by Fr. Michael Slusser
On a Sunday just before Lent, a lector told me with surprise, “In all my years of being a lector, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered the readings we have for today.” I took a moment to explain how the Sunday lectionary is made to fit around the season of Lent and Easter, and how it often happens that, when Ordinary Time resumes, it does not take up immediately where it left off before Lent. For example, in 2014 there were eight weeks of Ordinary Time before Lent, but after Easter Time we resumed with week ten; the intervening week simply dropped out. For that reason, we do not always hear particular Sunday readings.
The lector’s question awakened my curiosity. I wondered how much the gap in Ordinary Time between Ash Wednesday and Pentecost affected the readings for Sunday Mass. Is it enough to puzzle an experienced lector? Or is it only a matter of one Sunday dropping out in some years? It turns out that the impact on weekday readings is very slight, but that Sunday readings are pre-empted four or five times every year, to the point where some sets of Sunday readings may not be used for decades, if at all. In the universal Church, Pentecost and Trinity Sunday already replace the Sunday readings for the first two weeks after Easter Time, and in dioceses where the Feast of Corpus Christi is transferred to the following Sunday, another set of readings is displaced. Here is a table of the displaced Sunday Masses in dioceses that transfer Corpus Christi, following the “Table of Principal Celebrations of the Liturgical Year” printed in the front of the Roman Missal; my edition prints the information up through 2039.
- Sundays 6 through 9 are pre-empted in 2035
- Sundays 6 through 10: 2016, 2027, 2032
- Sundays 7 through 10: 2018, 2024, 2029
- Sundays 7 through 11: 2015, 2021, 2026, 2037
- Sundays 8 through 11: 2023, 2034
- Sundays 8 through 12: 2014, 2020, 2031, 2036, 2039
- Sundays 9 through 12: 2028
- Sundays 9 through 13: 2017, 2019, 2022, 2025, 2030, 2033, 2038
What immediately springs to view is that the readings for Sunday 9 are never heard during the years 2014–2039 (although in 2011, the cycle A readings for the Ninth Sunday did get a hearing); only once do we get to hear any readings for the Tenth Sunday, in 2035. Sundays 9 and 10 are in the deepest part of what I call the Paschal eclipse of the Sunday Lectionary. The cycle B and C readings for Sundays 9 and 10 are not used even once in the thirty years 2010–2039. The cycle B readings for Sunday 8 are heard only twice (2030, 2033), and the cycle C readings for Sunday 8 are not heard between 2016 and 2034. On Sunday 7, the cycle A readings are not heard at all from 2023 to 2038, and cycle B is silent between 2012 and 2030. After 2016, the cycle C readings for Sunday 11 will not reappear until the 2040s. Further out on the fringe of the eclipse, the impact of the Paschal Season and associated feasts on the Sunday lectionary is less dramatic, but in 2011 even Sunday 14 was affected.
How much of this is due to the transfer of the Feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord—Corpus Christi—to the following Sunday? Actually, the heart of the eclipse, Sundays 9 and 10, would be affected little if Corpus Christi were not transferred to Sunday. For Sunday 9, we would hear the Sunday readings one more time (2035), and on Sunday 10, the use of Sunday readings instead of a festal substitute would rise from once to eight times in thirty years.
This phenomenon seems strange, since the planners of the lectionary no doubt spent as much energy on planning Sundays 9 and 10 as on the other Sundays, but is it a problem? Perhaps only for lectors who are taken by surprise.
Fr. Michael Slusser is a priest of the Catholic Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. He was educated at Louvain and Oxford (D.Phil. 1975), and taught at the College (now University) of St. Thomas, Catholic University of America, and Duquesne University, from which he is Professor Emeritus of Theology. His academic specialty is historical theology, particularly the Greek Fathers.