Year B, the Year of Mark


TODAY is the second Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B according to the Church calendar. What does this "liturgy speak" all mean?
The Church year is made up of the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and Ordinary Time. This rather unfortunate term does not indicate that the nine weeks between now and the start of Lent are unimportant or uninteresting. The term "Ordinary" comes from the fact that they are counted in "order".
After the season of Christmas, the first week of Ordinary Time begins. In fact last Sunday, which was celebrated as the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, was also the first Sunday of Ordinary Time.
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. Instead it is read in every year on some Sundays of Lent, on Holy Thursday and Good Friday and during Easter.
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 slabs of about 10 verses that follow one after the other in a semi-continuous way.
It is an interesting exercise to look at those passages that are jumped over for the Sunday readings. Why, for example, do we skip the first half of chapters three and five of Mark or omit the story of the beheading of John the Baptist in chapter six?
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. The second reading comes from one of the New Testament letters (epistles). It usually 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.
In this year's Gospel, Mark's main interest is the person of Jesus himself. He follows Jesus through his public ministry in Galilee, outside Galilee and finally in Jerusalem itself immediately before the passion. The crisis is reached when the fundamental question is posed to the disciples: "Who do you say I am?" Peter's confession of faith is, therefore, at the heart of Mark's Gospel.
One important peculiarity during the year is the fact that readings from John's Gospel are inserted from the 17th to the 21st Sunday. This is partly for practical reasons as Mark is the shortest of the synoptic Gospels. However, the sermon on the "Bread of Life" from John 6 fits well into this part of Mark's Gospel which is concerned with Jesus' revelation of himself.
So if it's now the Year of Mark, why is today's Gospel reading John 1: 35-42? Each year on the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Gospel reading is from John. In it we are reminded that discipleship requires our own baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Elizabeth Harrington