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Lectionary lectionaryorgBible-believing mainline Protestants aren’t the only ones unnerved by the Lectionary. So are traditionalist Catholics.

It’s a bit odd that we are so dissatisfied, considering that it has been around for at least 40 years. We seem to find it less appealing as time goes by.

It’s not that we’re not interested in the Bible — far from it. However, we have seen too many edits — ellipses (…) — in the passages read. What are we missing? Why are we missing it?

Some Protestants will say, ‘Who cares?’ Yet, it was thanks to the Catholics that mainline churches even use the Lectionary. Not many people know that.

Yesterday’s post reiterated that the late Cardinal Bugnini came up with the idea for the Lectionary in the run-up to Vatican II.

Readers might wish to note that (emphases mine):

Archbishop Bugnini was ‘a revolutionary more clever than the others, he who killed the Catholic liturgy before disappearing from the official scene’.  (Suspecting Bugnini of being a Freemason, Paul VI sent him to a post in Iran, where he died in 1982.)

All the same, here we are in the 21st century stuck with the Lectionary.

A few weeks ago, the Revd Ray Blake, a Catholic priest in Brighton (England), featured a post on it. What follows are excerpts from his post, his readers’ comments on its structure and how the Lectionary paints a picture of God and His Son which is much different to that which had endured for centuries.

These are not necessarily in sequence but I have arranged them to present a clearer picture of the dilemma of the Lectionary. First, Fr Blake:

The rupture that concerns me, is not a liturgical one but a theological [one], it is the change in “the face of God” that it represents.

The image of God presented to and by the great saints, which had existed for at least 1,500 years was altered.

Scripture is inspired but previous generations would also have believed so was the Lectionary, the choice of readings.

There are subsidiary issues about the editing of scripture but what concerns me is that I am not presented with the same image of God as say St Francis or Sr Ignatius of Loyola.

Part of his aforementioned main post reads as follows:

Certainly the OF [Ordinary Form — Novus Ordo, or New Massanother Bugnini inspiration] Lectionary gives us a broader selection of readings, including the Old Testament and extracts from the Gospels other than mainly Matthew and chunks of John. In many ways the modern Lectionary is superior, as a logical academic presentation of scripture the older form is obviously inferior.  I don’t know quite how the older Lectionary emerged, presumably like most organic forms, by a process of evolution and to meet pastoral needs, it was tried a tested in the crucible of sacred history down the centuries.

What is more significant and worthy of serious discussion is the rupture that I would suggest the newer Lectionary has introduced into the Church’s presentation of the image of God. The pre-Concilliar image of God is different from the post-Concilliar image. Revelation is both Scripture and Tradition, it is within the Liturgy that Revelation is presented: by changing the Lectionary have we broken with something very important?

In his preceding post on the subject, Fr Blake pointed to the distorted view of Christian love which we have nowadays — unconditional and ever-accepting, at all times. He wrote, in part:

The Gospel today has Peter asking how often he should forgive his brother; I wonder whether he is asking in some general way, or specifically whether Andrew, his brother and fellow Apostle, has been particularly annoying and Peter is asking explicitly about their relationship.

Jesus answers by telling a story about an irascible master who is going to sell a debtor and his family into slavery, who then relents after much pleading but then hearing about the mistreatment of another servant has him handed over to the torturers. Jesus’ message to Peter is forgive your brother because you yourself have been forgiven a great deal

Though Jesus tells Peter to forgive, he also tells the Apostles to “preach repentance”, “teaching”, “bring back a brother who errs” and to “correct error”; forgiveness and teaching seem to go hand in hand. The Fathers, the Saints too seemed to be by today’s standards violent, even abusive in their teaching of the faith, in their refutation of heresy and their denunciation of sacrilegious behaviour.

Against this we have to set love but then “love” seems to have been reformed to something passionless, and reduced to variation of tolerance. Has there been a feminisation or even lavenderisation, certainly a de-Christianisation of “love”.

One of Blake’s readers noted that the Latin Mass — Extraordinary Form, or Tridentine (from the Council of Trent) — would have had Luke 11:14-28 as the assigned reading. In it our Lord casts out demons. Well, today’s Catholics cannot hear that at Mass. Much too disturbing, binary and clearly pointing to good versus evil. Or so thought Bugnini no doubt and, later, the Catholic and Protestant Lectionary editors who brought the whole thing to fruition.

Someone else observed that the passage from Luke about demons is split three ways into weekly reading:

The passage has been used elsewhere, albeit split over at least three locations: Thurs in week 3 of Lent (11:14-23), and Fri & Sat in week 27 of Ordinary Time (11:15-26; 11:27-28). Luke 11:27-28 is also an option for the Gospel reading in the Common of the BVM.

What that means is that anyone who does not attend Mass daily will never hear it in its entirety.

And what are two verses of it — read as a Gospel option for a Marian feast — compared to the whole story?

BJC summed it up nicely for both Catholics and Protestants:

I think many of those passages/prayers in the new lectionary have been truncated to emphasise “love” not sin and those other off limits words like hell, punishment and repentance

It’s a mistake because if you emphasise love to the degree we have its hardly surprising when people stop regarding even obvious things like adultery and pornography as sins. Everything becomes so mushy mushy its difficult to comprehend words like punishment and hell and therefore “sin” itself falls by the wayside.

As regards the Church Fathers and saints for sure by today’s standards they would be regarded as fundamentalists and intolerant. It just emphasises how far we’ve fallen.

To further the confusion, it seems as if today’s Catholics use the three-year Lectionary for Sundays and another two-year one for weekday readings.

Back now to Blake’s more recent post the following day. Part of the problem is not the readings, per se, notes George, but the manner of preaching about them. This appears contradictory, however, it indicates a problem with the priests’ sermons making sense of Scripture for the listener:

Many traditional priests (not all) seem to follow a different preaching plan than Novus Ordo priests. Many traditional priests, using instructions that came out of Trent, and through the work of Charles Borromeo and others, preach on matters of faith and morals with a regular plan and with a regular frequency, irrespective of the readings for that day. Many traditional priests will offer a sermon and never once reference the readings of that day. In contrast, many Novus Ordo priests will rarely preach outside of the messages within the day’s readings. When you compound this phenomenon with the seeming dearth of the toughest scripture passages in the new lectionary, you find many NO priests failing to cover throughout the year the fullness of Catholic faith and morals in their sermons.

Deacon Nathan Allen brought up an excellent point about the suitability of the person receiving Communion. This still holds true today in confessional Protestant denominations yet is rarely taught in the post-Vatican II Catholic faith:

Despite having much more of the Bible read to us, there are some passages that were cut out, and they seem to be those that ask us to examine our consciences regarding sin. For example, one obvious passage which was read in the usus antiquior on Corpus Christi is completely absent from the NO lectionary, and even from the Liturgy of the Hours: 1 Cor 11:29: “Whoever eats this bread or drinks of the cup of the Lord unworthily will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” For my part, I think that verse should be solemnly chanted (better than most ‘communion songs’) as the people queue up for communion.

That’s a powerful New Testament verse and the deacon is correct in saying that it cannot be emphasised enough. Still adhering to it — in addition to traditionalist Catholics — are devout Anglicans as well as confessional Lutherans and Calvinists (see Dr R Scott Clark’s explanation of this passage). Yet, I never heard of it in my Catholic preparation for either First Holy Communion (1960s) or Confirmation (1970s).

Wasn’t it all easier when each denomination — Catholics included — had one year of readings in one prayer book? In the days of the Tridentine (Latin) Mass, everyone had the same set of prayers and readings. One could prepare at home by reading the Scripture for that Sunday or feast day. I know. I still have some early missals. And I have several copies of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). Thankfully, the Anglicans haven’t yet fully restricted its use, although Lectionary readings might override what is in the BCP, depending on who is taking that particular service.

Blake wrote later on:

The change in the selection of texts is the really drastic change, it is this that has brought about a difference in our understanding of God.

John Fisher thought that the idea of repetition of Bible readings was to reinforce them, not cause people to turn off:

The coverage of Bible readings is BETTER dealt with in the Liturgical Hours….not Mass.
It is through repetiton we are taught and learn.
In the Old Mass I actually learn and assimilate. In the new Mass I feel overwhelmed and confused.
In the Old Mass I read and hear the readings. In the New Mass I only hear and am usually most annoyed by nasally women and men!

People who read the lessons aloud really do need training in enunciation, pitch, inflection and projection, even when aided by a microphone. Our Anglican parish is doing significantly better in that regard; they understand what they are reading. However, I know a Catholic reader who doesn’t really take the responsibility seriously: ‘So I started on the wrong page. Big deal.’

Blake hinted at heretics operating behind the Lectionary:

It is not a matter of “better or worst” that is a personal judgement, “authentic” might be a better word. The ancient Lectionary is has come into being in the crucible of sacred history, it has been the foundation of the Church, it hammers away at a pretty basic message. The modern Lectionary has been chosen by a committee at an identifable point in history, and [I] suspect reflects that period’s image of God.

Marcion [a heretic] was accused of editing scripture with a pen knife, I can’t help thinking this has been done with the modern Lectionary.

But, enough of the Lectionary for now. What about the practical results of it on today’s Catholic — and, for that matter, mainline Protestant? Blake’s reader Jacobi said:

… One obvious reason is the false ecumenism which infected Vatican II resulting in the LCD Catholicism-lite we have today, and the other, as has been mentioned here, is to air-brush out sin. The latter objective has been largely achieved as is seen in any Catholic church with 100% attendance at Communion and near zero at Confession.

The answer always lies in the middle, but Hell does exist and people go there. Also those who wish to air-brush sin out are in effect saying that Jesus Christ was just another deluded religious bigot who died needlessly on a cross.

As to Bugnini’s original intent, Joseph Shaw offered this:

I don’t know of a full-length study of the EF lectionary, or of the reform. Bugnini’s treatment of the latter is terse and unhelpful. He does say that they rejected the idea of keeping the old lectionary as one of the three years’ cycle, because if they did this ‘there would be major differences between that cycle and the others’ (Reform of the Liturgy, p416), that pretty well vindicates Fr Blake’s instinct!

Because the OF lectionary is so large, it is often possible for its defenders to say ‘Oh no this or that passage has not been excluded, it is on Wednesday of week XX in year Z’, but that is a bit beside the point. We know Bugnini wanted [to] minimise ‘negative’ elements, and exiling a passage to a weekday in the middle of the summer, once every three years, is as good as putting it in the shredder. The smaller selection of readings in the EF become really familiar in time, they really give a flavour to the whole liturgical experience.

And that is where we are today. Yes, the Lectionary might have been finalised nearly two decades after Bugnini first came up with the idea and was no longer involved in it. However, his legacy is long lasting.

Our local Anglican clergy take a detour from the Lectionary now and then, not skipping a verse in what they choose to read. Long may they continue to do so. May others follow their example.

 

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