This blog post is a response of sorts to one by the Rev. Bosco Peters, @Liturgy on Twitter, on a critique of the Revised Common Lectionary which is itself a response to another blog post by the Rev. Chris Duckworth.
For those of you who might not know the Revised Common Lectionary, or RCL, is a Lectionary implementing a a three-year cycling of readings and is used by a number of different Protestant Churches. It is based, in large part, on a Lectionary developed for the Novus Ordo Mass for the Latin-Rite of the Roman Catholic Church.
Before the 1960s the Church in the West (Protestants and Catholics) had being using Lectionaries based on one (purportedly) developed by Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th and 7th Centuries A.D.
The overwhelming argument in favour of a three-year cycle was that it would greatly increase the amount of Scripture being read at Mass and/or Sunday services allowing for a greater biblical education for the laity. It also was different from the the Gregorian style Lectionaries in that it had Three readings (Old Testament or Acts, New Testament, Gospel) rather than Two readings (Epistle/Lesson and Gospel).
However, the fact remains that the RCL isn’t a great lectionary. Without going into great detail on why I can say that I have preached three times, and each of those three times I massively lucked out on the readings I had to work with. The issue is that for a lot of the year the three readings in anyone service don’t match up, and then it is difficult for the Preacher to compose a sermon covering the readings. In many cases someone can bridge together two of the three, and during the seasons of Advent, Lent, Easter and Holy Days all-three readings will work but many times a Preacher is left with “material” that just doesn’t let them Preach as effectively as they could.
The older, one-year lectionaries that trace themselves to the time of Gregory the Great have two-readings that were purposefully chosen to work together, or being preached on separately. Examination of the Lectionary though the Church year reveals a two types of themes intended for Preaching
- From Advent Sunday through Trinity Sunday is based on Credal issues, and
- After Trinity Sunday is based on Moral issues.
Now, I do not want to make this post, or anything else for that matter, about Morals. Very truthfully Moral Theology bores the snort out of me. However, given our “Post-Christendom” world that we live in now it is extremely important to focus on issues of Doctrine, and more importantly, carrying out the Mission of expanding the Church.
This is not to say that the RCL is a horrible Lectionary. There are a number of ways it is better then the earlier Lectionaries. For example, the readings for Holy Week are superior.
However, we have to accept that the RCL has flaws. It’s use originally assumed a Congregation that was going to turn up every Sunday thus allowing them to hear more of the bible spoken of in Church. The truth is that many Christians do not attend services every Sunday.
We also have to accept that compared to the older lectionaries the RCL is much more challenging to make a sermon from. Our Clergy are overworked enough as it is. Throwing them softball readings to Preach on would make their lives easier.
So, to paraphrase on Father Bosco who paraphrased on Churchill, the RCL is not the worst Lectionary… except all the others that have come since the 1960s. We tossed aside ones much better in the name of progress when what would have made more sense would been to have revised the Gregorian-style lectionaries already being used.