Over at Chant Cafe, I just read a claim which is often made about the quantity of Scripture in the pre-Vatican II Mass compared to the reformed rite:

Contrary to some underinformed claims, the 1962 Missal contains far more Scripture than is heard at those Ordinary Form Masses in which the proper texts are omitted. This is because the proper texts are almost always composed entirely of Scripture. Instead of one Responsorial Psalm, the proper texts of the Mass offer the equivalent of 5.

I thought it’d be interesting to do the math once. So I made a little chart with the 1962 Scripture readings (including the propers) on the left and the reformed lectionary readings (presuming no propers) on the right for the coming Sunday, July 7. Here it is. (I put both columns in Latin to level the playing field, since number of words and length of syllables might be longer in a vernacular language compared to Latin.)

As you see, the reformed Mass wins, hands down. To be sure, appropriation of Scripture is about much more than it’s quantity at liturgy. But that’s the question at hand here.

I suspect this Sunday, July 7, 2013,  is fairly typical – but if someone out there has the time to do the math for every Sunday of the year, I’d welcome the additional data.

Of course there are several other important factors possibly muddying the waters. It’s possible that the post-Vatican II Mass have locally-chosen songs at entrance, preparation of offerings, and communion with loads of Scripture (think St. Louis Jesuits, but not only them), doubling or tripling the Scripture quantity. It’s possible that the lay worshiper at the old rite not have a hand missal with vernacular translation (no one did before the late 19th century, almost no one did before the 1930s, many still didn’t in the 1950s), and so not hear or understand one syllable of Scripture at the entire liturgy – this would have been the case for most lay Catholics throughout most of liturgical history. (For most of history, most of them wouldn’t have been able to read and would have taken in only what was read aloud to them.) The Latin Scripture readings were sometimes read aloud a second time in vernacular translation before Vatican II – but not for most of history. Also, in a few rare cases the old proper texts are not taken from Scripture.

But to stay with the question at hand, and to judge strictly by comparing the number of characters of Scriptural text on a given Sunday: unless if I’m missing something, the reformed three-year lectionary offers more Scripture than the old missal did, even with its Scriptural propers. If others can correct or improve my understanding, I welcome it.


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