Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Prayer Finally Answered

As I mentioned in my post on the 1967 Ferial Lectionary (chart here), the one thing that book did not contain in terms of my Re-Attempt of the Reform dreams for the lectionary, was Old Testament readings for the Sundays of the year.

It gives an Old Testament reading, and Epistle, and a Gospel for all the ferias within the traditional one-year cycle, but gave nothing for days that already had their own readings, like the ferias of Lent and all the Sundays of the year. The ferias of Lent already have Old Testament readings, and I speculated that they could be given Epistles by simply taking the Epistles from Matins during the period of the year (which almost perfectly matches in terms of needed length) that uses Epistles instead of Old Testament readings (which would then free-up space for even more Old Testament at Matins). But I have wondered where to find traditional Old Testament readings for the Sundays.

Originally, of course (as the Novus Ordo restored, but in an untraditional and artificial way), the Gradual and Alleluia were separated in the Roman Mass and there was a Prophecy in addition to the Epistle and the Gospel. But I had searched high and low for a reconstruction of the traditional Roman Prophecy cycle with no luck. I even emailed some prominent traditionalist liturgists, and they didn't seem to think such a thing existed, and that reconstruction would not be possible.

But, the other day, a reader (whose blog I'll now recommend and put in the sidebar too) sent me some information that gives just what I wanted. Apparently, certain traditionally minded high-church Anglican and Lutheran scholars have worked on just such a reconstruction of the historic Prophecy cycle, and he sent along a file with this reconstructed Old Testament cycle from the historic lectionary. I also got some good links to (high-church Protestant) scholarship on the matter, some relevant quotes from which I would like to share here. First, a good explanation of why:

THE TRADITIONAL EUCHARISTIC LECTIONARY of the Western Church, thought extinct by some, is alive and well in many parishes throughout the world. Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Western-rite Orthodox, Old Catholics and many protestant churches, are still using that ancient and truly ecumenical eucharistic lectionary which has been feeding the faithful for well over one thousand years. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer, The Roman Missal, The St. Andrew Service Book (Antiochian Orthodox), and many more beloved books of the Church contain within them (or they did, until recently) what is now referred to as "the traditional lectionary" of the Western Church. Robert Crouse expresses well the heart of the traditional lectionary:

In the cycle of the Christian Year, in the ancient lectionary - that cycle of Epistle and Gospel lessons which has served the Church for well over a millennium ... the essential message of Holy Scripture, God's word to us, is set before us in an orderly and supremely logical way. As we follow the lessons appointed for the Sundays and the great festivals, as we meditate upon them, as we open our minds and hearts to understand the pattern and meaning of them, we are led, step by step, into an ever deeper and clearer perception of Christian truth and the essentials of Christian life.

Since the introduction of the new three-year "Common Lectionary," first in the Roman Catholic Church, and adopted by many of the Reformed and Protestant Churches, the traditional lectionary - in many parishes - has fallen by the wayside. In many congregations, though, even through the decades of "out-with-the-old and in-with-the-new", the traditional lectionary survived, particularly within Anglicanism. In more recent times, though, the traditional lectionary has been dusted off, and with great zeal has been brought back into the eucharistic life of western Christendom. This website is both a product of this recent revival, and an attempt to spread the word to all Christians: the traditional lectionary is not dead, and it is still as theologically and spiritually vital as it ever was!

While the basic practice of reading Scripture and preaching from it was common, what was read and how much was not. In some places there was a continuous reading from Sunday to Sunday until a book was finished. Some areas of Spain and France used lessons made from a mosaic of Scripture, piecing together short selections from various parts of Scripture. Some churches used harmonies of the Gospels and read from them. And while some places read two lessons each Sunday, others read as many as four. Overall, lectio continua, the continuous reading of a book from Sunday to Sunday, seems to have been the prevailing practice in one form or another.

However, as the church year developed, the practice of lectio continua waned. Already in the first century the Church was celebrating Easter, which soon became the celebration of Easter and Pentecost, which soon became the celebration of Lent, Easter, Pentecost and Epiphany, which soon well, you get the idea. By the fourth century the festival half of the church year as we know it (Advent - Pentecost) was generally established, complete with days set apart for commemoration of saints and martyrs. These festivals and commemorations required their own readings and thus interrupted the lectio continua. As the "interruptions" became less the exception and more the rule, lectio continua gave way to prescribed readings. So that the pastor would know what the prescribed reading was, bishops had indices prepared, which gave not only references but showed the first and last words in each lesson. An assigned portion of Scripture was known as h´ perikophv, the pericope, as it was the portion of Scripture "cut out" from the Scriptures for that day. Because books other than the Bible were sometimes used (e.g. lives of the saints, martyrologies, sermons or writings of noted preachers, etc.), many bishops and church fathers also produced books called comes, sort of a pericope and sermon help book all in one. These books included not only the readings for each day, but often some commentary as well. Some comes, commentary and all, may even have been prepared so that they could be read during the service, functioning as Ante-Nicean church postils.

It was not long before books were prepared with the lessons actually written out, saving the step of having to look them up elsewhere; epistles written out in an epistolarium, the gospels in an evangelarium. A book with a complete set of lessons was called a lectionarium. Most of these were incomplete by today's standards in that they usually had assigned propers only for the festival half of the year with a selection of optional readings and propers for the rest of the year to be used at the discretion of the pastor. The same was also true for the Epiphany season, since it wasn't until the fourth century that Christmas and Epiphany became distinct festivals.

What we know today as the Historic lectionary comes to us from the Comes Hieronymi (Jerome). The date and authorship of this document is disputed, however at the very latest it was written by someone in 471. Having the name of Jerome attached to it made this document influential on its own, but when it was included in the Leonine Sacramentary it became a standard text for the Western Church. Even then, it provided assigned readings only for Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. The rest of the year was still covered by optional propers included in the comes, or by the whim of the local bishop or pastor.

Three hundred years later, Charlemagne decided to standardize liturgical practices in his domain, and as part of this had his religious advisor Alcuin do a revision of the Comes Hieronymi. What Alcuin basically did was take the Gregorian Sacramentary, the current standard in Rome, and introduce it to Charlemange's empire. This was a monumental step in church history, since it standardized worship in the Western Church and put everyone west of the Carpathians literally on the same page, at least for the festival part of the year. And because he was seeking to shorten the service, Alcuin introduced two major changes in the lectionary. First, he eliminated the reading of the Old Testament lesson. Secondly, he shortened many of the epistle and Gospel readings. Where before a lesson could have been as long as two or three chapters, now it was usually a single account from a gospel or section from an epistle that dealt with a specific topic. There were probably a number of reasons for both these changes, but what is likely the main one was the decreased literacy of both people and clergy effected by the barbarian invasions.

The next major change to the lectionary would not come until the 13th century and the establishment of the last generally accepted major festival of the Church: Trinity Sunday. This festival soon came to dominate the second half of the church year, and with that came the establishment of assigned propers for the entire year. In itself this was not new; some places had actually established year-round propers as early as the 4th century. But the High Middle Ages saw the strengthening of both monarchies and the papacy, both of which liked to have unified practice. The era of cuius regioeius lectio was over, and with the general adoption of the Sarum Missal at the end of the 13th century the liturgical practice of the Western Church, year round, was governed by the Historic lectionary.

So well constructed and established was this practice that even during the upheaval of the Reformation it remained intact. The Reformation never really asked the question "Should the lectionary be changed?" only whether it should be used.


Unlike other lectionary series (except those based on the Historic series), the propers for the day always match up with the readings, enhancing the theme for the day, and the lessons within each season flow together to create a seasonal theme. Indeed, of all the lectionaries the Historic is the most well-organized; there is even method in the seeming madness of the Trinity season. What is perhaps the greatest asset today is the fact that it is a one year lectionary. If repetitio mater studiorum est, then here is where you will find the most repetitio. This is especially an advantage in our era of decreased biblical literacy.

At the same time, because it is a one year series, it uses a limited number of texts. The Historic lectionary grew during times when it was common to have services on days like Easter Monday, which may also explain why some lessons are now omitted. Perhaps the most glaring of these is the parable of the prodigal son [note: though not on a Sunday, I checked and it is in fact in the traditional Roman Missal on the Saturday after the Second Sunday of Lent].

Anyway, I'm ecstatic over this find. The reader who sent this to me clarified the following also:
Actually, this is one of the reasons I think Catholics should try to become more familiar with non-Catholic liturgies, because while Rome was busy inventing a 3-year lectionary and foisting it on the world in the name of "ecumenism," the Lutherans and to some extent the Anglicans --- who used the Historic Lectionary albeit with a few alterations --- were researching and attempting to find the Prophecy/Old Testament Lessons for the Lectionary everybody was already using. Also, if Catholics had gained a little more familiarity with what their neighbors were doing, then they'd also know Bugnini was lying through his teeth when he said "This new liturgy is more ecumenical."

Anyway, this particular reconstruction is largely influenced by the Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal as far as the OT readings are concerned, with all readings brought into line and cross-referenced with a 1953 Roman Missal.

[...]there are some feasts --- Corpus Christi, Sacred Heart, Christ the King --- that never had an OT reading, since they were composed after it was dropped. For these, I took the OT reading from the Ordo Lectionum Missae, whichever one matched best with the Historic Gospel.
I plan enter these reconstructed Old Testament readings into my chart, do what I said with the Epistles (from Matins) for Lent, and then post the final product sometime as my proposal for a traditional lectionary greatly expanded yet within the bounds of the historic one-year cycle, building on the traditional foundation rather than destroying it.


Tony said...

The guy's blog is interesting. Or rather, he is. Its kind of scary. I don't know how he justifies his position to himself..

That said, I wish him well.

Agostino Taumaturgo said...

Hi Tony,

All I can say about the blog is that it is what it is, the ramblings of a mind that became extremely disillusioned by a broken system that refuses to fix itself. The religious posts in the Reflections are attempts to look back at that system I left behind, trying to make sense out of the patently nonsensical.

I welcome all inquiries or dialogue, so please feel free to E-mail me if you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions.