Scripture in Liturgy

The book containing the extracts that have been selected from the Bible for use in public worship is called a Lectionary. The allocation of particular sections of the scriptures to particular days began in the 4th century.  Initially the beginning and end of each passage, or pericope, was marked in the margins of the church Bible.  Later they were collected into Lectionaries for the lectors – those who proclaimed the scriptures at a liturgy.

Our present Lectionary was issued in 1969 and uses the Jerusalem Bible translation of the scriptures.  It provides for a three-year cycle of three readings for Sunday Masses and a two-year cycle of two readings for weekday Masses.

The first step in the process of selecting the passages for each Sundays was to allocate the Gospel reading for the day.  The Sunday Gospel readings consist of consecutive passages taken from the gospel for the year. Selections are chosen, not because they have a definite theme, but because they are manageable sections of about 10 verses that follow one after the other in a semi-continuous way.

The Gospel readings for Sunday Mass are arranged on a three-year cycle called A, B and C. The Gospel of Matthew is read in Year A, Mark in Year B and Luke in Year C. The Gospel of John does not have its own year but is read in every year on some Sundays of Lent, on Holy Thursday and Good Friday and during Easter.

The first reading for each Sunday is almost always taken from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and is chosen because it harmonises with the Gospel. In the Easter Season the first reading is from the Book of Acts which records the progress of the early Church, its witness and its growth.

The second reading comes from one of the New Testament letters (epistles), most often from Paul but also from Peter, John and James. It normally has no thematic relationship to either the first reading or the Gospel. The same epistle is read in a semi-continuous way over a number of Sundays.

The Lectionary comes in 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.

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).

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