Category Archives: Lectionary

Familiarity and Novelty

I’ve been reading upcoming texts in the lectionary for Sundays in Lent, and Psalm 23 shows up a few times. It is a very familiar Psalm to many of us. As I read it in the translation we are using for service, though, I had to slow down and read what it actually said instead of what I had memorized in my head. The same happens with the Our Father (aka the Lord’s Prayer) which most people (myself included) instinctively say in the translation in the Book of Common Prayer.

The reason we trip up when using “modern” translations on these two sections of Scripture is because we know them well in the older forms. This obvious bit of information led me to a less obvious hypothesis: If we were immersed deeper in our Bibles, we would be less likely to change translations, and the market for new versions would decline.

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I’m sure the current glut of versions is being driven by more than just our biblical illiteracy. There is a lot of capitalism-driven profit seeking from publishers; they see a market niche and are trying to exploit it. But it is hard to exploit a niche that doesn’t exist.

Our lack of biblical literacy is certainly an issue. We would do well to internalize the words of Scripture. They certainly have a better chance of being recalled if they are embedded within our minds and hearts. We can’t be formed by that which we are not allowing ourselves to be shaped by.

I stand by my assessment that the prevalence of translations is, in part, a reflection of our lack of engagement with the Bible.

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The Daily Lectionary: Why Bother?

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If you’ve read my past few posts, you may be asking yourself, “With all the challenges of creating a good daily lectionary, why not just start at Genesis and read through to Revelation in a year and be done with it?” Good question.

My initial answer is that there is nothing wrong with reading Scripture that way. There are many plans that will get you through the Bible in a year (or less) that you can access for free. There are some advantages to a daily lectionary sanctioned by the church, however.

First is coordinated reading with the rest of the church. You are reading the same passages on the same days. This may seem like a small thing, but there are times when knowing that we are not just making this up as we go along becomes important. There is value in bringing questions about a passage to your priest or your friend, knowing that it will be fresh in his mind since he recently read the same passage. A priest should be able to reference a passage in his sermon, knowing that at least some of his congregation has read it that week.

Having the readings correspond with the seasons of the church year is also an aid in devotion and further solidifies us as we are all figuratively and literally on the same page with where our focus lies. Advent, Lent, and Easter take on deeper meaning as seasons when we follow the lectionary which tries to steer us to appropriate and fitting readings for these seasons.

This leads into the second benefit which is accountability. The church says we are to read this today (just as she teaches us to pray). “Did you read your Bible today?” becomes a more meaningful question when the assumption behind it is “according to today’s lectionary.” There is no waffling and saying “yes” because you read the one verse at the end of a devotional.

But the most important reason to follow the lectionary of your church is submission. Yes, in some ways it is a trivial thing. As I said above, there are multiple ways to accomplish Scripture reading. But if your church says, “This way,” to respond, “No, my way,” reveals a problem. The Church does not say that you cannot also do it your way. Read Scripture as much as you want. But at a minimum, do it her way.

This simple act of submission teaches us to be obedient to the Church and her teaching both on the level of understanding salvation history and doctrine and in actually submitting to something. As you may be able to tell, I have strong feelings on the subject of lectionaries, so this has been tough for me. I have a hard time submitting to one that I think is less than great. But I am trying to learn to color within the lines. My non-parenthetical lectionary is an attempt to add some of my personal devotion on top of the lectionary instead of replacing it.

If you have not been a follower of the lectionary in your devotional practice, I challenge you to try it. If you aren’t Anglican, find the one your church prescribes. If your church doesn’t prescribe one…that’s probably a separate post. Join with the church in prayer, in reading, and in worship, that we might be one.

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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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Lectionary Challenges

The church calendar creates challenges for those who would create lectionaries, for Sundays and even more for daily use. This post will explore and explain some of the more significant issues lectionary authors must grapple with. In a subsequent post, we will look at how the ACNA Daily Lectionary addresses (or fails to address) these challenges.

Lent-Trinity

The most obvious challenge in constructing a lectionary that follows the church year is the variable date of Easter.¹ It can fall anywhere between 22 March and 25 April.² The date of Easter determines the dates of everything from Ash Wednesday — or actually, the last Sunday of Epiphany — to Trinity Sunday. This large sliding block of dates which comprise the seasons of Lent and Easter creates five weeks at the end of Epiphany and five weeks at the beginning of Pentecost which may or may not be read in any given year.

The common practice regarding these 10 weeks is to treat them as distinct and always occurring. This creates a problem since the effect is to make the year seem 57 weeks long when planning the readings. In any given year, therefore, an entire month of readings are omitted by the Lent-Trinity block. The readings at the end of Epiphany and beginning of Ordinary Time3 are rarely read. In my analysis of the next 30 years, the 8th Sunday of Epiphany is never read, and Proper 3 is read only once.

There is a way to fix this. Only 4 weeks of readings could be given starting with the first Sunday after Epiphany. (These could be tied to the themes of Epiphany if desired.) Then, beginning with the 5th Sunday after Epiphany, we could begin a cycle of readings that would be contiguous with Ordinary Time. We would switch to the Lent/Easter readings whenever they occur, and then resume with the rest of the readings after Trinity Sunday. In this method, a week of readings could occur either at the later stages of Epiphany or the early weeks of Ordinary Time, but none would be omitted.

Advent 4 and Christmas

The minor penitential season of Advent creates a similar, though smaller problem. Advent begins 4 Sundays before Christmas, but Christmas is always on 25 December, so the days of the week of 4 Advent are often truncated. (This year 2016 is an exception. Since Christmas is on a Sunday, we have all of 4 Advent, but this only occurs every 6 years.4) Christmas can fall on any date from the Monday after 4 Advent (making 4 Advent fall on Christmas Eve) to the following Sunday.

Similarly, though 6 January begins the season of Epiphany, it does not always fall on a Sunday. Because Epiphany is tied to a date while the First Sunday in Epiphany is tied to a Sunday, the days after Epiphany are also often omitted.

Other Observances

Finally, the third major problem for lectionaries are all the other observances throughout the church year which are tied to particular dates. All Saints’ Day, as well as all of the saints’ days, are tied to dates on the calendar and not to a particular Sunday. Besides this is the decision of which to include and which to exclude. A lectionary could be nothing but readings commemorating various saints and historical figures in the church, but that would destroy the flow of the church year.

Conclusion

These issues must all be kept in mind by those wishing to craft a lectionary. Even leap years throw a small knot in creating a daily lectionary. Having a multi-year lectionary (such as most Sunday lectionaries) makes the analysis of how often some texts are actually read that much more complicated, since not only do we have the shifts mentioned above, but the 3-year cycle to consider as well, making the omitted weeks even more obscure.


¹ If you want to know how the date of Easter is determined, this is a good article.

² This Wikipedia article gives a good overview of the dates of Easter.

3 Ordinary time is not “plain” but ordered, and is referred to by the number of the “proper”. For example, Proper 10 is the appointed readings for the Sunday closest to 13 July. Propers are typically numbered as the Sunday after Pentecost or the Sunday after Trinity, and because those dates change, a given proper will fall on a different Sunday each year.

4 It’s every 6 years, not 7 because of leap years.

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A Non-Parenthetical Lectionary

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The Anglican Church in North America has published a daily office lectionary based on the 1962 Anglican Church of Canada daily lectionary. I will critique its manifold problems in a future post, but I have been working on a solution. First, an explanation.

What do I mean by “non-parenthetical”? Two things. First, it is a reference to a line in the preface to the first English Book of Common Prayer (1549) which says, “For they so ordered the matter, that all the whole Bible (or the greatest part thereof) should be read over once in the year.” Did you catch what was in the parenthesis? Or the greatest part thereof.

This remark has haunted Anglican lectionaries to this day. To my knowledge, none of them manage to include the entirety of the Scriptures in a year. This leads to the second sense of parenthetical which is that within some of these lectionaries, there are parenthetical verses listed — those that can be read, but are not prescribed.

What have I done to correct this? The simple thing to do is to divide all Scripture into 365 bits and go forth. But, because of the church calendar and the desire of most people to not put the New Testament off until Autumn each year, it is not so straightforward.

I have conducted a thorough analysis of the ACNA Daily Lectionary as it is to be read for 2017 (starting with Advent in 2016). Some of what I discovered in this analysis will be in my critique of this particular lectionary.

What I then set out to do was to add what was missing in a way that made sense. This allows a reader to use the NPL and still be “in synch” with others who are reading the ACNA Daily Lectionary. The largest change I made was to shift a chapter from Morning to Evening in a few places in order to preserve continuity.

Where possible, I have inserted the missing sections into the readings. If this was not possible, they were included in the 5th column which I have labeled “Supplementary” and can be read with Morning or Evening, or at any other time throughout the day. As much as I could, I tried to keep these readings near other related readings, though some were just placed where there was room. For example, Leviticus was deliberately placed in Lent in order to highlight the sacrificial system which Christ came to fulfill and complete.

I not only included missing Old Testament and New Testament passages, but also the entirety of the Apocrypha as recognized by the Anglican Church. (Some parts of the Apocrypha are included in the ACNA Daily Lectionary.) Because of the number of chapters omitted, I also repeated a few of the less-repeated New Testament chapters to fill things out.

My goal was to create a lectionary that follows the ACNA Daily Lectionary while also addressing its omissions. I wanted to create a daily lectionary that is non-parenthetical in either of the two senses addressed above. I believe I have accomplished that for 2017. If you find any errors or omissions, please let me know so I can address them.

Non-Parenthetical Lectionary

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