Saturday, November 25, 2017

Roman Complaints about the 3 year lectionary. . .

There has been a long going debate between those who use the 3 year lectionary and the historic or one year lectionary (historic as a form but not necessarily the same lectionary throughout time).  This has been going on in the LCMS for some time.  I will admit that I have feelings for both and I use one lectionary on Sunday morning and the other for a regularly scheduled mid-week service. Strangely, the same complaints the Lutherans have made are echoed by the Roman complaints listed here (with an obvious exception or two).
Firstly, by lengthening the readings and emphasizing the homily, the new lectionary takes focus away from the Sacrifice, which is the heart of the matter.  Lutherans would not recognize the legitimacy of this complaint since Lutherans affirm both the Word and the Supper as the means of grace, neither over shadowing the other but complementing the other.

Secondly, an annual cycle is a more fitting unit of time because it is naturally complete. All Western and Eastern rites have always had one-year cycles . . . the repetition of one year allows the faithful to become more familiar with the readings, and to enter ever more deeply into them as the years roll on. The multi-year system in the Ordinary Form, on the other hand, provides the faithful with so much more to forget, with far fewer opportunities to be inspired by a familiar passage.  This is one often listed by Lutherans who choose the historic lectionary and it is hard to deny.  While the 3 year lectionary undoubtedly provides a broader perspective from the Scripture, it has not necessarily translated into a broader or deeper knowledge of them.  In fact, it remains the unresolved question of whether it is better to know more Scripture less well or to know less Scripture better?  I go back and forth but this remains a solid point of dispute.

Thirdly, there is a principle in the revised lectionary that continuous readings should be preferred to the sanctoral cycle. . .  The ultimate goal of our public worship is the sanctification of the faithful, not a material knowledge of Scripture, which is more proper to catechesis and study. Thus it is fitting that we use the Scriptures to celebrate the saints, who have been sanctified as models for us to venerate and imitate. Without their lives, in which the Word is (so to speak) made flesh, Scripture itself is a dead letter. So it seems more in keeping with the spirit of the liturgy to give primacy to the sanctoral cycle, and to have readings directly connected with the saints, than it is to follow a fabricated system of continuous readings that seems to ignore the fitting cultus of the saints in the Mass.  Lutherans complained a long time ago that the sanctoral cycle had stolen the church year away from the lectionary and many Roman Catholics made the same complaint.  Hence the 3 year lectionary was not the only attempt to reduce the multi-layored sanctoral cycle which often ended up silencing the ordinary readings for the Sunday.  Lutherans probably should be complaining just the opposite -- the readings of the church year dominate and the sanctoral cycle is either intentionally ignored or conveniently forgotten from the lives of most people on Sunday morning.

Fourthly, the integration of Scripture into the Mass is much more evident in the old lectionary. For example, on a saint’s feast day, the prayers throughout the Mass invoke and honour the saint, the readings and antiphons extol the saint’s virtues, and the Sacrifice unites us with the saints as the Church Militant meets with the Church Triumphant in the Eucharist. Throughout the usus antiquior, the language of Scripture, its vocabulary and rhetoric, permeate the liturgy in almost every prayer of the priest. This is far less obvious in the modern liturgy, where the lectionary has been greatly increased but the other fixed prayers have been greatly decreased. I will agree here that the language of the old lectionary was much more ingrained into the vocabulary of the liturgy but I am less sure that this was due to the lectionary itself or due more to the fact that the King James English of the Bible mirrored the same English used in the collects and liturgical texts.  That said, it would be better if we returned to a closer connection between the language and vocabulary of the lectionary and the liturgy.  That would not, however, require us to choose the one  year over the three year lectionary.

Fifthly, despite its much greater magnitude, the new lectionary does not, in fact, merely add Scripture to the liturgy; it omits many passages that had been proclaimed faithfully for over 1,500 years of Catholic worship, especially those one could consider “difficult”. The classic example is St Paul’s exhortation to examine our worthiness to approach the Eucharist lest we condemn ourselves by partaking unworthily (1 Cor. 11:27-29), a passage abundantly present in the usus antiquior, but that never appears once in the new cycle of readings. The revisers of the lectionary admitted openly that they were editing out passages they deemed “difficult” for modern man. Thus, the new lectionary does a disservice to the Christian people by depriving them of certain challenging texts that the Church’s tradition had always shared. As one modern writer concludes: the new lectionary presents more of Scripture’s words—and less of its message. This reveals a systematic fault in the reformers’ mindset that is certainly not operative in the old lectionary.  While this is not as true of the Lutheran Service Book lectionary as it is true of the Revised Common Lectionary, one cannot escape the reality that some of the more difficult readings for the modern mind to hear have been omitted from the three year lectionary.  This may have been an editorial goal of some but it should have been thoroughly reviewed and corrected by those who guard such things.  There is certainly a tendency to be more politically correct with the RCL and, while some would laud this, it is clearly a distinct weakness of the RCL and, to a much lesser extent, derivative lectionaries such as the LSB version.

Finally. . . the way Scripture is treated in the liturgy should give us a clue about how important it is. In the usus antiquior, the kisses, bows, chants, incensations, etc., that occur with the reading of Scripture ennoble it much more than the simple reading that usually occurs in the Ordinary Form, whose plainness of ceremonial matches the Cartesian emphasis on quantity of text over quality of liturgical placement and meaning. It is not too surprising that, in such circumstances, the homily often overshadows or competes with the word of Scripture, since there is almost no difference between how Scripture is proclaimed and how the homily is proclaimed.  The way we treat the Word of God is telling.  Dr. David Scaer has opined a time or two about how significant a Gospel Book can be as drawing our attention to the Words of Christ.  I think there is something here to consider.  Further, it is more typical in a Lutheran congregation that no ceremony is attached to the readings -- not even holding up the book when saying "The Word of the Lord."  We are a ceremonial people (watch a sports event) and ceremonies display the weight and significance of things.  To rob the reading of the Scriptures of any ceremony is to say to people that this Word is nothing special.  The sainted Kurt Marquart taught me by his own practice to kiss the altar during the Introit and I see kissing the Gospel book as the same gesture both of affection and humility as well honor.


Ted Badje said...

One-year vs Three year lectionaries -- some pastors go into the deep weeds, and some Catholics can't even find the lawnmower. ;-)

Anonymous said...

"the new lectionary presents more of Scripture’s words—and less of its message."

This and the fact that it does not fit with the Sunday-by-Sunday themes of the Kalendar are the key points in my estimation. I never expect to use the 3 year cycle, having used on the 1 year cycle up to the present.


Chris said...

I will wait with anticipation the day Lutherans kiss and venerate the book of the Gospels.