Sam is a worship leader at a local Southern Baptist church, and he called me tonight to talk about the lectionary. He’s just discovered it, and his questions reminded me that some of you reading this web site have no idea what a lectionary is or how it can be used.
So here’s an F.A.Q. on the lectionary, aimed at beginners, but hopefully helpful to all of you on the post-evangelical(*) journey. (I’ll be generously borrowing from other sources in some of my answers.)
P.S.- I wrote this to persuade Baptist types. Sorry that I didn’t include some of the things now appearing in the comments, but I didn’t want to scare anyone with words like Eucharist.
1. What is the lectionary?
Lectionary: “Schedule of readings from Holy Scripture for use in the weekly (or daily) liturgy. In current use are both an historic, one-year lectionary with readings that have been in use for centuries, and a more recently developed three-year lectionary called the “Revised Common Lectionary.” Use of a lectionary provides the congregation with the opportunity to hear carefully chosen sections from the entire Bible and provides an individual with various scripture passages for daily reading, worship or study.”
2. Is the lectionary related to the Church Year?
Yes, lectionaries are one of the main ways a Christian or a congregation stays “on track” with the liturgical or Christian year.
3. What is the difference between a daily and a weekly lectionary?
Weekly lectionaries usually contain the scripture lessons used in public worship by liturgical churches. The Revised Common Lectionary is an attempt by many different denominations to coordinate worship by means of the same lectionary.
Daily scripture readings are not part of the Revised Common Lectionary, and vary much more widely from source to source.
4. Where can I find lectionaries for Sundays and every day?
5. Do Roman Catholics and Protestants use the same Sunday lectionaries?
The texts in Roman Catholic lectionaries are usually the same as Protestant lectionaries most of the time. There are some deviations where the RCC observes a different feast, especially in regard to Marian veneration or distinctives of RC theology. Look for Daily Mass Readings for daily lectionaries in the RCC.
There are also differences between the 1979 Episcopal Book of Common prayer and the new Revised Common Lectionary, but these will eventually be the same.
The U.S. Catholic bishops have an on-line lectionary of mass readings here. It’s major drawback is the use of the RC’s New American Bible, a terrible translation not to be confused with the New American Standard. Catholics are allowed to read from a Catholic version of the Revised Standard Version. Please do so.
6. Why do some churches not use the Christian year or lectionary readings for worship and/or preaching?
That’s a complicated question. The primary reason seems to be the changes of worship style from “traditional” to “contemporary” that have caused leaders to judge scripture reading as being “un-friendly” to church growth and a bad use of time. Ironically, conservative churches that affirm a strong belief in the Bible often have little or no public reading of scripture, while liberal and liturgical churches- who are often accused of not believing the Bible- have several lectionary scripture readings. Whatever the reasons, they are deplorable.
7. What is a “lesson?”
A scripture reading from the Old Testament, Psalms, Epistles or Gospels. The Psalm may be a responsive reading.
8. What is lectionary preaching?
Most lectionary preachers preach the Gospel reading as the basis of the sermon. Often, other scripture lessons are “woven” into the sermon as well. Various denominations have more or less loyalty to this tradition.
9. What are the best reasons to use a lectionary?
It puts the church in sync with all of the Bible, the Christian year and other worshipping Christians. In the three year Revised Common lectionary, much of the whole Bible is covered during the three years. It also maintains a tradition that goes back into ancient Judaism. Jesus was doing a lectionary-type reading in Luke 4. It restores scripture reading to public worship, where scripture commands it.
10. What would be your response to those who oppose the use of the lectionary by evangelicals as being influenced by Catholicism?
Anything that restores the public reading of scripture to worship and that emphasizes it in devotional life should be encouraged. There is nothing particularly “Roman” about the use of a lectionary. Baptists have long used “Read through the Bible” plans of various kinds. The lectionary is very similar, and is generally more accessible to the average person. A church that uses the Bible in worship shouldn’t be discouraged because Catholics do as well. That’s quite foolish.
There are problems with how some lectionaries select texts, especially in omitting parts of texts, but these problems can be easily corrected.
11. Do lectionaries use the Apochrypha?
Some Apocryphal material is used as alternate readings, since the RCC and the ECUSA both have traditionally included some of them.
(*)”Post-evangelical refers to evangelicals reaching back into the larger, older Christian tradition for sources in renewing their own spiritual journey.