A Critique of the ACNA Daily Lectionary

The Anglican Church In North America, in its ongoing efforts to create a prayer book, published a daily lectionary earlier this year. This is a brief review of some of the gains and losses of this lectionary.¹ Reference to yesterday’s post on general challenges in creating lectionaries with the church calendar may be helpful background. Most comparisons are to the 1979 Episcopal Daily Office Lectionary, which the ACNA lectionary is intended to replace.

Improvements

The most notable improvement is the return to the 30-day cycle of Psalms. This innovation appeared in Cranmer’s first prayer book in 1549. Then, it was an easing of the 7-day Psalm cycle that was commonly used (and is still used in monastic settings.) The 1979 Daily Lectionary stretched the Psalms out to 3 months and placed them in non-sequential order. The return to a sequential, 30-day cycle is welcome.

Second, the ACNA Daily Lectionary is a one-year lectionary. The 1979 was a 2-year cycle, which obviously departs from the intention of the English reformers that “the whole Bible (or the greatest part thereof) should be read over once in the year.” The 1979 thinned things out too far, much as with the Psalms.

The ACNA also includes the Song of Solomon and more Old Testament than the 1979 as well as the entire New Testament. My general rubric for Scripture reading is “more is better” so any additions are welcome.

Weaknesses

The biggest problem with the ACNA Daily Lectionary is systematic and has challenged all Anglican lectionaries since 1871 — it attempts to follow the seasons of the church year. The challenges this creates were discussed at length in yesterday’s post. For the first 300+ years, the Anglican church had a daily lectionary that was largely independent from the church calendar. This practice greatly simplifies the construction (and following) of a daily lectionary since everything is tied simply to the month and date.

The second weakness, as addressed in my Non-Parenthetical Lectionary, is the failure of the lectionary to cover the whole Bible in a year. Significant portions of the Old Testament are not read and this marginalizes these passages since many will not bother to discover what is omitted and read them for themselves.

Third, this lectionary follows the pattern of the 1962 Canadian lectionary (which it is largely patterned after) of having separate readings for Sunday that break the flow of the rest of the week. This both removes those passages from their larger context in their respective books and creates a temptation for readers to ignore the Sunday readings all together since they are likely attending services that will address them anyway.

Fourth, the ACNA Daily Lectionary varies its format throughout the year. Some weeks, the readings are continuous from morning to evening (Genesis 1 and Matthew 1 in the morning, Genesis 2 and Matthew 2 in the evening) while at other times you will read one book in the morning and another in the evening. Sometimes both the Old and New Testament readings follow one pattern and sometimes one will be morning-evening continuous and the other will be confined to either morning or evening. This creates unnecessary confusion and limits the ability of someone to use the lectionary in a 2-year cycle by following morning one year and evening the second. It also creates an issue for a family who does only one of the daily offices together each day.

Sixth, in repeating some readings (mostly New Testament, but also some Old Testament) an emphasis and de-emphasis is created on particular passages. For a church that has reacted against similar omissions in the daily and Sunday lectionaries of the Episcopal Church, these seem unfortunate. We should allow more significant passages to make themselves clear by their content, not by our constant repetition of them.

Finally, the commemorations for Stephen, John the Evangelist, and the Slaughter of the Innocents on 26, 27, and 28 December are inconsistent with the rest of the lectionary. No other observations like these are included elsewhere and these only seem to be included because it is easy to do so with the fixed date of Christmas. This elevates these three days above any other similar commemoration observed on a fixed date.

Conclusion

Given the challenges it must address and overcome, making a good daily lectionary is a daunting task. Unfortunately, by using a flawed lectionary (1962 Canadian) as the base, we have perpetuated these flaws instead of making a bold revision which addresses them. Until then, those who desire to follow the direction of their Church and her Bishops will be forced to look for work-arounds.


¹ This article is a revision of a critique I submitted to the Liturgy and Common Worship Task Force earlier this year.

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