Educate me, what are lectionaries?

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J.R. Miller | Forum Activity | Posted: Thu, Dec 10 2009 12:15 AM

Can some of you who use them educate me about lectionaries.  How do you personally use them?  Why?  What are the biggest differences between the various traditions of Lectoinaires.  I know I could look this up, but I wanted to hear from some Logos users what it is all about.

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Rosie Perera | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Dec 10 2009 1:06 AM

A lectionary is kind of like a "read through the Bible in a year" plan, though the one our church uses (the Revised Common Lectionary) goes on a three-year cycle. It's a way to make sure that you're covering all the parts of Scripture regularly, and not just focusing on your favorite books over and over.  It follows the Church Year so that seasonally appropriate texts are chosen when applicable, during Advent, Lent, and Pentecost, for example. And it makes sure you get a good mix of OT, Psalms, Gospels, and Epistles or Revelation every week.

The other thing the lectionary does is it encourages you to think of how passages relate to other ones instead of only seeing them in isolation. It's somewhat subjective what passages will be grouped together, and sometimes it seems random, but there is usually some evidence of thought put into it. Either an OT passage put together with a NT one that it foreshadows, or a similar theme showing up across several passages. It's good food for thought, sometimes brings out an aspect of one of the texts that you might not have thought of before, just reading it in isolation.

The lectionary isn't actually a true "read through the Bible" plan because there are some passages it leaves out (boring OT lists of clans and armies, etc.). I've never gone through systematically and made a table of what passages were left out, but I've always wanted to do that. There might be different biases in what gets overlooked depending on the theology of the lectionarists, and I'm curious.

Anyway, for my church it's just a fallback to use if the preacher doesn't have another topic or passage they want to preach on, and if we're not in the middle of our summer sermon series in which we go through a whole book of the Bible. We stray away from the lectionary more often than not. I wouldn't want to be stuck always having to follow the lectionary texts like some churches do. I like having it there as a guide, but holding onto it loosely.

There are several good sites for picking relevant worship material based on the lectionary texts of the week, so a church that follows the lectionary has a lot of help to draw on in planning meaningful services. The Text This Week and Singing from the Lectionary are two good ones.

I don't know much about the various traditions of Lectionaries. I know that the RCL came into existence in the 80s and 90s as a revision of what had been previously only a Roman Catholic lectionary. It was developed by an ecumenical collaboration. It's used mostly only by the Catholics and mainline Protestant denominations. But I go to a Mennonite Church (not a liturgical tradition at all) and we have been using it somewhat, though only for the past couple of years.

I don't really use the lectionary for my own personal study, though once in a while I'll read the passages that I know are going to be preached on at church ahead of time. For a couple of years, I followed the Bible readings laid out in Celtic Daily Prayer, which is a kind of lectionary + prayer book, put out by the Northumbria Community. I found it good to have a discipline imposed on me from without. Otherwise I can tend to be really haphazard about my Bible reading. I'd just open up to a random passage and start reading, letting the Spirit guide me. That's fine sometimes. But who says the Spirit doesn't guide the people making the selections for the lectionary, and choreograph it into my life so that the passage of the day sometimes seems to be selected just for me? There are times when the lectionary passage seems irrelevant to me at the moment, but that's part of Christian discipleship too -- keeping going through the dry periods, in faith that something is happening anyway, even if I don't feel like it is.

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Mark Stevens | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Dec 10 2009 1:17 AM

I am about to begin using the lectionary for the first time. I have found a book called, "Living the Christian Year" by Bobby Gross to be very helpful.

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Dec 10 2009 10:20 AM

Did you really want to give me an invitation? A short historical introduction.

"Lectionary" is used in two ways - one, the book of the texts that are read in church/temple services and two, a simple list of the readings. An ordo is the small book that matches lectionary liturgical dates to secular calendar dates so that one isn't spending all one's time figuring out what to read. The ordo frequently includes Liturgy of the Hours/Divine Office/Morning & Evening Prayer informations as well.

The design may include (a) continuous reading of a book i.e. straight through (b) semi-continuous reading i.e. sequentially with some skips of (c) selected topical readings. The individual readings are called "lections" or "pericopes" - note several English dictionaries define pericope as a lection rather than "a short, cohesive passage for study" (the Logos usage).

The first lectionary used in the Judeo-Christian tradition was the Torah cycle that developed early in the exile - it read through the Torah in a three year cycle. A couple or three decades later, a second lectionary in which the Torah was read in a one-year cyle developed. I don't know exactly when the readings from the prophets were added to the Torah cycles nor when the readings for the high holy days developed. They were both well entrenched by New Testament times.

Note that the Jewish scripture reading took place in a worship service in which the readings were not only juxtaposed against each other; they were also juxtaposed against the psalms and prayers of the synagogue service. Now remember that Christianity grew out of Judaism. Historically what I would call "Liturgy of the Word" (Scripture reading, preaching and prayer) developed out of the Jewish practices.

Now think a bit about the historical situation. Church buildings/services needed to be within walking distance of all the parishioners. Handcopied books were extremely expensive. Computers didn't provide annual ordos. The result - many churches did not have access to a full Bible. They couldn't afford it. They ended up with Gospels with pericopes marked, maybe some epistles, or maybe a lectionary sense 1. That is to say that while a church might not be able to afford a full Bible, they might be able to afford a lectionary which would give them a broad spectrum of excerpts from the Bible.  Typical of its Jewish roots, scripture was read in the context of a service including psalms and prayers.

The number of readings for a "normal" service varied between 2-7 depending upon the rite celebrated. The Eastern Church, in general, was richer (no Dark Ages) and used more readings than in the Western Church. Translation: the East could afford more books. There was a similarity in all the reading cycles as they had several common elements: (a) liturgical year with the incarnation, death and resurrection as lynch pins (b) the pinacle of the readings always being a passage from a Gospel (c) a period in which the readings reflected the preparation of converts.

Next major event: the invention of the chimney. Until the chimney was invented, in the West the entire household gathered aroung a single fire. In rich houses that could afford prayer books, Gospels, etc., and reading was done out loud and was addressed to the entire household. With the chimney there were heat sources in individual rooms - silent reading became common.

Next major event: invention of the printing press. Suddenly, books including the Scriptures were mass produced - churches and individuals could afford whole Bibles. Lectionaries became more standardized. (yes, there were a number of other influences but this is a 'brief' introduction.) However, some reformers (think Martin Luther) used lectionaries but allowed more variations often in the form of a choice of lectionaries. Other reformers such as the Church of England (think Book of Common Prayer) stuck with more uniformity.

So what is the effect of having a reading plan of scripture (a lectionary)?

  1. The norm, even in private study, is to hear/read scripture in the context of other scripture plus psalms. The most common "minimum" is Gospel, epistle, psalms
  2. The mindset for study (except for Protestant converts) is to read Scripture in light of Scripture e.g. a study of the Pentateuch may start with a comparison of Genesis 1-11 to Revelation.
  3. Scripture is learned from art (Orthodox church screens often depict the whole life of Christ in 12 icons), music, hearing, praying, study  ...
  4. The pattern of readings and prayers assist in allowing lay people to keep scripture in mind even if they cannot read it themselves.
  5. No pastor can go off and only use passages he personally likes - he has to preach it all [I get to hear the homilist gripe about be assigned Trinity Sunday nearly every year.]                                                                                                                                                                  

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Dec 10 2009 10:37 AM

Rosie Perera:
It's somewhat subjective what passages will be grouped together, and sometimes it seems random, but there is usually some evidence of thought put into it. Either an OT passage put together with a NT one that it foreshadows, or a similar theme showing up across several passages. It's good food for thought, sometimes brings out an aspect of one of the texts that you might not have thought of before, just reading it in isolation.

The lectionary isn't actually a true "read through the Bible" plan because there are some passages it leaves out (boring OT lists of clans and armies, etc.).

The RCL structure:

  1. Advent season - the readings are all "handpicked" for the Sunday i.e. a topical relations going backwards through time from the second coming back to the first.
  2. Season of Lent - the first reading traces salvation history from Adam to Christ; the three weeks before Palm Sunday have Gospel readings chosen for training of adults entering the Church on Easter (readings date back to the very eary church)
  3. Easter season - first readings from Acts, tracing the history of the Church
  4. Usual pattern: Gospel is a semi-continuous reading of the year's Gospel (this is the year of Luke); semi-continuous reading of an epistle; first reading (Old Testament) has topical connection to Gospel; psalm is usually a response to some element of the first reading or the Gospel.
  5. Alternate pattern: For the time between Easter and Advent, there is an alternative Old Testament reading drawing from the Lutheran tradition that supplies more of the longer narrative readings (Catholic tradition is heavy on Wisdom literature).

The lectionary and prayer book need to be considered together to determine how much of the Scripture is covered. For traditions using an Office of Readings the percentage is quite high. For lectionary only, consider the 3 year cycle to cover 20-30% with the Gospels being nearly complete, the epistles high and the Old Testament pulling it down. I've seen actual figures but am too lazy to find them right now.

 

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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Rosie Perera | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Dec 10 2009 10:39 AM

Great intro, MJ!

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Matthew C Jones | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Dec 10 2009 11:12 AM

MJ. Smith:
Did you really want to give me an invitation?

First of all, I never get tired of reading your posts MJ. You have no need to second guess an invitation. I would know next to nothing about most creeds, lectionaries and a host of other fascinating and relevant subjects were it not for you. So keep 'em coming.

MJ. Smith:
The mindset for study (except for Protestant converts) is to read Scripture in light of Scripture e.g. a study of the Pentateuch may start with a comparison of Genesis 1-11 to Revelation.
Maybe I don't get the depth to which Catholic study goes but I have seen many Protestant branches who do the same contrast with ("in light of") other scripture. Some of my favorite commentators do it all the time  Typologies, A. B. Simpson,  Norman L. Geisler Collection http://www.logos.com/products/prepub/details/5665 , Jesus Christ Our Lord http://www.logos.com/ebooks/details/GS_WALV_JCOL .

MJ. Smith:
Scripture is learned from art
This is used at the core of classical education and is sorely lacking in most modern day Christian education. The trivium & quadrivium produced great results employing art to train the mind. The closest thing Western education offers is ridiculously shallow "appreciation courses."  I view the new features in Logos 4 (Bible People, Places, Things) to have great potential in addressing this field if we can import great art and index it for retrieval. Still, I don't get how the lectionaries are useful here.

 

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Stephen Thorp | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Dec 10 2009 12:24 PM

Hi, I would just like to say a few words and endorse Martha's analysis of what a Lectionary is for. I'm an Anglican Clergyman (Church of England) and we use the Revised Common Lectionary (very slightly modified). I'm also an Evangelical who before I was ordained would have probably have frowned upon lectionary usage as being something rather too Catholic BUT although I love preaching Biblical series with multiple churches I have found using a Lectionary as one of the better ways of consistantly teaching a Biblical pattern. Throughout the course of three years one has pretty much read through (if not preached) all of the Scriptures. Matthew in year A, Mark in year B and Luke in year C. John is sprinkled throughout.

However the Lectionary does assume that each church worships twice on a Sunday, but with multiple churches this isn't always possible. 

For my own personal devotion I find the M'Cheyne reading plan excellent.

Hope this helps. 

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Dec 10 2009 1:02 PM

Matthew C Jones:
Still, I don't get how the lectionaries are useful here.

Ah, yes, I didn't give the complete thought. Because of the use of art to depict Old Testament stories, the Catholic Church emphasized epistles and Gospel with little Old Testament until the 1972(?) revision. Because Lutherans did not rely on art, they used more OT stories. However, the Biblical literacy of Catholics was not necessarily lower because the lectionary was not assumed to present "the whole story".

Matthew C Jones:
many Protestant branches who do the same contrast with ("in light of") other scripture

You are absolutely right that Protestants are often very strong in the "Scripture interprets Scripture" strain.  The main difference is that lectionary-based Scriptural study is reflexively multi-textual and individual texts "foreign territory requiring extra effort". E.g. the homilist starts with three passages and narrows it down. Taking a broad swath view, non-lectionary Protestant homilists start with a single passage and add passages to support their thread of thought. But if you look broadly at scripture studies you'll find that there is a Orthodox-Catholic-Jewish sensibility, and Anglican-Lutheran sensibility that is close to the first but with some Protestant tendencies, and at least a couple of Protestant sensibilities.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Dec 10 2009 1:07 PM

Stephen Thorp:
However the Lectionary does assume that each church worships twice on a Sunday, but with multiple churches this isn't always possible. 

It is true that Jewish practice expected three services per day. This became praying the Our Father three times a day (see Didache). Which morphed into Mass, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer for the three Our Fathers in the Catholic tradition. Both Lutherans and Anglicans have preserved the multiple service tradition in the Protestant tradition.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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TCBlack | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Dec 10 2009 1:28 PM

Martha, thank you for answering that post.  I have no doubt you could have gone to much greater depth and still been as engaging.  But you answered the same question for me now.  Thanks for your insight.

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J.R. Miller | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Dec 10 2009 4:41 PM

I have been a bit busy today building some on-line training materials for a corproate customer, so I am late to the discussion.  

MJ, thanks for your post, I will print this out and read it a bit later.  It looks wonderful.   

Thanks again :-)

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J.R. Miller | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Dec 10 2009 4:42 PM

Rosie, thanks to you as well for your post.  I will print it out as well :-)

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Damian McGrath | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Dec 10 2009 4:46 PM

Excellent summation Martha.

 

MJ. Smith:
No pastor can go off and only use passages he personally likes - he has to preach it all [I get to hear the homilist gripe about be assigned Trinity Sunday nearly every year.]         

This always astounds me.

It's grounded in a sense that the Trinity is a doctrine and not our lived experience of the loving God who has saved us through his Son and unites us to the Son's eternal self-offering by the power of the Holy Spirit.

It is always a joy for me to preach on Trinity Sunday.

 

 

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BillS | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Dec 10 2009 4:50 PM

Joe Miller:

How do you personally use them?  Why?  

Hi Joe,

I'd like to add one more perspective that's complementary to what you've already been offered... more on the "why" than the "how"...

I use the lectionary to guide (but not mandate) the scriptures on which I preach. Why? Over time, I get to preach on every important subject without anyone being able to say I'm aiming at them, since it's all part of the 3-year cycle. When I touch on a forgiveness passage & it happens that some member is struggling with forgiveness issues, they know it was providence & not guided by me. :-)

Blessings!

Bill

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Damian McGrath | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Dec 10 2009 4:52 PM

MJ. Smith:
1972(?) revision

1969...

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Rosie Perera | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Dec 10 2009 5:09 PM

Joe Miller:

MJ, thanks for your post, I will print this out and read it a bit later.  It looks wonderful.   

 

Joe Miller:

Rosie, thanks to you as well for your post.  I will print it out as well :-)

What, a power Logos user and Forum MVP would prefer to read something on dead-tree paper than on the screen? That's ironic! :-)

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J.R. Miller | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Dec 10 2009 5:16 PM

Yes, I know, shocking!  But after almost 6 hours of video editing some on-line training materials, I need a break Sleep

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J.R. Miller | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Dec 10 2009 5:18 PM

If I might quote my favorite Bible Translation (cough cough)  the Message from Isaiah 40:30 "Even MVPs grow tired and weary, and forum participants need to read offline;"

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Rosie Perera | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Dec 10 2009 5:21 PM

Joe Miller:

If I might quote my favorite Bible Translation (cough cough)  the Message from Isaiah 40:30 "Even MVPs grow tired and weary, and forum participants need to read offline;"

Hear hear! I love taking a break and reading a book. You know, one of those old fashioned thingies?

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