temptation (although it can never remove it entirely!) to pick and choose, to listen only to those parts of the Bible that we find readily helpful and to omit those that we find difficult to understand or accept‐but which may be the ones we most need to hear. For instance, if I am readily inclined to look upon God as one who is loving, merciful, kind, and forgiving, the Lectionary will certainly provide my favorite passages, but it will also force me to read those difficult passages (from both the Old and the New Testament) that speak of the wrath of God, judgment, and punishment. Or again, if I am a person with a strong social‐justice orientation, firmly convinced that “actions on behalf of justice…are a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the gospel‐message” (1971 Synod of Bishops), the Lectionary will show many of the key biblical texts both from the prophets and the Gospels; but it will also include passages that speak of the personal dimension of union with God, of a world that is passing away, even passages in praise of the monarchy and the established realm. The gift and challenge of the Lectionary is that it places before each of us passages that we might otherwise not choose to read; unrelentingly it nudges us to open ourselves to the totality of God's Word.

Foundational Principles of the Lectionary

On a first examination of the Lectionary, it is easy to get bogged down in a mass of details about different cycles and lists of what is read when, so that the whole thing can seem somewhat intimidating. Rather than trying to determine why certain texts are read on a certain day, it is more important to get an overall sense of the arrangement and rationale of the whole. The general principles and foundational decisions that have determined the basic shape and ordering of the Roman Lectionary will then be clear.

The Paschal Mystery

The focal point of the whole Lectionary is Jesus Christ, especially “the paschal mystery of his blessed passion, resurrection from the dead and glorious ascension” (CSL, 5). Throughout the cycle of the Church's Year, the Lectionary sets before us the totality of this central mystery of the Christian life, a mystery that was not only accomplished in Jesus, but a mystery in which we now share through Baptism and faith.

Thus, primacy is given to readings from the Gospels, which speak most directly of the person of Jesus. Furthermore, we read these texts not as individuals but as a people gathered for praise and thanksgiving. “Within the Christian assembly the proclamation of the word inevitably has a Christian aura…the God whom we worship in our liturgy is not, first of all, the God of the Book (which is why we freely interpret the Book by arranging it in a lectionary). Our God is the God of the Gathering” (R. Keifer, To Hear and To Proclaim, 115). At Mass, every passage of Scripture, whether from the Old or New Testament, is set in relationship to the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus as made present to us in the Eucharist.

The Church Year

Not everything in the Lectionary is of equal importance. The Lectionary is divided into six parts: the major section (and the one that will be the main focus of our attention) is the Temporal Cycle, that is, the readings for Sundays and weekdays throughout the Church Year; the rest of the Lectionary contains the readings for special occasions (Proper of the Saints, Commons, Ritual Masses [for examples, readings for sacraments, funerals], Masses for Various Occasions, and Votive Masses).

Within the Temporal Cycle, not all days of the year are of equal importance. Sundays have special importance, since they are the weekly celebration of the Lord's Resurrection and the occasion for the gathering of the whole community; thus, “the more important biblical passages” (CSL: Introduction, 65) are assigned to Sundays and the Solemnities of the Lord. The Sunday cycle is set up independent from the weekday cycle, which, in a sense, complements it.

The Church Year as a whole has its own rhythm. “The solemnity of Easter has the same kind of preeminence [in the year]…that Sunday has in the week” (Norms for the Liturgical Year, 18); there are six Sundays in Easter season, followed by Pentecost and Trinity Sundays. Then, next to Easter, the Church “holds most sacred the memorial of Christ's birth and early manifestation” (Norms, 32). There are two Sundays after Christmas, followed by Epiphany and the Sunday after that. These two major feasts, each with their preparatory period (Lent, with six Sundays, before Easter, and Advent, with four Sundays, before Christmas) are the primary seasons of the Church Year; the other thirty‐four Sundays, which celebrate “the mystery of Christ in all its aspects” (Norms, 43), form what is called simply Ordinary Time. (The Lectionary provides for more than fifty‐two Sundays to allow for variations in the length of time after Easter, since Easter can fall anywhere from March 22 to April 25.)

Lectio Semicontinua and Lectio Electa

There are many different ways in which we could go about reading the Bible in a systematic fashion. We could start with the story of Creation and work through the events of the Old Testament chronologically, then move on to the New Testament and conclude with the book of Revelation; this would be a kind of salvation‐history approach. Another option would be to organize the Scripture readings around certain great themes (grace, salvation, forgiveness, creation) or moral principles; the traditional name for this approach is lectio electa, “readings chosen” to suit a predetermined theme. Or, we could adopt lectio continua, a “continuous reading” of the Bible from beginning to end. This is the system of the Jewish synagogue in which the Torah, the first five books, are read continuously through a year; on the same day that the last chapter of Deuteronomy is finished the first chapter of Genesis is begun, so that the reading of Torah is unceasing.

The Roman Lectionary has opted for a combination of lectio electa (particularly in the major seasons of the Church Year) and lectio continua (particularly during Ordinary Time and in the weekday cycle); in fact, it is really more correct to talk of lectio semicontinua since no biblical book is read through in its entirety.

Although a “harmony” (to use the term from the CSL: Introduction, 66) exists between the different readings during Advent, Lent, and Easter, for most Masses there is no one theme in the three (Sunday) or two (weekday) readings. Thus, attempts (whether by a homilist or by musicians) to discover or impose a theme for every Mass can result in a misleading or artificial approach to the Scriptures.

Readings of Suitable Length; Omission of Difficult Sections

In the early church the custom was to read “the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets as long as there is time” (Justin Martyr, Apol. 67). That, however, is not the norm today; within the Mass, particularly when there are three readings, none can be too long. Narrative texts (Gospel stories, parables) are often longer (ten to fifteen verses) so that they can be complete and because they more easily hold people's attention. Other texts, particularly Sunday readings from the Epistles, are shorter (between four and eight verses) “because of the profundity of their teaching” (CSL: Introduction, 75). Occasionally an option is given for reading either a long or a short version of a text (for example, the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman on the Third Sunday of Lent, A).

The Roman Lectionary also recognizes that not every passage in the Bible is either suitable or helpful for public reading in the liturgy. Decisions were made to omit entirely certain passages with “complex literary, critical, or exegetical problems” (CSL: Introduction, 76) that would make them difficult for most people to understand. Similarly, following the long‐established practice in Roman lectionaries, at times selected verses within a reading are omitted because the passage would otherwise be too long or because a verse is “unsuitable pastorally or…involves truly difficult problems” (CSL: Introduction, 77).

Basic Arrangement of the Sunday Lectionary

After examining the possibility of spreading the readings over as little as two years or as many as four, the planners of the Sunday Lectionary decided on a three‐year cycle. That is, there are different readings for each Sunday in Years A, B, and C (as they are commonly designated) and then the cycle begins over again. (Years where the sum of all the digits are divisible by three, for instance 1989, 1992, are always Year C. The year begins on the First Sunday of Advent.)

For each Sunday there are three readings: one from the Old Testament (with a few exceptions, as we will note in the Sundays after Easter), one from the Epistles or the book of Revelation, and one from the Gospels. Although provision is made for an individual Conference of Bishops to allow only two readings “for pastoral reasons” (General Instruction, 318), three is clearly the norm.

Since there is considerable divergence in the shape of the Lectionary during the major seasons of Advent‐Christmas and Lent‐Easter as compared with the Sundays of Ordinary Time, it is easier and less confusing to look at each separately, beginning with Ordinary Time.

The Gospels in Ordinary Time

One of the three Synoptic Gospels forms the central focus of each of the thirty‐three (occasionally thirty‐four) Sundays of each year of Ordinary Time. Year A is always the Gospel of Matthew; Year B, the Gospel of Mark; and Year C, the Gospel of Luke. The Gospel of John is not neglected, even though it does not form the core of a specific year. In accord with an ancient tradition of the Church, John has always been read during the Lent and Easter seasons “because it is the ‘spiritual’ Gospel in which the mystery of Christ is sounded out to greater depths” (CSL: Introduction, 7); in addition, because of the shortness of the Gospel of Mark, chapter 6 of John (the Bread of Life discourse) is taken up on five Sundays during Year B.

This particular arrangement of the Lectionary allows us to hear each of the Gospels in its own right; over the course of a year we come to know the distinctive picture of Jesus presented by Matthew or Mark or Luke.

The Epistles in Ordinary Time

Over the Sundays of Ordinary Time, passages are selected from the Epistles for the second reading, according to the following outline:

  • Year A

    • 1 Corinthians 1–4 (Sundays 2–8)
    • Romans (Sundays 9–24)
    • Philippians (Sundays 25–28)
    • 1 Thessalonians (Sundays 29–33)
  • Year B

    • 1 Corinthians 6–11 (Sundays 2–6)
    • 2 Corinthians (Sundays 7–14)
    • Ephesians (Sundays 15–21)
    • James (Sundays 22–26)
    • Hebrews 2–10 (Sundays 27–33)
  • Year C

    • 1 Corinthians 12–15 (Sundays 2–8)
    • Galatians (Sundays 9–14)
    • Colossians (Sundays 15–18)
    • Hebrews 11–12 (Sundays 19–22)
    • Philemon (Sunday 23)
    • 1 Timothy (Sundays 24–26)
    • 2 Timothy (Sundays 27–30)
    • 2 Thessalonians (Sundays 31–33)

Though individual passages are quite short and there is no attempt to read the Epistles in their entirety, over the three years the Lectionary gives a rich and varied exposure to the main themes and emphases of this part of Scripture. As already noted, in the Sundays in Ordinary Time there is no direct correlation between the Gospel reading and the Epistle reading; although at times they may touch on similar aspects of the Christian mystery, they have not been picked to provide a common theme.

The Old Testament Reading in Ordinary Time

In contrast to the selection of the Epistle, the first reading from the Old Testament has been carefully chosen to correlate with the Gospel text of the day. Although the intent is to highlight the unity between the Old and New Testaments, in fact there is considerable variety in how this “harmony” (CSL: Introduction, 67) is achieved. Sometimes it is a common theme that binds the two readings together; at other times the Old Testament will foreshadow or suggest something that is more fully developed in the Gospel (for example, on Sunday 16, Year C, the story of Martha and Mary giving hospitality to Jesus is paired with the story from Genesis of Abraham receiving his three guests). Often, if the Gospel quotes a verse from the Old Testament or refers to a specific incident, this passage will be the first reading (for example, on the Third Sunday, Year A, Matthew quotes Isaiah 8, 23–9, 1 , and that Isaianic text services as the first reading). At times, the single lines given before the readings in the Lectionary are most helpful (though they are not meant to be read publicly) to indicate the point of correspondence that led to the choice of a particular reading.

While the desirability of a weekly Old Testament reading is undisputed, it is probably fair to say that the selection of Old Testament passages has been the single most controversial aspect of the Lectionary. The decision to link the first reading so closely with the Gospel imposes certain limitations. Many of the most important Old Testament passages simply do not readily lend themselves to correlation with a particular Gospel passage, and so are never heard in the Sunday assembly; often, such a brief or peripheral section of a major Old Testament story is read that it is difficult to get a sense of the whole picture. Furthermore, relatively little ever appears from the corpus of Wisdom literature (only three selections from Proverbs and two, both truncated, from the book of Job). The passages selected from the prophets are those that are readily seen to be fulfilled in Jesus, or which at least have Christological implications, but other aspects of the prophetic message are given less prominence (for example, the relatively few “social justice” passages read over the three years).

The Lent‐Easter Season

As noted above, the seasons of Lent‐Easter and Advent‐Christmas form independent units; both cycles (the Advent even more so than the Lent) are carefully crafted so that through the Scripture readings we may be more closely initiated into the Church's understanding of these great feasts.

Easter, especially the Easter Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil on Saturday), is “the culmination of the entire liturgical year” (Norms, 18); Lent serves as a time of preparation, especially as a period of “closer attention to the Word of God” (CSL, 109). During Lent, “those important passages from the Gospels which were read to catechumens in the early centuries to prepare them for Baptism are proclaimed. These readings are directed to all the faithful because during Lent the whole Church, along with those about to be baptized, calls to mind the mystery of its initiation into Christ.” Though it is not possible to examine closely all the readings for the Lent‐Easter season, a few examples will illustrate the care and theological insight that finds expression in the arrangement of the Lectionary for this season.

The baptismal thrust is seen most clearly in Year A on the final three Sundays of Lent, where the great themes of water, light, and life are proclaimed through the reading from John's Gospel of the Samaritan woman at the well (Third Sunday), the curing of the man born blind (Fourth), and the raising of Lazarus from the dead (Fifth); so pivotal are these particular texts to the process of Christian initiation that they can be used in any of the three years, especially when there are candidates preparing for Baptism.

The readings for the first two Sundays of Lent are always the account of the Temptation and the Transfiguration respectively, read according to the Gospel being followed in a given year. In Year B, the Gospels for the rest of Lent focus on the Crucifixion and Resurrection; in Year C, on the process of conversion.

At first glance, the choice of Old Testament readings for the Sundays of Lent might look entirely diverse and random; certainly they are not specifically linked to the Gospel. Rather, each year, they are meant to lead us through the Old Testament, presenting “the main elements of salvation history from its beginning until the promise of the New Covenant” (CSL: Introduction, 97):

  • Year A

    • First Sunday: Creation and fall
    • Second Sunday: The call of Abraham
    • Third Sunday: Water from the rock in the desert
    • Fourth Sunday: The anointing of David as king
    • Fifth Sunday: Promise of the restoration
  • Year B

    • First Sunday: Flood and covenant
    • Second Sunday: Abraham's sacrifice of his son
    • Third Sunday: The ten commandments
    • Fourth Sunday: Exile and destruction of the Temple
    • Fifth Sunday: Promise of the new covenant
  • Year C

    • First Sunday: Retelling the deliverance from Egypt
    • Second Sunday: The covenant with Abraham
    • Third Sunday: The call of Moses
    • Fourth Sunday: The Passover celebrated in the Promised Land
    • Fifth Sunday: Promise of a new exodus

The Epistle readings during Lent highlight themes such as faith, repentance, and baptismal motifs, and often are related to the first reading (for example, on the First Sunday of Lent, A, the passage from Romans about Christ as the Second Adam corresponds to the reading about the sin of Adam in Genesis 2 ).

The reading of the Gospel of John continues on most of the Sundays after Easter in all three years with texts about the Good Shepherd (Fourth Sunday) and from John's presentation of the Farewell Discourse and Prayer of Jesus (the Fifth to Seventh Sundays). This is the only time when there are no Old Testament readings; in keeping with a very ancient tradition, the Church turns to the Acts of the Apostles in all three years so that we ponder the work of the Spirit in the early Church. For the second reading, semicontinuous selections are taken from 1 Peter in Year A, 1 John in Year B (both rich in baptismal allusions), and from the book of Revelation (with its emphasis on heavenly worship) in Year C.

Advent‐Christmas Season

The Lectionary for Advent is very carefully planned, with a definite movement as we progress toward the celebration of Christmas. The First Sunday emphasizes the Second Coming of Christ, picking up on a theme already sounded in the final Sunday of the Church Year (the feast of Christ the King). On the Second and Third Sundays, the Gospel is always about John the Baptist, so that the focus of attention moves more to the historical coming of a Messiah. On the Fourth Sunday, we turn to the first chapters of Matthew and Luke for events immediately prior to the birth of Jesus (the Annunciation to Mary and Joseph, and the Visitation).

In keeping with a long tradition in the Church, the Book of Isaiah with its messianic prophecies has a special place in both the Advent and Christmas readings. The Epistle readings are more general, offering exhortations and reflections; often, as the Advent focus moves to the birth of Jesus in time, the second reading serves to remind us of the Coming, which still awaits us in the future.

Throughout the Christmas season, the Lectionary preserves many of the readings that have been traditional in the Roman Church. On the Octave of Christmas, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (New Year's Day), the first reading is the priestly blessing from Numbers 6, and the other two speak more specifically of Mary.

The Lectionary for Weekdays

The readings for weekdays throughout the year form a separate cycle, independent of the Sunday cycle. Even with only two readings, obviously more of the Bible can be covered on weekdays, although still only portions of many of the longer Old Testament books are included. The seasons of Advent‐Christmas and Lent‐Easter follow an annual cycle, that is, the readings are repeated every year; in Ordinary Time, the same Gospel passages are read every year, while the first reading follows a two‐year cycle (designated as Year I and Year II).

The following will give a brief outline of the weekday cycle:

Advent‐Christmas Season.

During the first nine days of Advent, the Lectionary follows a very ancient custom of the Church and reads (in sequence) selected passages from the prophet Isaiah; on these days, contrary to usual practice, the Gospel is chosen to relate to this first reading. After the Thursday of the second week of Advent, the Gospel consistently speaks of John the Baptist, while the first reading is still from Isaiah or chosen to relate to the Gospel. From December 17 to 24, passages are selected from the first chapters of Matthew and Luke of events leading up to the birth of Christ; the first reading presents some of the major Old Testament messianic prophecies.

From December 27 on throughout the Epiphany season, there is a virtually continuous reading of 1 John. The Gospels relate various manifestations of Jesus; the whole of the first chapter of John's Gospel is read between December 31 and January 5.

Lent‐Easter Season

Throughout Lent, the Gospel and Old Testament are rather closely related to each other and present to us different aspects of the major Lenten themes of Baptism and penance. In accord with an ancient custom in the Church, the Gospel of John is read from the fourth week on; in Holy Week the focus is more specifically on Christ's Passion.

During the Easter season, on weekdays as on Sundays, the Lectionary maintains the ancient custom of reading semicontinuously from the Acts of the Apostles. During the Octave of Easter, the Gospel selections recount the different occasions on which Christ appeared; over the next weeks there is semicontinuous reading of the teaching and prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper from John 13 through John 17 .

Ordinary Time

Over the course of the year, the Gospels are read on a semicontinuous basis: Mark 1–12 in weeks 1–9, Matthew 5–25 in weeks 10–21, and Luke 4–21 in weeks 22–34 . The Church Year ends with those passages from Luke that talk specifically of the Second Coming.

The first reading is completely independent from the Gospel and provides the opportunity to read selections from the majority of the Old Testament books and Epistles. Longer books are sometimes divided (for example, Genesis 1–11 is read in weeks 5–6 of Year I, Genesis 12–50 in weeks 12–14 ). At the very end of the Church Year, we read from Daniel in Year I and the book of Revelation in Year II with their eschatological themes.

The Responsorial Psalm

The Lectionary also introduces us to the psalms in the Bible; in fact, more than eighty psalms (or verses thereof) are used in the Sunday Lectionary and some 130 of the 150 psalms appear somewhere in the complete Lectionary. The psalm comes between the first and second reading, and is considered as “an integral part of the Liturgy of the Word” (General Instruction, 36).

The psalms are poetry, the majority of them certainly originally composed to be sung with musical accompaniment. The introduction to the Lectionary strongly encourages singing the psalm at Mass, preferably by a soloist (cantor) with the congregation joining in with a refrain; if the psalm is spoken, it is “to be recited in a manner conducive to meditation on the Word” (CSL: Introduction, 22).

Although the psalm always serves in some way as a response to the Word of God, there is considerable diversity in terms of its precise relationship to other readings. If the first reading or the Epistle or even the Gospel quotes a particular psalm verse, that psalm is usually taken up as an echo or anticipated response (for example, the use of Psalm 91 on the First Sunday of Lent, C, when a verse from this psalm, “He has put his angels in charge of you,” is quoted during the temptation story in the Gospel). Often a psalm simply picks up and carries on the mood of the first reading, whether lamentation, thanksgiving, or praise. Some psalms have a long tradition of usage on particular feasts (Psalm 47 , “God goes up with shouts of joy” for the Ascension; Psalm 72 , “the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute. All Kings shall pay him homage, all nations shall serve him” for Epiphany). According to Lucien Deiss (a member of the committee involved in the choice of psalms when the Lectionary was compiled), some psalms that would not otherwise be used were introduced primarily so that the Christian community could become more familiar with the entire Psalter (Spirit and Song of the New Liturgy, 110–11).

Ecumenical Import of the Lectionary

One of the unexpected and unforeseen results of the revision of the Roman Lectionary has been its adoption (with some modifications) by many Protestant churches, including Anglican/Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and United Church of Canada. James White, a Methodist minister, in a much‐quoted statement remarked that the Lectionary has become “Catholicism's greatest gift to Protestant preaching, just as Protestant biblical scholarship has given so much impetus to Catholic preaching” (Christian Worship in Transition, 139).

In recent years, many of these churches came together under the auspices of the Consultation on Common Texts and developed the Common Lectionary, an order of readings for use on Sundays and a few special days of the Christian year. The Common Lectionary basically follows the Roman Lectionary, with some significant changes in the choice of Old Testament passages in order to deal with some of the problem areas we have noted.

Although Catholics and Protestants do not share exactly the same Lectionary, tremendous progress has been made toward common reading of Scripture. The ecumenical import, even on a practical level, is significant; in many places ministers of different churches now gather together to reflect and prepare their Sunday sermons. And, although we are still not at the point of being able to be united at the table of the Lord's banquet, we can be united and nourished at the common table of his Word.

Using the Lectionary for Prayer and Study

Many people, both clergy and lay, today use the Lectionary as a basic resource for daily prayer, whether or not they are able to celebrate liturgy with the Christian community every day. Consistent use of the Lectionary over a period of years will necessarily expose us to a broad expanse of Scripture and protect us against the subjective reading of the Bible spoken about earlier. The Lectionary puts us in touch with the Church's understanding of the mysteries of our faith as presented through the Church year, helping us to recover dimensions which may have been lost in popular piety (for example, the baptismal dimension of the season of Lent as opposed to a solely ascetic focus).

Many religious educators are discovering the Lectionary as a valuable resource in catechetics; reflection on the readings as appropriate to various age groups provides a common focus when the whole community gathers in prayer. Parish study groups or Bible studies often take the Gospel of a given year as their text for study. More and more the Lectionary is being used as the core of the RCIA program to introduce the new catechumens to the life of faith and community.

Though the Lectionary contains the Word of God, the particular selection of material is a human endeavor and thus only more or less perfect. It is recognized that some choices of specific readings could have been more auspicious, and certainly revisions will probably be made in time.

In particular, two areas are surfacing that seem to call for further discussion and reflection. As we ponder the role of women today in church and society, we bring certain questions to the Lectionary; we need to ask why certain texts have been omitted (for example, the story of courageous midwives who defy Pharaoh and ensure the survival of the Hebrew people in Egypt) and whether it is either necessary or helpful pastorally to include other texts that are open to being interpreted in a way derogatory to women (for example, Eph 5, 20 ). The second concern is in the area of our relationship to the Jewish people; as we become more aware of “the continuity of our faith with that of the earlier covenant” (Vatican Guidelines, 1974), we are more sensitive to the fact that the Lectionary must “promote among the Catholic people a genuine appreciation of the special place of the Jewish people as first chosen in the history of salvation, and in no way slight the honor and dignity that is theirs” (American Bishops' Statement on Catholic‐Jewish Relations, 1975).

The revision of the Lectionary stands as one of the most tangible and permanent implementations of the vision and challenge of the Second Vatican Council. In the Lectionary, “the treasures of the Bible are…opened up more lavishly so that a richer share in God's Word may be provided for the faithful” (CSL, 51). The Lectionary has the potential to shape the life of the Christian community, not only as the Word of God is proclaimed in the celebration of the liturgy but also as it is broken open for us in the homily, in catechetics, and in private and group study and prayer, which is rooted in Scripture. As the Lectionary is used over the cycle of years and even generations, “there is reason to hope for a new awakening of the spiritual life deriving from an increased dedication to God's word which ‘abides forever’ (Is 40, 8 )” (Dei Verbum, 26).

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