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A SHORT STUDY OF THE LECTIONARY

Darryl P. Reyes
I-GSL
The Lectionary for Mass, the set of books containing the readings for the Mass, seems to be one
of the most complicated, and one of the unique books produced by the Second Vatican Council.
It is complicated in that it is structured in a way no other precedents have been. Books of
readings in the past are in many ways different from this present Lectionary, though all serve the
purpose of providing a book from which the word of God would be easily proclaimed. It is also
unique, for it has been expressly composed for a pastoral purpose, following the behest of the
Second Vatican Council that a richer fare of Gods word be served to the people. 1 These invoke
the questions of how in the past the Church devised the proclamation of readings, and how the
readings are arranged in the present Lectionary for Mass.
The development of the Lectionary could be traced back to the very roots of Christian worship,
in which we find the tradition of the Church to proclaim the Word of God in the synaxis, an
inheritance from the Jewish synagogue. The scriptural passages were proclaimed directly from
the Bible.2 Later, marginal notes were added to indicate the beginning (marked incipit) and end
(marked desinit) of the pericope to be read. Development led to the collection of the words
marked incipit and desinit into what we call Capitularia. Early on, at the development of the
capitularia, importance has already been given to the Gospel which is the highest point of the
liturgy of the word,3 so that there came to be a separate capitulare for the Gospel (capitulare
evangeliorum) and another for the non-gospel readings (capitulare lectionum). A lectinary in the
proper sense as a collection of biblical pericopes came emerged as the Comes or Liber comitis.
Like the capitularia, there were usually separate collections for the Gospel and non-gospel
readings. However, they may also be combined. These comites usually lined up in a continuous
fashion the Pauline epistles for the readings during the season we now refer to as Ordinary Time.
They were for the most part aligned and adapted to a particular sacramentary.
On the other hand, the present Lectionary for Mass was drawn up according to several principles,
with the Gospel reading as the focal point and first consideration for choosing the readings.
Regarding the selection of text, the principle was to present the more important biblical passages
on Sundays and solemnities of the Lord. A second series of readings is used during the weekday,
complementing the Sunday readings in a sense, but has no necessary connection to it. The
Sunday readings were presented in three annual cycles, and the weekday on a two cycles,
independent from each other.4
1 Introduction to the Lectionary 58.
2 Adrian Nocent. The Roman Lectionary for Mass, Handbook for Liturgical Studies.
Manila: Claretian Publications, 2004. 3:177 ff.
3 Introduction to the Lectionary 36.
4 Ibid. 65.

The Sunday readings are structured in this way: a pericope from the Old Testament (or from the
Acts of the Apostles for the Easter Season), then a psalm, followed by a second reading from an
epistle of any apostle (or Revelation depending on the season), then, the Gospel. This
arrangement brings out the unity of the Old and New Testaments and of the history of salvation,
in which Christ is the central gure, commemorated in his paschal mystery. The principles
governing the Order of Readings for Sundays and the solemnities of the Lord are called the
principles of harmony and of semi-continuous reading. One or the other applies according to
the different seasons of the year and the distinctive character of the particular liturgical season. 5
The readings for the Sundays of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter have an organic harmony
within them, that is, all readings can be connected to one and another, although exegetically,
these are not connected. This organic harmony of exegetically unconnected passages is
demonstrated by the reading of the First Sunday of Lent, Year A. This organic harmony is not
extended to the Sundays of Ordinary Time where at the second reading, the epistles are semicontinuously read.
The weekday cycle gives two readings for each Mass: a non-gospel pericope, and the Gospel.
The seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter are given a one-year cycle, with Lent
arranged so as to highlight the baptismal and penitential themes of the season. These season take
into account the principles of harmony and semi-continuous reading. Ferias in Ordinary Time
are given a two-year cycle, wound up in the principle continuous reading.6
Some books of the Bible were assigned to particular seasons where these were traditionally
associated. Acts, in both East and West, were assigned to Easter, the Gospel of John to Lent and
Easter, and Isaiah to Advent. Some difficult texts were avoided to be set on Sundays, or all
together omitted for pastoral reasons, such as confusing the people and distorting the meaning of
the passages. A via media was taken on the length of the texts, so that very long passages would
not needlessly tire the people.
In all, the Lectionary for Mass of the Second Vatican Council, is a monumental work worthy of
admiration. It is a giant leap from the past practices, most especially seeing that a very large
portion of the Bible has been opened up for the faithful. However, it is still a work to be put into
progress. More changes could be made, addressing many different pastoral considerations.
Probably in the future, revision could be done so as to harmonize the all readings even during
Ordinary Time. This shall be more beneficial to the faithful, and even more convenient to
homilists. This being just one, there could be more, so that we can look forward to a further
revision and development of the Lectionary we have today.

5 Introduction to the Lectionary 66.


6 Ibid. 69.