Doesn’t seem like a natural pairing does it? But maybe it is. Let’s look around a bit.
One of the things that came out of Vatican II was the vernacular Mass (personally, I think that was overdue but, don’t shoot me yet). Part of that was that the Lectionary was revised after something like a thousand years. The reading from the Old Testament came in after being gone for a very long time. In addition, a three year system was adopted to let each Gospel be taught, St. John being used during Eastertide, and for some fill-in during St. Mark’s year, his Gospel is somewhat shorter, of course.
Why am I, a Lutheran writing about this? There are a couple of reasons, the first is that this echoed around our liturgical churches (we have always paid much attention to what our Catholic brothers and sisters do!) and this was adopted in the Lutheran, Episcopalian, and Methodist churches, and probably others as well. That is why so often, if more than one of us write on the lesson of the day, it is usually the same lesson.
The other reason is that I am basing this off a paper written and delivered as a workshop at the Liturgical Institute, at Valpo this spring. If you don’t happen to know, Valpo is short for Valparaiso University which is affiliated with the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. Parenthetically, both of my sisters were Valpo Alumni, and one of them worked for many years in Church Relations at Valpo.
Many years ago, I read somewhere about how a preacher set up his sermons, in my recollection it was a pre-civil war American preacher, although that is unimportant. His design was a five point plan:
- Tell ’em what the subject is
- Tell ’em what you’re going to tell them
- Tell ’em.
- Tell ’em what you told them
- Tell ’em again what you told them.
That tracks pretty well for me in learning from a lecture. I need repetition in comprehending the spoken word, visual aids do help. But I, like many in my generation, do my best comprehension in reading, and that is still true for me. I doubt I’m the only one.
What does that have to do with the Lectionary? This, the old Catholic form, still used with the Tridentine Mass, now often called an Extraordinary Rite, was based on a one year cycle. (so were the historic Lutheran ones). So instead of hearing the same thing every year, now we get it every four years. One of the problems we all have is that basic Bible literacy is down, in all our churches. How’s that work?
Maybe this: Non multa sed multum. Not many, but much
Funny though, just when we thought it was dead and buried, the old lectionary makes something of a comeback, although many thought it far from perfect. It had deficiencies, of course.
Luther himself once complained that the epistles seemed to have been selected by a lover of works, and that all the good gospel sections in Paul’s writings had been given short shrift. It’s been famously noted that in the old series we never ever heard John 3:16, nor the account of the Prodigal Son.
There are voices, as we here all know that the Tridentine should be the standard again, and there are also those that want to go back to the experiments in the 50s on the Tridentine in the vernacular language.
The Anglicans have a continuing movement to return to earlier versions of The Book of Common Prayer. That version is very nearly a twin of the old Lutheran one.
The Orthodox have a Western Rite that is Liturgy of St. Gregory following the Tridentine mass with Orthodox adaptations, and using the one year lectionary.
And in the Lutheran church, especially the Missouri Synod, we are seeing a small movement to gently revise the one year Lectionary, which the lectionary committee has made fully equal to the three year.
Early in the process the Lectionary Committee said
[…] the decision was made to recover and retain the “historic” lectionary, as used by Luther and subsequent generations of Lutherans and as included in The Lutheran Hymnal.
For these, and perhaps other reasons
- We are an historic Church and acknowledge the value of what has been handed down to us.
- It is important to recognize the value of repetition. Given the increasing lack of biblical literacy within our society and even within the Church, there may be a need in the future for a one-year lectionary, with its annual repetition of key biblical texts.
- The one-year lectionary is unique in that there are a number of older resources that support it, including hymnody, sermons by Luther and others, etc.
The other thing that strikes me, is especially for Lutherans and Anglicans, it ties us back to our historic resources, both spoken, such as Luther’s sermons, but also musical, such as the Bach cantatas, and our great hymns which were written to fit that lectionary. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have this back on the First Sunday of Advent, where it belongs
But I think the greatest part would be if our congregations Biblical literacy could be improved.