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In the last column I wrote about liturgical books – those books that contain the texts of the sacraments and other rites of worship.
People often ask me what are the best books to use for preparing liturgy or where to find prayers for a particular occasion or celebration or sample prayers of general intercession. The answer every time is the same – the Sacramentary.
The Sacramentary contains the proper prayers – that is the opening prayer, prayer over the gifts and prayer after communion – for Sundays and weekdays of liturgical seasons and Sundays in Ordinary Time, for the Proper of Saint’s Feasts and Commons, for Ritual Masses (eg baptisms and weddings), for various needs and occasions, for Votive Masses and Masses for the Dead. It also includes the Order of Mass – those parts which do not pertain to the particular day – such as prefaces, eucharistic prayers and solemn blessings. The Appendix includes rites and blessings such as the Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling Holy Water.
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. This 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 margin 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 pericope 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.
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)
We would never use paper cups or plastic plates for the sacred elements. Christ is present when the scriptures are proclaimed at Mass. We help to convey this presence when the words of scripture are contained in books which are visually attractive and noble and when they are proclaimed with conviction, skill and love.