Too Many Words in the Three-Year Lectionary?

In our revised master’s degree in Liturgical Music at Saint John’s, the course formerly called “Psalmody and Hymnody” is now called “Liturgical Song,” and I’m teaching it this semester. It’s still the “hymnody” course, and much of the content carries over from before. But the revised title better reflects that we don’t just study psalmody and hymnody, although we do lots of that. We study all the songs and chants of the liturgy. That includes the responses and litanies and acclamations and service music, and so forth. And it all starts with the liturgy, for singing is not something added on to the liturgy, it is the liturgy.

We’re starting the course by reading Joseph Gelineau, Liturgical Song, Liturgical Assembly (Pastoral Press/OCP, 2002). Do you know this book? It’s a classic, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Joseph Gelineau (1920-2008), of “Gelineau psalms” fame, is a towering figure in the renewal of Catholic liturgy and music. He was involved in the drafting of the Vatican II liturgy constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, and he was also involved in the development of the 1969 reformed rite of Mass. He is the go-to source for understanding the nature of the reformed liturgy and the role of music in each part of the liturgy. Not only does he “get” it theoretically, he also asks probing questions about what is working (or not) in the real world. His starting point is exactly right: What is the assembly, understood theologically, and what is its purpose?

Here’s a taste of Gelineau’s wisdom: he takes on the “right proportion” for the revealed word from which everything else flows (see pp. 41-42). He writes:

The choice and the ordering of the readings provided by the Lectionary for Sunday Mass constitute a remarkable treasure and give rich nourishment. Nevertheless, it is necessary in every individual case to ask if the quantity, and sometimes the choice, of the texts offered actually correspond to the ability of the listeners to assimilate them. Too many texts read out, but not understood and not explained, can overwhelm and engender fatigue and disinterest.

Gelineau dares to question whether there is too much text in the reformed liturgy because, as he notes,

…the rites do not exist for themselves and they do not give glory to God except through the human beings that are sanctified by them. We still need to remind ourselves of this, even after Vatican II, for ritualism incessantly rears its ugly head.

Gelineau names the ritualism as it sometimes plays out:

…it still happens that the readings are read too quickly and in a boring, humdrum tone.

This all seems right to me, across the board. The Liturgy of the Word is, for many people, something of a bore, and it’s just too much to take in. The Gospel readings probably go over the best. (You know what I mean.) But it’s all too easy to tune out the Old Testament reading, especially if it has difficult names of unknown people and places. Same with the epistle, which is sometimes rather abstract, and in the nature of things rarely preached on.

In all this, Gelineau has little or nothing in common with those who reject the reformed liturgy and want to go back to the pre-Vatican II one-year lectionary which had just two readings and a snippet of a psalm. His starting point is not the sacred cow (or to be more precise, idol) of a supposed “Mass of all times” that is supposedly untouchable. He knows that the lectionary needed reform, and he supports the call of the fathers of Vatican II for the lectionary to have a greater range of Scripture readings. He knows that this is all organically tied to the reform as a whole, which re-established the primacy of the assembly of the baptized who share in Christ’s priesthood in their worship of the Father.

But how to make that work? What to do with the lectionary readings?

I suppose one could talk about a two-year lectionary. I suppose there could be either an Old Testament reading or an epistle before the Gospel, with a Vatican II-type Responsorial Psalm in between the two readings. But frankly, I don’t think it’s constructive to float such proposals just now. Now is not the time for a “Reform of the Reform” – in any direction. Pope Benedict XVI succeeded, alas, in destabilizing and weakening the reformed liturgy, and it will be the work of at least another generation to solidify it and reestablish it as the rite for the entire Latin church. Pope Francis is reading the signs of the times rightly when he asks us not to speak of a “Reform of the Reform.” Only when we’re all reunited around the Church’s liturgy will we be in a position to talk about tweaking and improving it. (I don’t expect that in my lifetime.)

The reformed three-year lectionary, then, is a given. I see few possible paths forward.

  1. Better proclamation! Train the readers! Have fewer readers and make them learn how to read publicly.
  2. More Bible study. Promote more reading of the Bible, and especially of the lectionary readings.
  3. Promote lectio divina. Give people more assistance in learning how to pray with the Bible, especially the lectionary readings.
  4. Better preaching! Send every priest in the country to required, game-changing preaching instruction. Double – triple! – the amount of homiletics required in seminary. Make every seminarian and every priest attend 10 non-denominational or mega-church services at places known for attention-grabbing, life-changing preaching. Knock off already all this dull preaching that no one listens to that draws no one into the biblical Word.
  5. I have mixed feelings about this, but it is foreseen as an option in the official Roman documents: give short introductions that truly help people want to listen to the reading and get an important message from it. I personally think this needs to be done by the preacher, who knows best what needs to be said to drive things toward the homily. If someone else reads out what he wrote, we’re all too likely back to dull, routine reading of a required text, which would kill it.
  6. Do you think one could bend the rules and omit the second reading? Or – since we’re thinking outside the box, and willing to think daring thoughts in response to a real crisis – could one do the second reading, then the psalm, then the acclamation and Gospel? I know, the psalm is thematically a response to the Old Testament reading, so I suppose this doesn’t work. The most one could say is that the psalm has an indirect connection to the Gospel it precedes, since the psalm is related to the Old Testament reading and the Old Testament reading is related to the Gospel reading.

What do you folks think? I think Fr. Gelineau has raised a question we best not avoid.



  1. 1, yes. 2, I’d say some places are on track with this. Now is not the time to get cocky and assume all parishes are doing this well with the never-better set of resources we have. 3. Sure, but when? Maybe treating the Bible not as a place to absorb religious information, but to encounter the living God. I wouldn’t blame Pope Benedict as much as some of his well-meaning but off-kilter disciples: thinking that with the “right” understanding of the Bible and liturgy, right morality and ethics will follow. 4. Sure, but the church is going to have to open this up to qualified lay people to help raise the bar. 5. Nope. See #4: better preaching. 6. Since the liturgy is in essence an art form and not a classroom, I’d have to contend that the first reading is a set-up for the psalm and somewhat subordinate. Seriously, I’d look at other moments of the liturgy before I’d consider the second reading. The Gloria during ordinary time. Super-wordy intercessions any time. The interruption in the Lord’s Prayer. Announcements.

    7. Look for more silence. People need time to digest what is going on and can be encouraged by their leaders to put #3 into practice while they do #7.

    1. As an aside, I would note that trimming the Gloria “saves” roughly 30 seconds if recited, and about 90 seconds if chanted per the vernacular chant in the Missal (if the Gloria is perceived as taking too much time, one initial remedy is to refrain from settings that feature refrains or instrumental interludes). But with the text being well known, trimming it does not address the issue of too much new substantive content.

      The issue is not really about time in the objective sense. It might better be characterized as concern with the subjective experience of it in a ritual context, and doubts that ritual expectations are congruent with the expectations of the people in the pews and whether/how best to bridge that perceived gap. Tinkering with the book, as it were, may be more a technocratic Potemkin village that hides the reality of hard work avoided (or, if not avoided, not “successful” enough).

      1. I judge the Gloria is appropriate for the Christmas and Easter seasons, solemnities and feasts. Sundays in OT are not feasts.

      2. FWIW, Sundays in Ordinary Time (along with Sundays of Christmastide) are ranked with feasts of the Lord (II.6 in the table of precedence of liturgical days), outranking all other feasts (Sundays of Advent, Lent and Eastertide rank with solemnities). They simply don’t have the additional name.

  2. Good article. As with most things in the liturgy, I’m in the school of thought that the problem is not that the Liturgy of the Word it is structured poorly as written, but that it’s often executed poorly. 1 and 4 hit the nail on the head (2 and 3 are musts as well). I’ve seen many masses where a combination of skilled readers and eloquent preaching connecting them creates a moving worship experience that leaves people challenged and enlightened. I’ve also seen many where this is not the case, and I think this more than anything else contributes to many people’s perception of the mass as being boring and dry.

    Readers absolutely need more training as a whole, coordinating this on a diocesan level isn’t a bad idea. I believe every parish out there has a least a few competent public speakers in their pews. As far as preaching is concerned, I think 5-10 minutes is a good rule of thumb (we Catholics have short attention spans). IMHO I would also encourage priests or deacons to write out their homily beforehand and read it from the pulpit. Some preachers can do a good job winging it, but many would be helped by a “script” to stay on.

    One of the great graces of Vatican II was its promotion of Scripture into a place of prominence in Catholic life. I have a hard time believing that shortening the lectionary cycle or cutting readings from the mass (even converting lectionary psalms to seasonal ones) would positively serve a devotion to Scripture. I could be wrong on this, but I think one of the reasons for the 3 year cycle is because it allows for a neat division between the 3 synoptic Gospels, which would be hard to organize in a 2 year cycle. Just some thoughts

  3. Or maybe this is more of “problem” for clerics and religious and lay people who participate in daily liturgy of the Eucharist and Hours than for laity whose only liturgy is once a week? A professional liturgical class problem?

    No. 5 is a particularly terrible idea, because it interposes commentary according to the agenda of the commentator before the faithful’s encounter with the Word. Rather than breaking open the Word, it treats the Word as something in service of the homily. (Even worse is when the priest interjects his thoughts and revisions into the proclamation of the Gospel itself.)

    No. 6 is right out – what’s the “real crisis” for which that is the proper response? I’ve certainly witnessed priests use their power (but without authority) to do this, and cannot say a positive thing about it. (If memory serves, episcopal conferences do have the ability to seek Rome’s permission to omit the first reading — I recall Ireland may have been a place where that was done.)*

    And time – objectively – is rarely the issue, so it’s not properly an issuing of trimming. It’s the subjective experience of time during readings poorly proclaimed and poorly preached that is a symptom, not the disease.

    * PS: It’s curious that absolutely no consideration is given to how this would further vitiate the common Western lectionary approach taken ecumenically after the Council. The 2011 translation changes would be small change compared to this.

  4. A more radical solution, but one which in a way retains the integrity of the Lectionary readings, is the one where the 2nd reading is omitted from the Liturgy of the Word but is proclaimed later on after the silence following the distribution of Communion. The rationale often given for this is that not only does it enable the 1st Reading – Psalm – Gospel to do their work more effectively as an integrated unit but that the 2nd readings from St Paul often contain material that is useful for Christian living, and that it is therefore appropriate to hear these words shortly before being sent out into the world.

    I agree with all those so far who state that we need much better-trained readers. We also need to observe para 52 of the General Introduction to the Lectionary, which says Whenever there is more than one reading, it is better to assign the readings to different readers, if available, something which I often find ignored in parishes where the 1st reading is read in a humdrum fashion by a reader who then drones through the psalm and, almost without a pause, continues to the 2nd Reading, effectively killing any chance the Liturgy of the Word might have of nourishing the people.

    1. Not really so radical, Mr. Inwood. A possible precedent would be the Last Gospels even though they appeared at the very end of the Trent mass.

      You have an interesting proposal but, I wonder if adding an epistle lection after communion would cause the mass to be as top heavy as it was with Last Gospels. I also wonder if people’s attention would be lost. Wretch that I am I have to admit that I’m thinking of my luncheon at that point and am longing for a benedicamus domino.

  5. As an experienced lector and lifelong listener, I would argue that the Old Testament reading is MUCH easier to proclaim and generally more engaging for the congregation (narrative! drama!). On any given Sunday, however, I would be very hard pressed to remember the Epistle ten minutes later.

    I favor keeping the current arrangement, though, if only to give a creative homilist more to work with. On Sundays when I am especially attentive, the interplay of the different genres and rhetorical styles often brings unexpected insights.

    I am grateful to be in a parish where the vast majority of the lectors and musicians are very careful to prepare well and to proclaim the Word clearly. Such parishes do exist.

  6. 1. Amen. The training has to get beyond the resistance “But we all know how to read.” To get beyond that resistance, I’ve used the image and the approach of a “master class.” “Yes, we all know how to read. Now let’s take it to the next level.” It has worked – and members of the assembly have noticed the difference. The greatest disappointment? The ordained never participate, yet I have heard many proclamations of the gospel that make me wonder what happened to the “good” in “good news.”
    2. Yes. Delivery of this important path forward is challenging today, with people’s lives being exponentially busier than they were a few years ago. I’m glad to see this as separate from (1), because although this one informs (1) all the bible study in the world will not necessarily produce a good reader.
    3. Yes. See number 2. One of the fundamentals of formation for proclaiming the Word is that this is an encounter in which God speaks through our human voices to us and to our sisters and brothers. God is speaking. Christ is speaking. The Spirit is enabling us to welcome the Word. I think that we have mostly lost this sense of encounter. Silence is key here, but we need to learn it, too.
    4. Amen. Not, however, preaching instruction. Preaching formation that involves instruction, preparation, delivery, review, mutual critique, and “master class” style critique of several homilies. Other professions have monitored professional development requirements; make homiletics the #1 professional development requirement for priests and deacons.
    5. I’ve heard only a couple of presiders do this well. Too often it becomes more blah-blah-blah. Where it’s best done, it’s done only occasionally, and removes what I call the “speed bumps” in the readings: it explains who a character or characters are for which most hearers would not have a frame of reference or provides the missing context for the text without which hearers simply can’t get it …
    6. Sometimes. Too often it feels just like filler. Preach on it for its…

  7. I dislike the implications of option 6, which would further contribute to the unique sort of liturgical clericalism that has become entrenched since Vatican II – where the Mass can become more a reflection of the priest’s needs, ideology, and piety than those of the people due to the endless unregulated options. What of multiple priests serving one parish where Father A thinks omitting the second reading is a good thing, but Father B thinks it should always be read? Maybe when Father C, who always reads the second reading, goes on retreat, substitute Father D can swoop in one Sunday and omit it just to shake things up. It would give the impression that reading it or not is simply a personal quirk of Father, and therefore not very important.

    I would say, if you wish to keep things as they are now, to encourage better reading and preaching. I also think the readings should be chanted once in a while. I heard a chanted Gospel at an OF once and it was amazing.

    Also, I think if one is to discern the success or failure of any aspect of the OF, but not ever consider the possibility that the pre-conciliar Mass did something better, then you aren’t seriously discerning. Since Father Anthony invited discussion of the old Mass, I’ll volunteer what I consider the biggest strength of the one-year lectionary – you gain a strong familiarity with the readings, and associate them with particular feasts and seasons in a way you don’t necessarily do with the newer lectionary. You also, over a period of years, get to hear more insights and different perspectives on the same readings since most priests don’t reuse the same homily every year. Do I think the old lectionary is inherently better? Perhaps not, as a wider variety of scripture has its good points as well, but I don’t think the merits of the old lectionary should be completely dismissed and wish more time had been spent living with it in the vernacular before undertaking a massive reform. The idea that there was no wisdom to it whatsoever seems silly to me – far sillier than the imaginary idol worshippers Fr Anthony cooked up.

    1. In the diocese I grew up in, and I don’t think it was by any means exceptional, the sermon on Sunday had little, even nothing, to do with the epistle and Gospel readings from the pre-conciliar lectionary except on the most major feasts of the year. Rather, before the beginning of each new liturgical year, the chancery would send out a plan for the homilies. One year it might be the ten commandments, another the six commandments of the Church, yet another the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Even this schema was not sacrosanct. For example, there was the Sunday when the Legion of Decency pledge was renewed or the need to preach on the evils of Communism. Or, the need to add a new wing to the school and what that would entail. And there was never a homily at daily Mass unless you lived in Monsignor Hellriegel’s parish in the archdiocese of St. Louis.

      In the summer there was no homily because the church was not air-conditioned. There were two massive, roaring fans in the sanctuary, facing out towards the congregation. When the priest went to the pulpit, the servers turned the fans off so that he could be heard. He made the announcements, prayed for the recently deceased, and then after reading the epistle and Gospel in English, he returned to the altar for his recitation of the Nicene Creed at which point the fans were turned on again.

      1. While that is certainly interesting, it does not negate anything I wrote regarding the advantages of the one year lectionary, nor does it invalidate my experience of the old lectionary today.

  8. At a parish where I provided sabbatical coverage, I was moved to give this to the lectors:
    1. Thank you for lending your intelligence and your strong voice to the Word of God, so that we may hear it in its true and life-giving entirety.
    2. The Readings are as necessary to our Christian life as Holy Communion. We read them not because they need to be read but because we need to hear them.
    3. The power of the Readings is in the words themselves.
    4. These words cannot feed us today except through the sound of your voice.
    5. Wait until everyone is listening for what you will read.
    6. Read with a firm, authoritative voice, as if there were no microphone or sound system.
    7. Be as unselfconscious and artful as if you were reading a storybook to a group of children.
    8. Take the words and stick them in our ears.
    9. You will find a way to deliver these words, if you have first heard them in your own mind and heart.
    10. Fall in love with the Word of God, and the Word will deepen you and sustain you in your life. Help us to fall in love, too: this Word is to be shared.

    1. That is really good stuff. May I reproduce it for my Lectors, please ?

      I’d love to do something to help them improve, and many are very effective already. Getting them together is the problem.

      I have done a presentation last Advent on Lectio Divina, which over two (repeat) sessions drew about 60 people in all. I want to follow that up.


  9. With humility, may I suggest another approach: Firstly, forget sending priests and deacons to mega-churches, for while their delivery may offer something, their exegesis leaves very much to be desired. I have listened to way too many of these “how to be a more successful Christian”; “10 steps to being a more effective (fill in the blank: spouse, employee, parent, you name it). Milk at best, no meat here.

    I offer to you another approach that I have taught Lutheran Deacons for years is to rightly divide the Lectionary periscopes into Law and Gospel. Those familiar with Lutheran exegesis will recognize these emphases. When people of God hear nothing but the Law: what I must do to please God, what God expects of me, etc. will soon tire of the futility of trying to live their life this way.. The Gospel is the familiar Good News; what Christ has done to redeem us from the power of sin and death.

    By rightly dividing Law and Gospel, the hearers can distiguish what God expects, and how we so often fall short. Exasperated, the preacher shares the Gospel, giving the hearers the assurance that the death and resurrection of our Lord is sufficient for our justification and salvation.

    The Law is dealt with through sacramental reconciliation, and I know we have more trouble than you getting people to actually come to confession and receive the Absolution. That means the homily is the likely place where the conviction of our sin heard in the pericopes will lead their exasperation to the Cross, where trusting in the death and resurrection of Christ shows the incredible love of God for us.

    Now, this can’t be done as a formula, but by observing the proper distinction the preacher will compose the homily in a way that gives the hearer some hope for God’s help in their daily life. I get pretty winsome here and use humorous examples of how we try to justify ourselves and try to impress God with all of our attempts as justifying ourselves before God.

    I’m out of words, so let me know if you want more…..

    1. Fr. Anthony was obviously not suggesting we send priests and deacons to the mega-churches in order to learn from the exegesis offered. But they do have much to learn from the delivery. How many times I have listened to a homily and then thought, as the homilist sat down, “That would have been a good homily if he hadn’t delivered it as though even he was bored by the content or embarrassed to have to say anything.” I look around and wonder how many folks didn’t even pay attention, simply because his tone and demeanor convey, “I apologize for having to take up your time with this, but please be patient with me.” That, to me, is one of the biggest areas where we could learn from those mega-churches.

      For better or worse, religion and politics have something in common: acceptance of the message being conveyed rely to a high degree on the effectiveness with which it is done.

      1. Other problems with homilies:

        1. Complaining (directly or indirectly) about one or more of the readings and of the difficulty of preaching regarding them.

        2. Telling the congregation how you came up with the idea for your homily.

        3. Using the homily to establish or reinforce your cred with the congregation.

      2. @ Karl Liam Saur
        Verily, verily, Amen, Amen.
        As soon as you hear, “as I was preparing for this homily I…”
        just tap out, Padre, you’re toast.

      3. Fr Jarrod

        Yea, verily!

        For preachers vulnerable to this temptation, it would be interesting if they could limit first person singular* references to, say, no more than five in a given homily. As a form of abstinence? (That doesn’t require a whole bunch of second person usage, either.) It’s just that, when you’re forced to limit self-referencing, your other intended meanings can become more readily manifested and understood.

        * As well as plural when it’s a disguised way to project the self onto the congregation….

  10. Better readers and homilies is key.
    When the psalm is not sung the listeners experience is of a lot of spoken texts following one after another. How about replacing the psalm when it is not sung with a short silence?

    1. As with the Responsorial Psalms at the Easter Vigil, where the option of silence instead is explicitly mentioned in the rubrics (para 23).

  11. I wonder why the people even come. Recently the homily at our parish consisted of the pastor’s introduction of the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal and the parish’s raffle fundraiser. After communion, for Catholic Schools Week, a parish school middle grader extolled the school’s success. Before the dismissal the assembly read together a “prayer” for the parish Lenten retreat taking place in four weeks. The readings? Whatever.

  12. Better trained readers and fewer readers.
    Silence after every reading
    Currently, our assistant pastor who was a former scripture professor (taught me in grad school) always gives a brief introduction before the first reading. We were trained to do that back in the 1970s but have rarely ever experienced it.
    Find that it focuses folks and grabs their attention – this priest then goes on to highlight the readings themes and connect to his homily
    Homiletics – yes to Fr. Anthony’s proposal……and like most professional jobs, required updating every 2 to 3 years. Gets to the reality that very few bishops require continued education or approach skills such as homiletics the same way other professions require continuing education in order to keep your professional degree/licensure current.

    1. Peter, here’s my view.
      Those who accept Vatican II, the papally-approved liturgical reform, and all the magisterium’s teachings on the liturgy (GIRM, 1981 Introduction to Lectionary for Mass, the hundreds of other liturgy docs of last 55 years), and understand that the liturgy constitution is intrinsically tied to all the docs of V2 and they all stand or fall together, will have a role to play in any improvements to a postconciliar liturgy which is basically good and reflects (as Vatican II called for) the nature of the true church.
      Those who are at war with Vatican II, the church’s reformed liturgy which has been celebrated daily by every pope and Catholic bishop for nearly 50 years, all the magisterium’s teachings on liturgy for 55+ years, and the pope and virtually the entire Catholic church: they won’t have a role to play in critiquing or improving the basically solid postconciliar liturgy because they lack basic obedience to or communion with the rest of the Church in matters liturgical.
      I could be mistaken, but that’s my view. I do not see the pope and all the world’s bishops revoking or reversing or undoing the last ecumenical council.
      Please don’t drag your anti-Vatican II and anti-reformed Catholic liturgy materials into our commbox. The few people interested in this know where to find it. Pray Tell’s mission is to promote the official, reformed Catholic liturgy.

      1. @Fr Ruff: [T]he liturgy constitution is intrinsically tied to all the docs of V2 and they all stand or fall together

        As Vatican II was convoked as a pastoral council, and the sixteen documents are themselves split into the different categories of Constitutions (four: two dogmatic, one pastoral, one ‘vanilla’), Declarations (three) and Decrees (nine), this assertion would seem self-evidently false. Does Inter mirifica really “stand or fall” with Dei verbum?

        I do not see the pope and all the world’s bishops revoking or reversing or undoing the last ecumenical council.

        Neither do I, but suggesting that the reformed lectionary has major problems and issues when compared with what came before is not a revocation, reversal or undoing of Vatican II. You yourself have suggested omitting something the Consilium voted 23-11 (with 1 iuxta modum) to be obligatory, i.e. the 2nd reading)!

      2. Well, if Pope Francis resigns after the news of the day, it could all be moot. (Five years ago, there were lots of discussions in what were then often thought of as Reform of The Reform circles that were abruptly short-circuited by Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation.)

      3. Matthew,
        All the documents of Vatican II offer together a fundamental re-reading of the Gospel for our time (as the Pope put it), a reorientation of the Church that moved forever beyond the anti-modernism of Pius IX, returned to the sources, questioned traditions (even ancient ones) and renewed/reformed them, and set up dialogue with modern cultures. In this sense the docs all stand together. Some of the specifics of some documents (eg Inter Mirifica) are more transient. But the basic principles, the basic attitude, unites all the documents. All this has been argued at great length by all the experts in the matter.
        Please – let’s not waste too much time on this discussion. What I wrote above is what the Church believes, and what all the popes (even Pope Benedict, to a great extent) affirmed. If there is nothing I could possibly say to convince you of this, let’s just leave it at that.

    2. But the Office was almost exclusively the domain of clergy and religious. And how many lay people were familiar with Lectio Divina?
      Plus XII, John XXIII and Paul VI along with their brother bishops recognized that the scripture belongs to the entire Church. By increasing the selection of readings they exposed so many more passages to the people of God.
      Previously no OT reading was found at Sunday Mass. And yet this was the Bible of Jesus.

    3. But it is troubling precisely because, in this case, the verses missing in the OF were previously present in the EF, and had been part of the Roman Rite for centuries, going back to (at the latest) the 8th century.

      These verses, I should point out, were also retained in the draft Ordo lectionum pro dominicis, feriis et festis sanctorum (Schemata 233 [De Missalis 39]) circulated for comment in 1967 by Group 11 of the Consilium, i.e. those responsible for the lectionary reform. Yet, less than two years later, they were excised.

      This really has nothing to do with the tension between the didactic and latreutic aspects of the Mass readings. Fundamentally (at least for myself), it is a question of how one can possibly reconcile this omission (and others) with the exhortation of Sacrosanctum Concilium 23 and 51. How does it “genuinely and certainly” serve the “good of the church” to distort/omit certain pericopes in the way the OLM currently does? How can one provide “richer fare” from the word of God by editing passages that were previously contained in full in the liturgical tradition?

      (Related to this but separate: this is also a major issue with the short forms of readings in the OLM as they are currently constituted and governed.)

    4. Matthew, it is for the Church authorities to make all these pastoral decisions about what to excise and what to add – not you or me. That something goes back to the 8th century (i.e., not to the Apostles) is not necessarily an argument in favor of it. The Council said lots and lots of things, and the Church chose not to emphasize your favorite passages in the reform, but used all of the passages to come up with its comprehensive judgment. The Church believes that the whole reform serves the good of the Church. This is a judgment call.

      And let me say again and again: those who accept the council and the reform will have have much to contribute if it ever comes to structural tweakings – though I doubt it will for a long, long time, and I doubt it will make that difference for what really counts. Those who come from a fundamental position of the liturgical reform being mostly a mistake, since most everything was better before and the old liturgy is the starting point – I don’t see their voice being able to add much to the conversation.


  13. Jack Wayne:

    You did say that when there was a one-year Lectionary, priests preached on the readings.
    That was rarely the case. And since in many parishes there was no homily during the summer, there was no preaching on the readings for the first eight or nine Sundays after Pentecost. Year after year.

    1. No, I was talking about my experience today, rather than before Vatican II. Perhaps I did not communicate that clearly enough, as most people only remember the old Mass from their childhood decades ago. I was not alive prior to the liturgical reform. I attend the pre Vatican II Mass every week, and have done so for the better part of a decade now, and that was the experience I was commenting on. I have only ever attended one Mass where the sermon/homily was skipped – it was a weekday Mass said by an elderly priest in ill health.

      1. Thank you. I stand corrected. In my childhood and early youth (late 1940s to 1967) there was never a homily at a weekday Mass.

      2. I think that this an important point – ‘Old Rite’ today is not a form of liturgy from the past, shadily remembered by the olders, but a form of liturgy celebrated today, primarily for youngish and growing congegations. Like the great majority of people attending it now, I have little knowledge of (and, to be honest, also not very much interest in) the everyday practice of liturgy in the 1950s.

        That stated, it seems to me that there are two sets of differences between ‘Pre Vatican-II’ and ‘Old Rite in 2018’:

        – Firstly, the Old-Rite communities are still a minority, and it takes effort to get to them (often not only physical effort, but also discouraging comments from the home parish – maybe that has become better now). Thus, it is an intentional community of a group of the faithful who care about the liturgy. Thus, there is often greater interest in church music than in the past. I also never heard anyone in this group demand that the Sunday Mass had to be over in 45 minutes.

        – Secondly, a number of Post-Vatican-II developments have been integrated nearly universally. It is now the standard to have Communion distributed during in every public Mass, and to have on Sundays a sermon preached after the Gospel, often on this week’s scriptural readings.

        More to the point of this post, I find it interesting that, whilst the scriptural ‘diet’ of readings in the old liturgy is doubtlessly less rich (I would actually be in favour of developing a weekday lectionary with alternative texts for the repetitions of the Sunday Mass), there are a number of ‘bingeing’ occassions, like the Ember Saturdays (five Old-Testament readings) or the Easter Vigil (twelve Old-Testament readings before cut down by Pius XII) – also the readings on Lenten ferias are in average considerably longer than in Novus Ordo. So, there are times set aside for hearing God’s word, but quite often not on a Sunday.

  14. I am blessed to be weekend supply in a parish where the lectors are well-trained, rehearse before they read, and enunciate well and convey appropriately the emotions behind the readings.

  15. No one has spoken yet about RCIA dismissal catechesis and breaking open the Word, so let me put in a good word for this practice.

    A. It is immensely formative, both for the catechists and for people in the catechumenal process. So much so, that it has been used fruitfully for children in certain religious education endeavors as well.

    B. It demonstrates the wisdom of three readings. There is rarely (never, in my experience) a time when something does not touch someone, but everyone is not always touched by the same thing. So when we evaluate how much is “too much” we should bear this in mind. Everything need not “land” in the liturgy of the Word. Only one thing may land. But that won’t be the same in all cases, so the more windows we open for people, the better.

    C. The idea of a linear, read-comprehend-remember sort of progression in the Liturgy of the Word comes from fact that (consciously or unconsciously) we import an schoolroom model into our understanding of the Liturgy of the Word. It’s well-intentioned, but not really fair, and can cause us to miss things that are not so linear, but are valuable, formative, and a different way to convey meaning.

    D. The much increased proportion of readings from the Old Testament at Sunday Mass has in fact engraved far more of the richness of the biblical witness into our imaginations. As has been noted, the epistles sometimes are so abstract that it takes more time to engage with or understand them. But that is exactly where catechesis and ongoing formation comes in. This isn’t actually “bible study” however, and I wish people would grasp the difference.

  16. As the old Peter Allen sung song goes “Everything old is new again”. I remember 30 plus years ago on my first visit to Europe that the second reading (at least in Germany and Italy) was routinely omitted. Wasn’t there an instruction from Rome in the not too distant past that insisted that the second lesson always be read on Sundays and solemnities? (Maybe I’m hallucinating; it’s happened before………). Fr Anthony’s urging of better preaching is, of course, correct. It is very difficult to compose a homily that is both faithful to the scriptures and will reach a wide audience. I don’t think mega-church style preaching is helpful. Number one, they go on for days………….number two, the use of scripture is kinda faulty, and finally, the congregations of those places tend to be homogeneous.
    My congregation, for example, is composed of middle class white folks, poor primarily Francophone Congolese, Samoans, Filipinos, English speaking Hispanics, Micronesians, Marianas Islanders etc…… And that’s just the 1030 Mass! It’s like threading a needle, and it takes light, (from above), and lots of preparation time. It’s worth it!

  17. Being one of the first female child lectors, commanded by Msgr. Winters in the STL Archdiocese (i lost the argument), to share the charism of my voice at grade school Masses the moment the VII document was promulgated; and as a Lay Dominican, formed and taught by them to teach, to preach, and to lead in my MDiv. Program, a few thoughts:

    1. Lectors do not read, they proclaim the Written Word, and words matter. If you cannot proclaim, reading does not suffice. Lectors need to be taught to proclaim, as do Deacons and priests. Many of them are inept.
    2. Well educated preachers do not always preach the Gospel; i rarely do, because the meaning of the daily readings is in the 2nd reading, which the 1st reading begins to unpack, and the Gospel finalizes.
    3. Teaching is not preaching. If you need to teach, do it away from the pulpit. If catechesis or exegesis (necessary for your preaching prep, NIB preferred, with 1 or 2 more commentaries…if you are a priest, keep the commentaries, you can reuse them in the next cycle, but NEVER retain your preaching) is needed in your preaching; you do not know how to preach, you are doing bible study.
    4. If you do not know how to do lectio divina, you should neither proclaim the Written Word or preach. The Word needs to penetrate you before you can address It.
    5. If your seminary education or diaconal teaching (they need to get graduate theology degrees as well, not teaching; my bias) did not form as well as teach, your preaching, get the only DMin. in Preaching in the USA at Aquinas Institute, where you will indeed learn volumes from your Protestant classmates (again, my bias, because i did learn much from my AME sister).

    Blessings to all!

  18. I have to say that one of the issues I have with the Reformed Lectionary in the Western Rite is the disconnect in Ordinary Time between the readings. On that front, about a decade ago, the WELS released a Supplemental Lectionary where (mostly) the second reading was transitioned to be thematically related to the OT/Psalm/Gospel selection for the Sunday.

    Not being a Roman Catholic, I have sought and received permission from my bishop to use these alternate second readings in my ministry situation.

    Under my preceding bishop, we experimented (with approval) with a hybrid 4/1 year lectionary. Ordinary Time covered the Gospels chronologically in 4 years (with OT/Psalm/NT in support of the Gospel thematically), but kept the Sundays of Advent/Christmas/Lent/Easter on a one year cycle so the core events of the faith were recounted annually. When multiple accounts of the same event were present, they were all given as alternates in the 1 year portion, meaning that, over four years, you heard all four evangelists accounts of the Passion on Good Friday.


  19. Some one touched briefly on it, but chant at least the Gospel lection. To the tradtional tone. You’d be amazed how much more the congregation is attentive. At our main Mass on Sundays the Gospel is always chanted from the midst of the nave, with lights and incense. And with some regularity the epistle is also chanted (from the entrance to the choir) if the lay subdeacon of the Mass feels that he or she is confident enough to do it. The Old Testament lesson is always read by a reader who comes up to the lectern out of the congregation.

    1. How do you start to introduce this? I think I’d be run out of town. I am now in an area where a Sunday Mass longer than FOURTY-FIVE MINUTES gets you snide comments afterwards…it’s really disheartening.
      I have started to occasionally chant the Preface, and even that seems to be polarizing. “We don’t need any of that fancy stuff here, Faddah.”

      1. I am sorry Father. There may not be a way to break that wall down without pain and anguish. I don’t know how to deal with that from a pastoral perspective, and to be honest, I could not make a community like that mine. I would say that Vatican II has not been implemented in that parish.
        Our high Mass is usually no less than 1 hour and fifteen minutes, usually longer depending on the music, readings, sermon, number of communicants, etc. It’s a very intentional celebration, not for everyone, but certainly for those who assist at it.

  20. @Fr Ruff: Do you think one could bend the rules and omit the second reading?

    No; see GIRM, no. 357:

    Sundays and Solemnities have assigned to them three readings, that is, from a Prophet, an Apostle, and a Gospel, by which the Christian people are instructed in the continuity of the work of salvation according to God’s wonderful design. These readings should be followed strictly.

    It is noteworthy that this paragraph has been considerably changed from the 1975 GIRM, no. 318, which previously said that “it is expected that there will be three readings, but for pastoral reasons and by decree of the conference of bishops the use of two readings is allowed in some places.” Permissions for bishops’ conferences to dispense with one of the readings would seem to have been abrogated by the 3rd edition of the GIRM.

    Having said that, the second reading, particularly in tempus per annum, is one of the numerous weak-points of the post-conciliar lectionary. FWIW, in a future 3rd edition of the OLM, I think it would be better to preserve the three readings system in proper seasons (on a one-year cycle, to aid familiarity), and have only two readings (perhaps on some sort of multi-year cycle) for the per annum Sundays.

    Finally (as a piece of shameless self-promotion!), if anyone is interested in being able to compare the contents of the 1962 and 1969/81 lectionaries in detail, my book Index Lectionum, a comparative side-by-side table of both, is designed to facilitate this.

  21. Thank you, Father Anthony, for this lovely post and many excellent comments. I’ll have a lot to think about over the next few days. I think I hear a variation of this blog post each time I hear a conversation about the number of readings is the “right” number of readings at the Easter Vigil. 4 or 9 or any number in between!

    Regarding #6, it’s interesting to note that great portions of the world have already decided to do it without permission. The Benedictine(!) parish in Munich where I worshipped only had 2 readings, psalm and gospel at the Konventamt. The 4 parish Masses usually went from either the of the first readings to the gospel with a tiny music interlude in between. I think I’ve experience the same in Ireland, France, Mexico, Argentina, etc. I’d almost venture to say I’ve seen it more often than not outside of English-speaking countries.

    I think a #7 option would be a significantly improved editing of the short- and long- version of readings. It’s top of mind for my because Holy Family in Cycle B in the United States offers either a way-too-long version of the Presentation or a way-too-short version. Yet the Canadian and other lectionaries have provided a much more user-friendly medium-length version. Surely a whole lot of the second readings could have a powerful short version–although usually that seems reserved for the Gospel readings.

    1. 1. Acts 16: 28, in their letter to the Christians at Antioch on the question of the need to observe the Mosaic law, the participants in the Council of Jerusalem said: “The Holy Spirit and we have decided” as the introduction to their decision. When we read the decrees of Vatican II, we should read them with that introduction in mind. The question is not whether there was a need for reform, the question is whether the commissions set up to implement it did a good enough job. Is going back to 1962 a denial of the presence of the Holy Spirit?

      2. Problems with performance will exist until Jesus returns, which means that we must be like the good stewards and not the ones who gave up–or else?

      3. Most of the data about the early Roman liturgy that we have seems to be about papal Masses where the readings were proclaimed in both Latin and Greek because of the polyglot character of the City; how did that effect the decision to have only two readings at most celebrations? The lectionary from Milan which was monolingual always had the pattern of three readings with psalm after the first as we know it. And they are usually longer.

      4. From Bugnini’s work we know that the persons who worked on the actual reform were afraid that going from maybe hearing two readings in the vernacular done by the pastor before the sermon to hearing three plus a psalm would be overwhelming, and so they kept things short. Perhaps too short??? The Revised Common Lectionary often adds only two or three verses, but the result is a great increase in comprehension. And readers do a better job if they understand more what they are reading??

      5. For years a previous pastor did the exegetical part of his homily before the readings and the commentary and application afterwards. Rather than little snippets before each reading, this practice put the whole set of readings in context both of the scriptures and our lives–and treated us like mature, thinking adults who were eager to hear and understand again together God’s living Word.

  22. Whether there are two or three readings makes no difference. As long as the readings are treated as something assigned and required by our missals, and spoken as such in a given celebration of liturgy, we will make no headway in realizing their formative power. I respect Père Gélineau’s reflections on liturgical performance, but the boredom he decries can be characteristic of the entire liturgy rather than only of the Liturgy of the Word. For that reason the remedy is not to reduce the laity’s ministerial role but to enhance it. Over many years as lector I have benefited from combining the first three steps in a reverse order of priority: prayer, study and proclamation. Lectors once constituted a minor order, or a nod toward quality of ministry over quantity. I think we could recover the insight of the early church, without restoring the clerical rank as it were.

  23. Matthew Hazell:

    Alongside GIRM 357 you need to place paras 42-44 of the Directory on Masses with Children which makes it clear that, on occasion, it is certainly permitted to omit one or even two readings, or even change them completely if necessary. The comment in the Directory about quality rather than quantity is pertinent for adult celebrations, too (and cf. also GIRM 361).

  24. @ Paul Inwood: Adults are not children, though!

    DMC 42-44 (in fact 38-54) apply only to Masses celebrated with children at which only a few adults participate (cf. DMC 20), not a general Sunday Mass. DMC 17 assumes that the children will sometimes celebrate the Liturgy of the Word separate from the rest of the congregation, and here the biblical readings could be accommodated to the children, though IMO this is a really terrible idea.

    And you are misapplying GIRM 361 (my emphasis):

    When a possibility is given of choosing between one or other text laid down, or suggested as optional, attention shall be paid to the good of participants, whether, that is to say, it is a matter of using an easier text or one more appropriate for a given gathering, or of repeating or setting aside a text that is assigned as proper to some particular celebration while being optional for another, just as pastoral advantage may suggest.

    No possibility of choosing between the first and second reading is given by GIRM 357 (Hae lectiones stricte adhibeantur). The only options now permitted on Sundays and Solemnities are the forty or so long/short forms of readings, the ad lib readings for Holy Family, Ascension, etc., and the very few occasions where the OLM indicates a choice (i.e. Christmas, Sundays 3-5 of Lent, etc.).

    1. It seems to me Paul was citing a principle in the documents, a preference for quality over quantity. Even when we opt for a full set of readings (and I tend to do so at Masses with children) the point is that the good of the assembly should be number one in our preparation, above a slavish adherence to principle.

      As for the choice of readings, a deeper look into the Roman Missal might find a thoughtful parish with some relevant choices on ordinary Sundays, especially when a community’s attention is drawn to matters such as anointing of the sick, Christian unity, patronal feasts, dedication anniversaries, or the mission of the Gospel.

    2. Matthew, re-read para 19 in the section “Masses with Adults in which Children also Participate”:

      If the number of children is large, it may at times be suitable to plan this
      kind of Mass so that it corresponds more closely to the needs of the children.
      this case the homily should be directed to them but in such a way that adults may
      also benefit from it. Wherever the bishop permits, in addition to the adaptations
      already provided in the Order of Mass, one or other of the particular adaptations
      described later in the Directory may be employed in a Mass celebrated with adults
      in which children also participate.

      [My emphases]

      In other words, these adaptations can apply to all celebrations at which children are present, whether or not they are in a majority.

      1. @ Paul Inwood: No, DMC 19 doesn’t say that its adaptations can be used at all celebrations where children are present. It clearly says a “large” number of children are to be present; moreover, in these cases where children are not the majority of the congregation, the Bishop’s permission is necessary. Finally, the phrase “at times” would indicate that the adaptations contained in the DMC are to be used only occasionally in these circumstances (if at all).

        @ Todd Flowerday: Mr Inwood is attempting to take a principle from one document and transplant it into another context where it does not apply. The GIRM clearly states that the readings on Sundays and Solemnities should be followed strictly. This is a change from the previous editions, a change which has been made for a reason.

      2. Matthew, not quite. My point was the citation of a principle. DMC opens the possibility on occasion, but the Roman Missal still permits certain substitutions on ordinary Sundays. In some of these, a bishop need not be consulted.

        I think the bottom line is to facilitate a deeper understanding of liturgical proclamation of Scripture. I can appreciate the intent behind making adjustments in the lections, even if I would usually disagree with it. There are better reasons for keeping to the three-year Lectionary cycle than “The Church says so.”

      3. Todd: Don’t take any notice of him.

        Matthew: you are speaking with your Scrupulous Hat on. The paragraphs in DMC that we have been talking about in this thread come from the sections MASSES WITH ADULTS IN WHICH CHILDREN ALSO PARTICIPATE and MASSES WITH CHILDREN IN WHICH ONLY A FEW ADULTS PARTICIPATE [capitals cut and paste from the typography of the document], i.e. covering both those celebrations where adults are in a majority and those where they are not. It is quite clear that the thrust of the document, taken as a whole, is that adaptations (including the ones we have been discussing) are necessary in many if not all celebrations. Thus paras 17, 19 and 42-44, taken together, give the desired pastoral flexibility which GIRM, thinking only of adults, may not explicitly supply but certainly encourages (cf. for example GIRM 20).

      4. @Todd Flowerday: the Roman Missal still permits certain substitutions on ordinary Sundays

        As I’m not sure what you have in mind here, I’d be interested in some examples.

        @Paul Inwood: How is it “scrupulous” to make the common sense observation that the phrase “may at times” in DMC 19 cannot possibly mean “many if not all celebrations”? I also note that you have skipped over DMC 21 –

        It is always necessary to keep in mind that these Eucharistic Celebrations [i.e. Masses with children in which only a few adults participate] must lead children toward the celebration of Mass with adults, especially in the Masses at which the Christian community must come together on Sundays.

        – which again implies that the general Sunday Mass will not usually (if ever) be subject to the sorts of adaptations laid out in DMC 38-54.

      5. Hello all.

        “The Church says so” isn’t bad, but in the minds of modern folk isn’t always sufficient. I find that dialogue is often helpful, and can activate the religious imagination when conducted on the parish level. Prelates have something to learn from this.

        Matthew, there are several. Some have a significant liturgical level, like a parish’s dedication anniversary that really mandates replacing an ordinary Sunday. Other possible substitutions include the patronal feast of the parish, for the cause of evangelization or Christian unity, or under some conditions, the anniversaries of a pope or bishop. It is important for a liturgy-aspiring Catholic to really know all the documents, inside and out. I wouldn’t suggest you don’t. But some of your blanket statements above aren’t really borne out by the regulations and rubrics of the Missal.

        I think if we lived in an age and situation in which the whole world was Catholic and believers were well-ensconced in the faith, we might have some justification for a steady-state application of liturgy. Indeed, it is a shared assessment of progressives and traditional-leaning Catholics alike that the Church is in some difficulty. And while we might disagree on the diagnosis or prescription, we agree something isn’t quite right.

      6. Todd

        “The Church says so” isn’t bad, but in the minds of modern folk isn’t always sufficient.

        Yes, I understand and agree, as you know from our decades of correspondence. But we often fail to realize how our own parish-level arguments can boil down, however earnestly, to a variation on “The Church says so” – a rather thinly veiled “I say the Church says so”, though we can be blind to how we allow that to happen. And it is something of a truism of social organization that people can often prefer a distant monarch to a local one.

  25. Reading out loud is a skill that takes practice and a bit of coaching. I think if lectors were corralled for an hour or two once or twice a year, it would go a long way to improving the experience. People more or less have trouble with the following:

    1) Pacing. For the same reason that Fr Smith in days of yore sped through the Mass (and may still do), many people read too blasted fast. Slow down. “Slow down until it almost seems ridiculous,” my voice coach would tell me.

    2) Volume. Granted, this matters less in an age of microphones, but even there, people don’t always know how close to the microphone to get. Without a microphone, it depends on the space, but in any large room, one should project to the back wall. It’s not shouting, though, and so it takes practice.

    3) Inflection. This is really the hardest part to master, and it requires preparation until one is very fluent with the rhythms of the text. I was raised on a one year lectionary, and I know the phrase “a superfluity of naughtiness” is coming once a year. Best get ready for it! It’s especially true in the Epistle lessons, where we often lose sight of the fact that Paul is making an argument, and therefore we should read his text aloud as if it is an argument, with inflection.

    As an aside, of course the Gospel readings go over the best. The person with the most training and practice in reading out loud is the one doing it, usually. 😉

    1. It helps to require readers to practice in the space without amplification. That naturally invites a more proclamatory rather than conversational tone and pace. It should not sound like reading aloud a text message to someone at your lunch table.

  26. At a couple of parishes I’ve worked at, we utilized the “introductions to the Sunday readings” that were written by Bishop Ken Untener. They were no more than 3 sentences long and provided ‘context’ to the reading. “In today’s reading–Paul is writing from prison and…”. They weren’t preachy…just quick ways to ‘set the scene’. I think they’re still available.

    1. If the intros are merely short factual statements to provide the Scriptural context for the lections, that’s less objectionable than the more common pre-homily that provides commentary on and about them.

      1. There is no need to interpolate any more “introductions,” “instructions,” or other running commentaries and notices that break flow of the Mass (or other liturgies), as there are already enough in the Missal itself. Save that cr*p for the bulletin so that people can ignore it. Excuse the French.

      2. John

        I am not a fan of them, as I initially indicated. I was, however, admitting of degrees of objection….

      3. Why not just preach on them? The main point of proclaiming Scripture at Mass is not to present a moldy idea from two or three millennia ago. The purpose is to connect the experience of God then to what a faith community experiences today. As long as we entertain the notion that the Bible must be (primarily) explained in its own context, we seduce people away from looking for the encounter with their own lives today. More didacticism, even from the honored Bishop Untener, is not what we need.

      4. I’m not sure its an either/or—there seemed to be this idea that the readings were hard to comprehend “in the moment”. Yes–you can preach and explain what we just heard ten minutes ago.

        I would just wonder if adult learning styles and attention spans being what they are—is that too late?

  27. What an interesting topic!

    I am with those who have laid their finger on the 2nd reading as the difficult item in the assigned readings for any given Sunday, at least during Ordinary Time. In my view, there are at least three issues with it:

    1. Its literary form, a letter, is one that seemingly does not lend itself to good proclamation. Perhaps that is not a problem so much with the form per se – weren’t Paul’s letters read aloud in the communities to which they were sent? – but rather with our contemporary culture’s amnesia regarding this form of communication. We don’t send letters to one another anymore, and on the rare occasions that we do (as with the typed-up and laser-printed Christmas letters that we fold into fours and stick inside our Christmas cards), they are rarely read aloud anymore. Whatever the root causes, my experience with lectors is that they struggle to proclaim the epistle texts intelligibly, and in fact often struggle to understand just what it is they’re proclaiming.

    2. That last point about intelligibility points to the second issue: during Ordinary Time, the 2nd reading follows its own course through the various letters. I am sorry to say that I believe we need to judge this scheme to be a pastoral failure. People don’t follow the “plot” from one week to the next – the week-to-week continuity is not apparent to us. The other major elements of the liturgy of the Word (including, almost always, the homily) all are related to the Gospel passage of the week, but the 2nd reading follows its own independent sequence. To be sure, this interweaving of a couple of different courses of readings – the complex of Gospel-based readings, side by side with the 2nd readings – can lead to some happy intersections. But those enrichments are rarely remarked upon by homilists (at least in my experience). To be continued …

    1. 3. The sequence of readings during a weekend Liturgy of the World makes it even more difficult for the listener to find any “hooks” between the 2nd reading and the other units. The Liturgy of the Word begins with an Old Testament reading, and then is followed by a psalm passage that reflects on that reading. So far so good. But then, during Ordinary Time, comes a Pauline passage about something completely different; and inasmuch as the Gospel hasn’t been proclaimed yet, the assembly, unless it has read ahead, doesn’t yet know what Gospel teachings or themes will enlighten the 2nd reading (or vice-versa). Then come an Alleluia verse and a Gospel passage that center us again on the themes introduced by the Old Testament passage. The second reading, off on its own independent course, disrupts the thematic unity. I believe it’s a complicated experience for someone in the pews, and they deal with it cognitively by simply disregarding the outlier, the second reading.

      I understand that the tradition of having Epistle passages proclaimed prior to the Gospel is much older than the proclamation of the Old Testament passages in the reformed liturgy. But the Old Testament passages are such a brilliant enrichment – perhaps the single most successful reform of the whole reformed mass. If we want to keep the 2nd readings in place, I think the thing to do is to jettison the sequential progression through the letters from week to week, and rearrange (and probably reselect) the 2nd reading passages to better correspond with the meaning of the Gospel passage for a given week. What would be lost would be the sense of making one’s way systematically through the letters; but as I say, I don’t think the people actually experience that in any interiorized way today.

      1. Jim
        I don’t disagree with what you’ve set forth here, though I would note that I’ve seen gifted homilist make the effort to put the second reading in the context of the communities challenges St Paul was engaging in a given letter and connect that to other proper readings/antiphons* of the day.

        Which is more than most homilists I’ve encountered seem willing to take on in their preparation.

        * While I was once a strong proponent of the linear/melodic theme-of-the-day approach, as years pass I’ve come to appreciate the wider and deeper array of perspectives possible in what might be called a contrapuntal arrangement of proper readings and antiphons.

      2. Karl – yes, good point, and it’s a strong response to my proposal. It’s not really a liturgical value to have a sort of single-focus, monochromatic ‘theme’ for the day.

      3. Maybe I’m forcing things, but at least half the time I bring the second reading into the homily, either as the primary focus or as a grace note or courter-point to the OT/Gospel readings. In fact, I like the fact that the second reading is not chosen with the Gospel in mind, because it allows for surprising juxtapositions that can inspire me to say something other than the obvious.

        I do think that it is true that the in-course character of the second reading is almost entirely lost on the congregation. One aspect of the epistles is that they tend to contain fairly long arguments, sometimes extending over the course of several chapters. The Gospels, as well as the narrative potions of the OT and the prophets, break down more easily into individual pericopes/oracles, probably because they originated in oral proclamation, whereas the epistles were from the outset written documents (albeit written documents intended for reading aloud).

  28. It seems to me that there are two issues with the 3-text lectionary (4-text if you include the psalm). First: the OT and NT texts are often truncated, either by leaving out sections within the text, or by leaving out the earlier and later verses which provide either a context or summation of the text in question. In 2018 all the Sundays except 5 have had filleted OT readings. Granted the Leviticus 13 reading would be very long, but it does provide a precise context for the Gospel healing of the leper.
    Second: the NT reading has very little clear relevance to the OT and Gospel.

    As for introducing the readings: this was suggested by John Wijngaards in his excellent booklet “Reading God’s Word to Others” (Mayhew-McCrimmon, 1974) recommends this, as well as repeating the reading (!) for greater impact. See for some extracts on reading the scriptures.

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