Biennial Lectionary for the Office of Readings 2

In an earlier post I introduced the Biennial Lectionary of the Office of Readings. In this post I want to continue with some details of resources for those who wish to start using it in the coming liturgical year.

First of all it must be noted that the official Latin editio typica of this has not yet been promulgated. However the references for the references for the Biblical readings have been published in Notitiae12 (1976): 238-248, 324-333, 378-388. This has been reproduced in many subsequent sources, such as an appendix in the one-volume Christian Prayer: Liturgy of the Hours published by the Daughters of St. Paul, which seems to have gone out of print recently, but many copies of it are in circulation. The Catholic Truth Society’s edition of the Jerusalem Bible also contains the biblical references in an appendix (pp.2243-2248). The CTS has granted permission to post the relevant pages of their Jerusalem Bible edition in this post, these are a helpful summary of the biblical portion of the Biennial Lectionary.

The Customary of our Lady of Walsingham, the semi-official edition of the Liturgy of the Hours for the Ordinariates also contains the references to the Biblical readings of the Biennial Lectionary, although it is a little difficult to make out the readings as they are incorporated into a rather complicated Lectionary Table (pp. 840-919). The Customarycontains a selection of second readings from the Anglo-Catholic tradition, these are not assigned to any particular day and there are not enough readings for every day of an annual or two year cycle, but it is a good source for anyone in the future that would like to compile a new edition of the Biennial Lectionary, in particular for any English-speaking bishops’ conference that would (finally) accept the 1971 invitation of the CDW that “conferences of bishops may prepare additional texts adapted to the traditions and culture of their own region, for inclusion in the optional lectionary as a supplement” (GILH 162).

In general, it must be remembered that until the Congregation for Divine Worship (or a particular bishops’ conference) sees fit to release an editio typica of the Biennial Lectionary for the Liturgy of the Hours, be that in Volume V of the Liturgy of the Hours or in another format, all versions of the biennial Lectionary are neither fully official nor fully unofficial incarnations of the Biennial Lectionary. Some selections have a particular permission from the CDW (such as the 1995 edition of A Word in Season in English-speaking Benedictine communities or L’ora dell’ascolto for Italian-speaking Benedictine communities), but none of them can claim to be THE Biennial Lectionary.

In praying the Liturgy of the Hours, the Biblical Readings are more important than the second readings. So the simplest way to start this practice is simply to find a copy of the Christian Prayer  and photocopy the pages of the book (1563-1570 in my edition) and to put it into your Bible (or buy the CTS version of the Bible if you like the Jerusalem Bible translation) and read the reading in conjunction with the second reading in the regular four volume Liturgy of the Hours. This works most of the time as the Second Reading doesn’t have to be a commentary on the First, but occasionally when it is you can find yourself reading 1 Corinthians followed by a section from a Commentary of St. Jerome in Habakkuk. Certain editions of the breviary, in other languages, use a biennial Lectionary for the Biblical reading followed by a single year Lectionary for the Second Reading, so that there is never a direct connection between the two readings. This is the case in a number of Latin American editions of the Liturgy of the Hours (prepared under the influence of my friend Fr. Farnés). The German standard edition of the Liturgy of the Hours incorporated a biennial Lectionary from the first editions published after the Council, although they modified the lectionary to include many second readings from German authors.

In Italian L’ora dell’ascolto, an edition of the Biennial Office for use in the monasteries forming the Italian Monastic Union, has become very popular well beyond the confines of the monasteries it was approved for. It takes the Biblical readings from the Notitiaeschema and incorporates all the second readings in the single year cycle of the Breviary (sprinkling them over both years) adding as many second readings again to complete a two year cycle. The fact that it was adopted by many members of the Neocatechumenal Way might account for its popularity. The original edition was a one volume brick, but now it is published in a multi-volume format by a number of different Italian publishers. Incidentally, it should be noted that when thousands of lay people who are members of the Neocatechumenal Way pray the full Liturgy of the Hours, this provides an incentive for publishers in those countries where this charism is strong to publish editions that meet their needs. An edition of this Italian monastic adaptation of the biennial Lectionary has also been published in Spanish by an Italian publishing house on behalf of the Paraguayan episcopal conference. A four-volume English translation of the Italian monastic version, simply entitled The Office ofReadings, has even been published pro manuscriptoin the Philippines, bearing a 2005 imprimatur of Cardinal Ricardo Vidal.

In English, Catholic Book Publishing of Totowa, NJ published a multi-volume edition of a Biennial Lectionary. Most of the volumes are out of print, but some are still available. This was based on a French edition (which was in turn based on the unpublished Latin Volume V of the Liturgy of the Hours). It was prepared by Fr. John Rotelle, who had formed part of one of the working groups that prepared the Second Readings for the editio typica.

Another early version in English was entitled A Word in Season: An Anthology of Readings from the Fathers for General Usea nd was edited by Henry Ashworth was published in 1973 by the Talbot Press in Dublin. Both Ashworth and Rotelle worked in on the selection of Patristic Readings in the editio typica of the Liturgy of the Hours (see Bunigni, The Reform of the Liturgy, 538). The series was published with the encouragement of Rembert Weakland as Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Order who authored the preface. It gives a single year selection of second readings and references for the biennial cycle of scriptural readings. It also contains a second patristic reading for Sundays that follows the Gospel of the three year Lectionary. I’m not sure if selections for Ordinary Time were ever published. It seems that the collection was revised by the Friends of Henry Ashworth, after his death and published in 1995 over eight paperback volumes by Augustinian Press in Villanova. This collection called A Word in SeasonReadings for the Liturgy of the Hours. The edition has a 1993 approval from the CDW as an official English Biennial Lectionary approved for use in Benedictine monasteries (Prot. N. 1791/92). Later on, Fr. Rotelle was to prepare a further edition of the series in 2001. My own copy of the 8 volume set is a combination of both the 1995 and 2001 editions (purchased direct from the publisher as a set in the mid-2000’s). I’m not sure if Augustinian Press published 2 editions of each of the eight volumes, or how different the different editions are, however the volumes printed in 2001 don’t have the approval from the CDW printed on the first page. As with the Talbot Press, Augustinian Press seems to have ceased operations and its remaining titles are being distributed by Diane Publishing Company. This series gave the reference for the Biblical Reading (always from the original Notitiae schema) and a responsorary for the reading, followed by a second reading. The second reading was not taken from the single year Lectionary that appears in the published Liturgy of the Hours. Generally, these readings were of a similar selection as those that appear in the official version.  However, some readings by certain contemporary authors who are on the “liberal” end of the theological spectrum led some to have hesitations about the collection. In any case the series as a whole is no longer in print.

I realize that this complicated “source criticism” is enough to turn most people off the idea of adopting the practice of using a Biennial Office in their Office of Readings. However, today it is remarkably simple to adopt a version of a Biennial Lectionary in English. The Scottish Pluscarden Benedictine Abbey, produced a revised edition of AWord in Season. Here they removed all the non-patristic readings, replacing them with readings from the one year cycle in the Liturgy of the Hours or with readings from the general monastic tradition. They then allowed this collection to be published on-line. The biblical readings are from the Revised Standard Version and they have removed the responsories from both readings. The Lectionary is available for free download as a series of pdfs from Durham University’s Centre for Catholic Studies.

Jonathan Britt mentioned in the comments of my last post that he has published the Pluscarden series in print format on LuLu, in four volumes although I can only see one in their store at the moment. Again he has removed the responsories from both readings and he follows the hodgepodge of multiple Scriptural translations, following the translation selected by the editors of the Irish edition of the Liturgy of the Hours, which uses different Bible translations for different Biblical books.

Universalis, the popular electronic version of the Liturgy of the Hours, contains the two-year cycle for the First Readings in the Office of Readings (although this is not available for copyright reasons for US users). It can be turned on by looking at the Office of Readings on any day on which the one-year and two-year cycles differ. Under the First Reading heading there will be a message to say that the readings differ, and to the right of the heading there will be a menu button which you can press to choose the cycle you want. The Universalis has the responsories for the Biblical Readings (provided by yours truly and translated following the Latin American version using the RSV for the English version).

In this post, I hope I have not overly muddied the waters. The selection of readings in the Office of Readings as found in the three existing English translations of the four volume Divine Office are obviously very good.  However there is much to be discovered in broadening our reading of Scripture and the various patristic authors. The Office of Readings is a particularly good place to become more used to Scripture and have a broader selection using readings that are slightly longer and more challenging than those contained in the Lectionary for Mass. Regarding the Patristic readings, after a number of years of praying the single year cycle of readings, one can get overly familiar with some of the readings (in particular I find the annual reading of Augustin’s homily on Shepherds in the 24thand 25thweeks of Ordinary Time to become a little tedious for annual repetition). It is true that the patristic readings selected for the single year cycle in the Liturgy of the Hours have received a certain canonical status (as that given, for example, in Milton Walsh’s 2012 work on the Witness of the Saints: Patristic Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours). But this exclusivity was not the intention of those who revised the Liturgy of the Hours following the Council (see particularly GILH 161 and 162). I believe that many people can spiritually benefit from adopting some form of the Biennial Office and that this is an instance where the CDW or the various bishops’ conferences will hopefully catch up to the spiritual practices of the people they serve. Here I think it is good to note that, as my mentor Fr. Farnés always stressed, the second reading is not necessarily a patristic commentary on the biblical first reading, but that it bears witness to the same faith. As GILH reminds us, “the purpose of the second reading is principally to provide for meditation on the word of God as received by the Church in its tradition” (163).



  1. The post references a four-volume English translation of the Italian monastic “L’ora dell’ascolto” called “The Office of Readings” apparently published around 2005. Any idea on how to find and purchase this collection? I tried an internet search but found nothing as The Office of Readings is a relatively ubiquitous search term.

    1. Devin
      I’m afraid it’s in a self published format. It’s printed as 4 fairly large green imitation leather volumes, with poor paper done with gold leaf. It doesn’t have the name of any publishing house. Someone who went to the Philippines brought me my copy. I think the only way to get it would be through someone living there or traveling there. They could contact a parish with the Neocatechumenal Way or the Archdiocese of Cebu that gave the imprimatur. These might be able to track down some copies.

      1. I own both versions . . . A WORD IN SEASON and the earlier paperback Christian Readings . . .that ANYONE may have if they wish . . . . for the asking. . . Ms Emelia Junk, Ludington Michigan

      2. I wonder if the ubiquity of Digital editions is the answer. The Universalis App has the option of the One Year or Two Year Cycle.

  2. I have been encouraging the Two-Year cycle for almost two years on my FB Group, “Liturgy of the Hours Discussion and Support Group (Catholic and Anglican)”. I have linked parts I & II of Fr. Donoghue’s posts.

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