What is the Lectionary

About the Revised Common Lectionary

A lectionary is a table of readings from Scripture appointed to be read at public worship. The Lectionary (1969, revised 1981) developed by the Roman Catholic Church after Vatican II provided for a three-year cycle of Sunday readings. This Roman lectionary provided the basis for the lectionary in 1979 edition of The Book of Common Prayer, as well as for lectionaries developed by many other denominations.

The Common Lectionary, published in 1983, was an ecumenical project of several American and Canadian denominations, developed out of a concern for the unity of the church and a desire for a common experience of Scripture. It was intended as a harmonization of the many different denominational approaches to the three-year lectionary.

The Revised Common Lectionary, published in 1992 and officially adopted by The Episcopal Church in 2006, takes into account constructive criticism of the Common Lectionary based on the evaluation of its trial use, and like the current prayer-book lectionary, is a three-year cycle of Sunday Eucharistic readings.

The major principle behind the lectionary is that on a Sunday members of congregations should be able to hear the voice of each writer week by week, rather than readings being selected according to a theme. Thus, in any given year the writer of one of the first three gospels will be heard from beginning to end. Likewise the rest of the New Testament is heard, in some cases, virtually in total, in others in large part.

This principle is subject to a number of exceptions. Firstly, different principles apply during the special seasons of the year: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter. Here appropriate lections relevant to the season are chosen. The rest of the year, called Ordinary Time, begins in February and runs until the Second Sunday before Lent. It then resumes after Pentecost until the Sunday before Advent.

Secondly, because the cycle is three years long, only three of the Gospel writers are given a year. St.John’s Gospel, whose form and character is very different from the three synoptic gospels is treated differently and is inserted into all three years. Thus passages from St John appear in the special seasons of Advent and Lent, on Passion Sunday in all three years, throughout Holy Week, including Good Friday, on Easter Day as the first alternative Gospel, during most of the Easter season, on Pentecost and during the year in which St Mark’s gospel is in use. A practical reason for this is that Mark is considerably shorter than either St Matthew or St Luke.

The treatment given to the Old Testament provides a further qualification to the first principle. Because it is so much longer than the New Testament, it is inevitable that a smaller proportion of the material will be included, unless readings are to be very long. Readings are much more selective in terms of the books included.

From episcopalchurch.org and Wikipedia