Thursday, May 13, 2010

Three or One -- a Tale of Two Lectionaries

While nearly all the world has joined the bandwagon for a version of the three year lectionary originally prepared by the Roman Catholics flowing from the changes to the liturgy in Vatican II, Missouri still has a deep and bitter divide over the historic one year lectionary and the three year ecumenical lectionary.

The LSB includes one liturgical year with its three year pattern of observances of festivals and seasons which began life as a revision of the 1969 Ordo Lectionum Missae, flowing from the reforms of the Second Vatican Council which had been itself revised by the ILCW and LBW.  Then it was revised again by LW and then the final revision in its form in LSB.

The LSB also includes another liturgical year with a one year pattern of observances of festivals and seasons.  Revisions to the one-year lectionary used in TLH and LW were very minor. The historic Gospels remain intact. Likewise, all of the historic Epistles are included. In a few cases, however, an alternate Epistle is provided. Since the historic lectionary did not have assigned Old Testament readings, the Old Testament readings that relate closely to the Holy Gospel were added. In addition, they attempted to provide a balanced selection of the various genres of Old Testament readings (e.g., prophetic writings, historical narrative).  Full propers have been prepared for the one-year lectionary, including a psalm and verse of the day, expanded introits, and hymn suggestions for each Sunday and festival.

Some are adamant about one or the other.  I will admit to being torn between then.  While I like the idea of a consistent set of texts repeated and therefore more familiar and (hopefully) known by the people, I have used the three year lectionary for 30 years and have become accustomed to its strengths and quirks.  While I enjoy the generally friendly debate over one or the other, what I do not like is that some have made this a sign or test of orthodoxy.  I actually have had Pastors tell me that they were disappointed in me and felt that I had failed my liturgical identity and confession by using the three year lectionary.  As I say, I have mixed feelings about both but certainly would not condemn a choice for one or the other even if it were different from the choice I have made.

It seems that the majority of parishes and Pastors of the LCMS use the three year lectionary.  It is the one CPH supports with most of its resources and I can only imagine that they looked at this from a marketing perspective and found that supporting the one year lectionary in this way was not cost effective.  Still, those who use the one year series have put together everything from a Facebook group to a set of bulletin covers that reflect the themes of the "historic" lectionary.

Whether we like it or not, both are churchly choices and in keeping with our identity and faith as evangelical, catholics of the Augsburg Confession.  I would hope that this might be remembered when we make our judgments of those who may differ with us over the choice of lectionary to use.  I may well go back to the one year series at some point in time... I do not know... but I certainly delight in the myriad of themes, lessons, and passages that a Christian will hear over a three year cycle.  I guess the cost of this is the loss of the wonderful though largely misunderstood names for the Sundays (especially the gesimas)...  One loss I lament most of all is the fact that my volume of Healy Willan propers has become a relic of sorts since this has little connection to the three year series.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I strongly prefer the 1 year - I think it is better for teaching (repetition is the mother of learning), and I generally find it easier to preach, especially in the summer when in the 1 year you get new topics each year whereas in the 3 you might get 3 weeks of variations on the same idea.

However, the three year series isn't a bad thing at all. I think some of the ideas behind it are fine. . . although I don't think they are implemented the best. There is still a discipline involved, a check so that the pastor doesn't just ramble on the topic of his own devising.

But I think about this - in two weeks it will be Trinity Sunday - John 3 - this will be the 6th time I've preached on this text - it is familiar, I know it better than I would have otherwise. It would take 18 years instead of 6 for me to have this familiarity with the text if I were on the 3 year, and I think my own preaching would suffer from that.

(P.S. And isn't it odd how the signs of orthodoxy so often become "You need to do what I do"? Just. . . disturbing)

Rev. Allen Yount said...

If the Lord grants that I return to active ministry, I'd like to give the historic/one year lectionary a try

Rev. Allen Yount
-+-Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio Faciunt Theologum-+-

Rev. Jim Roemke said...

I agree with you about how disappointing it is when brethren make decisions about my orthodoxy based on what Scripture lessons I use to feed the sheep Christ has entrusted to me. That is one reason that I would find it difficult to use the historic lectionary: I don't want to feel forced! However, I have toyed with the idea of alternating between 1 year and 3 year. When we come around to "A" year this Advent I think I may switch to the historic lectionary for 3 years, then back to the three year for three years, etc. I'm still not sure, but I know that will tick off my rather legalistic brethren even more, so that might just be the reason i need to do it ;)

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Hi Pr. Peters:

I would respectfully challenge your assertion that there is a "deep and wide" divide in our Synod between one year and three year.

The reality is that the overwhelmingly vast majority of our congregations and pastors use the three year series. There are only around 600 congregations in our Synod using the one year lectionary.

In an attempt to serve the needs of the one-year lectionary fans out there, the Lutheran Service Book project produced a one-year lectionary and the sales have been just around 450 copies! We've got a pile of them laying around here.

And here is the really ironic thing:

The diversity among one year users if MUCH greater than among three year users.

One year lectionary users can't agree among themselves on a common translation, common lectionary, how to use it, and so forth.

We've got one year fans advocating for King James, or New King James, or NIV, or NASB!

The notion that the one year users are more attune to common practice is shattered by the "I'm going to do it my way" approach they take when it comes to Bible translations. Ironic, no?

A survey I did some while back asking about receptivity for a children's worship resource resulted in a wide range of opinions on Bible translations! It was almost funny, actually.

There is nothing "confessional" or "not confessional" about what particularly lectionary system a pastor uses.

The Lutheran Service Book three year lectionary work was superb and offers a much superior three year lectionary system to any other prepared: by Rome or by the ILCW or by any of the mainline liberal protestant denominations.

I personally prefer the one year lectionary simply because it is very easy to find sermons by our Lutheran fathers and, of course, because this was the lectionary that Bach used when composing his Cantata cycles.

Thanks for an interesting post. You can always gin up a lot of hits for your blog is you say something about the three year/one year lectionary thing.

Unknown said...

The justification most often employed by proponents of the 3 year lectionary as opposed to the historic lectionary is that the 3 year lectionary will provide greater Biblical literacy. Well, I'm sorry to say that Biblical literacy has not improved since implementation of this liturgical innovation.

The lectionary was NEVER put in place to make people Scripturally literate. If Scriptural literacy of the people were the primary function of the lectionary, then wouldn't it make sense that it would have been put in place when most people couldn't read and write? At the same time, in one of his sermons on poverty (these are his sermons on Lazarus and the Rich Man), St. John Chrysostom says that the reason not all of the gospel or epistles are included in the lectionary is so that the faithful could read it themselves or have it read to them.

The lectionary exists to proclaim the truths which we Christians hold to. That isn't to say that those Scriptural readings not found in the 1 year lectionary are somehow devoid of truth.

The 3 year lectionary is a gross liturgical innovation. Even Luther, who wanted the Gospel proclaimed in the language people understood never believed that the one year lectionary should be replaced to foster Biblical Literacy. THe lectionary proclaims the Truth. It should not be screwed with because people are too lazy to read the Bible for themselves.

Pastor Peters said...


Deep and wide referred to how entrenched this difference is and how it has become a mark of the church for some who insist upon one (usually the one year folks are more vehement than the three year folks are). I am more ambivalent having seen benefits and draw backs of both.

For the record, Biblical literacy may be part of the argument for one or the other but it is probably not the driving component why one or the other was created...

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Ah, I see, yes, between the small minority who elevates the one year to a mark of orthodoxy, and those who do it.

Makes sense to me.

I'm a one year fan, but not fan-atical about it.

Janis Williams said...

I am only a woman, and don't know all of what comes with preaching from one lectionary or the other. However, isn't preaching Truth what makes one orthodox - not whether a pastor uses one pericope or the other?

Tapani Simojoki said...


For all of the one-year lectionaries laying around, I'm having a job finding a single one on the CPH website. Where are they hidden?

T Winter said...

Am I the only one guilty here of coveting my neighbor's book of Healy Willan propers?

Past Elder said...

Here is what Lutherans always miss in these discussions -- the new lectionary was part of a new everything, calendar, rite of mass, the works, that came about in the RCC as noted, but that was because it reflected a specifically RC agenda to address specifically RC issues at Vatican II.

IOW, it hasn't a damn thing to do with us. Yet Protestant liturgical churches have jumped aboard the bandwagon, including Lutherans, like ducks following mother duck/Rome.

This has been, as some may have noticed, a particular sticking point with me, since I did not have the happy fortune to grow up Lutheran but rather in the miserable halls of the Roman labyrinth, which I once thought was the "true church". I am particularly mindful of the RC nature of this "reform" because I got my basic education in one of the hotbeds of the "liturgical movement", more a liturgical bowel movement, leading up to the Council and the Council itself, where most every major figure involved in the Council generally and the novus ordo and sacrosanctum concilium in particular was not a name in a book but a living presence either resident or visiting, a veritable ringside seat for the Revolution.

The coup was complete, and the bleeder has become either itself or its miserable misbegotten step children like the RCL the common property of all liturgical heterodox churches.

Now, if this three-year binge leads to such greater exposure to Scripture with a salutary effect, why is it that it has become universal in churches that daily deny its doctrines in varying degrees?

Moreover, building on what Pastor Esget has said elsewhere, what do our Confessions confess -- the need to begin a new lectionary, calendar and mass, or rather do they point with pride to our continuing the traditional order of readings, and the ceremonies previously in use for the most part, except where they contradict the Gospel.

Once one abandons that, it makes no difference whether one turns to a new lectionary or no lectionary at all, a new Vatican II style liturgy with This Or That, Option A or B, Setting One, Two, Buckle My Shoe or no liturgy at all.

And then Rome will have done its worst, unhinging not only itself, and also that part of the Reformation that carried error in the other direction, but the Lutheran Reformation whose Confessions by the grace of God I now believe to be a true and accurate statement of the Gospel of Christ.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Terry, the three-year lectionary in Lutheran Service Book is perfectly good, right and salutary.

There has been much heresy spouted from the pulpits of Rome and others using the one-year lectionary for at least a millennium.

Using a one-year lectionary is no antidote from these things.

Your arguments border on the hysterical.

Past Elder said...

Well Pastor, insofar as a lectionary is a book of selections from Scripture, one could call any and all numbers of them good,right and salutary.

The "historic" lectionary has a little more going for it than that, which can be said of any lectionary.

My arguments border on this: having had a ringside seat for the development of the original three-year lectionary, duting which time and at which place its champions and originators were the fare of the day, as professors, lecturers, and authors studied.

Their agenda was not ours but one within the RCC, and more importantly, was not the agenda of liturgical reform laid out in the Confessions, not even remotely.

No lectionary is an antidote to anything.

But, our confessions point with pride to continuing the traditional order of lessons, and the ceremonies previously in use.

In doing otherwise, we seek to infuse with Lutheran content something that arose from entirely un-Lutheran ideas of worship, when we raid Rome for such material no less than when we raid Willow Creek or Rick Warren.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Terry: Again, your hysteria is showing.

The Lutheran Service Book three year lectionary was carefully chosen, crafted, designed and produced and serves us very well. It is not the Roman Catholic three year lectionary.

Are there chosen readings in common? Of course.

The attempt to disparage and attack the selection of Bible readings over three years based on "guilt by association" just ain't cutting it, my friend.

Pastor Peters point in this post are totally spot-on.

Past Elder said...

Chop the bleeder out of the LSB and there might be room for the Introits and Collects that oughta be in there.

Did you see PW wants to meet me -- how about your place for some of his Ablaze! Burgers fanned into flame?

(I'm just having fun guys, at one time I went all over the US and Europe; now travel for me is if I go from one end of Omaha to the other.)

Guillaume said...

I've been using the one year since Advent 2010. I've decided to try it just because someone posted a document from the late 1800's from the Western Minn. district conference in which he shows how all the chief doctrines of the faith can be taught from the 1 year lectionary.--Apparently this is an old argument. In fact I have had some problems with locating old sermons based on the one year. I have Concordia Pulpit from the turn of the 20th c. and lo and behold, they don't always use the one year lectionary in TLH. As a matter of fact often times they're using the 2nd. series on pg. 160 of TLH. Sometimes even Luther and Chemnitz must be free texting or they have a different reading when looking at the Baker pub. series of Luther or repristination press. I find it frustrating at times, particularly when the suggested article of faith suggested for a given text isn't treated by Luther or anyone else--if they are preaching on the text.

Adam Kangas said...

Why did the Lutheran Church copy the Vatican 2 addition of the Old Testament and 3 year lectionary?

Adam Kangas said...

Why did the Lutheran Church copy the Vatican 2 addition of the Old Testament and 3 year