Liturgical Books II: The Lectionary

Liturgical Books II: The Lectionary
In the last column I wrote about the Sacramentary, the book with all the texts, apart from the readings, used in the celebration of Mass.
The Sacramentary contains the proper prayers – that is the opening prayer, prayer over the gifts and prayer after communion – for Sundays and weekdays, Saint’s Feasts and Commons, Ritual Masses (e.g. baptisms and weddings), various needs and occasions, Votive Masses and Masses for the Dead.
It also includes the Order of Mass – those texts which are not allocated to a particular day, such as the penitential rite, eucharistic prayers and solemn blessings. The Appendix includes the Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling Holy Water and very useful models for the General Intercessions.
The other key liturgical book used in every Catholic worship service is the Lectionary. The Lectionary is a book containing the extracts, call pericopes, which have been selected from the Bible for use in public worship.
The allocation of particular sections of the scriptures to particular days began in the 4th century. Initially the beginning and end of each pericope was marked in the margins of the church Bible. Later they were collected into Lectionaries that were used by lectors – those who proclaimed the scriptures at a liturgy.
The current Lectionary issued in 1969 provides for a three-year cycle of three readings for Sunday Masses and a two-year cycle of two readings for weekday Masses. The Sunday Gospel readings consist of consecutive passages taken from the gospel for the year. The first reading, which almost always comes from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), is chosen because it harmonises with the gospel passage. The second reading is a section from one of the New Testament letters (epistles). The same epistle is read in a semi-continuous way over a number of weeks.
The Lectionary is made up of three volumes. Lectionary I has the readings for the Sundays and weekdays of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter and for Sundays in Ordinary Time. Lectionary II contains the readings for weekdays in Ordinary Time and for the Proper of the Saints and Commons. Lectionary III has the readings for the celebration of the sacraments, for Masses for Various Needs and Occasions and for Votive Masses.
Like the Sacramentary, the Lectionary is currently being revised. The pericopes used will remain the same but a more accurate and contemporary translation of the scriptures will replace the Jerusalem Bible translation used in the current lectionary.
The Lectionary for Mass: Introduction (which is to be found in the front of Lectionary I) says this about the Lectionary:

“The books containing the readings of the word of God remind the hearers of the presence of God speaking to his people. Since they serve as signs and symbols of the sacred, care must be taken to ensure that they truly are worthy and beautiful.”(35)

and this:

“Because of the dignity of the word of God, the books of readings used in the celebration are not to be replaced by other pastoral aids such as leaflets printed for the preparation of the readings or for personal meditation.” (37)

The presence of Christ in the proclamation of the scriptures is emphasised when the lectionaries we use are aesthetically pleasing and the texts are proclaimed with conviction and skill.


Elizabeth Harrington