Irish Lectionary Issues

Recently on the feast of the Holy Family, I noticed that the Lectionary for Mass had been defaced with the end of the reading crossed out. In practical terms, this was of very little consequence, as in many (if not most) parishes in Ireland, the lectors do not actually read from the Lectionary.  The Lectionary often seems to be a decorative book that is placed on the lectern for no particular reason and has no function, and everyone uses the disposable mass leaflet to read from. Unlike the US where the missalette is itself a book, in Ireland this is a single sheet of paper that contains the texts for the Mass of the day.

But in any case, I did not like it (particularly as I was going to use a verse that had been edited out in my homily).  Even when a reading offends modern sensibilities it is still part of the Bible. St. Paul tells us that “all scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness” (2 Tm 3:16, RNJB). We ought to remember that passages that we do not like or that challenge or annoy us are still in the Bible.

This is in no way to imply that every reading must be read in the Sunday assembly. Not every Biblical passage is proclaimed at Sunday Mass. Indeed some passages of the Bible aren’t found in the Lectionary at all. Additionally, in the current Lectionary for Mass occasionally a shorter version of a reading is provided that can be used for pastoral reasons. However, the choice of using a longer or shorter version is a choice of all those who are involved in the preparation of the liturgy and it should not be that we simply go with whatever the editor of the mass leaflet has decided.

This is what the General Introduction to the Lectionary says on the subject:

75. A middle way is followed in regard to the length of texts. A distinction has been made between narratives, which require reading a fairly long passage but which usually hold the attention of the faithful, and texts that should not be lengthy because of the profundity of their doctrine.

In the case of certain rather lengthy texts, longer and shorter versions are provided to suit different situations. The editing of the shorter version has been carried out with great caution.

3) Difficult Texts 

76. In readings for Sundays and solemnities, texts that present real difficulties are avoided for pastoral reasons. The difficulties may be objective, in that the texts themselves raise profound literary, critical, or exegetical problems; or the difficulties may lie, at least to a certain extent, in the ability of the faithful to understand the texts. But there could be no justification for concealing from the faithful the spiritual riches of certain texts on the grounds of difficulty if the problem arises from the inadequacy either of the religious education that every Christian should have or of the biblical formation that every pastor of souls should have. Often a difficult reading is clarified by its correlation with another in the same Mass.

However, this experience is another example of why the current Lectionary in use in Ireland (and Australia, England & Wales, New Zealand and Scotland), is no longer fit for purpose and needs to be revised in one way or another.  While it is true that on March 23, 1994, the Irish Episcopal Conference received permission from the Congregation for Divine Worship to include a shorter version of this reading in their Lectionary (Prot. N.2410/93/L).  But no new edition of the Lectionary has been published since then. And instead of affixing a page with the new shorter version of this reading to the Lectionary, someone simply crossed out the longer version.

21 comments

  1. The Canadian Lectionary has a longer and a shorter version of this reading. The shorter version omits the contentious verses (vv. 18-21). I was assigned to proclaim this reading on Sunday, Dec. 29. Before Mass, I asked the priest which version he wanted. He chose the shorter version. I agreed with his choice.

    I am shocked to learn that in Ireland most lectors read from a disposable Mass leaflet, not from the Lectionary. How many Irish priests use a disposable Mass leaflet at the altar instead of a proper altar Missal?

  2. The of modifying Scripture, and eliding “difficult texts” as another approach, reminds me of this insightful essay from a few years ago about Holy Week texts:

    https://www.abc.net.au/religion/holy-week-and-the-hatred-of-the-jews/11029900

    If anyone assumes that there’s a uniform “progressive” liturgical Catholic approach to this – a team view, as it were – they’d be mistaken. A generation ago, I can definitely remember very progressive folks who wanted “difficult texts” proclaimed, not avoided, and engaged in homilies and responses thereto, and who believed that elision and avoidance did a disservice to historical realities, among other things.

    (It is, however, certainly easier for preachers to elide and avoid.)

    1. Point taken.

      Generally, I prefer the longer version. Sometimes, though, it contains a contentious text that requires more explanation than is usually possible in a Sunday homily. Good pastoral judgement is needed in such cases.

      The shorter version should never be used simply because it’s shorter!

  3. Are misalettes sustainable? Are they green?
    I would have thought they were a waste of diminishing resources.
    Should the church be setting a better example?

    1. It’s as well to be aware that the term “missalette” means different things on either side of The Pond.

      In the British Isles, it means a weekly Mass leaflet containing the prayers and readings, plus a pre-selected Eucharistic Prayer. In North America, missalettes are disposable, date-stamped, paperback booklets, printed on newsprint, containing the prayers and readings for an entire season, or even an entire year, with a selection of Eucharistic Prayers, often found together with music for the Ordinary, psalm responses, and selections of hymns and songs. The closest equivalent in the British Isles would be the McCrimmon Parish Mass Books, but with the addition of quantities of music, though the six-monthly PMBs are not disposable but can be reused every three years.

      In England and Wales, the use of weekly missalettes has largely died out, though they can still be found in some places. In other places they have been replaced by parish bulletins containing some of the same material, or by the Parish Mass Books already mentioned. In North America, the use of missalette booklets is widespread, and has contributed to a culture of a read-along liturgy, thereby diminishing the quality of participation. Where they are not used, projection screens are frequently found instead.

      1. Thanks Paul for that clarification. I had imagined the weekly throwaways.
        But screens? Just “no.”

      2. Yes, here in Canada the popular missalette ‘Living with Christ’ is published monthly (in both English and French) by Novalis in Ottawa. Novalis also publishes an annual Sunday Missal.

  4. [T]he choice of using a longer or shorter version is a choice of all those who are involved in the preparation of the liturgy.

    It’s a choice that shouldn’t be there in the first place. Aside from the huge problem of theological censorship, the short forms are a very late addition to the reformed lectionary, and not very well thought through. The claim in the introduction to OLM 1969/81 that the short forms have been edited “with great caution” is frankly laughable.

    Abolish all short forms!

  5. I don’t like the idea of defacing lectionaries either, but I notice that not one of those commenting here is actually a wife, so thought I’d weigh in. This passage sounds very different if you are the one being told it is not simply the imperative of love but instead your “duty in the Lord” to give way to your husband. I “give way” out of love and freedom, not out of duty. It’s a very different proposition.

    “Slaves be obedient to your masters” is another Pauline passage that has caused and still causes offense. African Americans cannot impersonalize or forget the horrors of the slavery to which their ancestors were subjected. It was not, I am sure, St. Paul’s intention to pour salt into wounds or to encourage victims of domestic violence to cease their self defense. But, guess what? These are the real life experiences of the sheep in our flocks. These passages are NOT helpful to victims. And we are duty-bound to consider them. That’s our duty in the Lord.

    I do not know who crossed out that passage so angrily. But I would understand if it turned out that that person was an abused wife or motivated by concern for such women. Of which there are many. Women are particularly vulnerable to violence by intimate partners. Among the statistics reported at the National Domestic Violence Hotline is this one: “Nearly 3 in 10 women (29%) … in the US have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by a partner and report a related impact on their functioning.” Look out at the congregation and do the math. They are out there. Give way to your husband? How about “Call the police”? Say no to violence.

  6. P.S.
    These aren’t literary or exegetical problems. They are existential problems.

    A homilist can help in such a situation, by clarifying that the goal of family harmony that is, I believe, Paul’s intention is never served by accepting violence within the family. Too many women are targets of aggression; the global statistics are frightening.

      1. I think Paul quite likely WAS acknowledging that, in the broader cultural context, a husband had the right to treat his wife as he pleases – like slaves and children, in the surrounding culture they were viewed as the male’s property. What makes the Pauline passage remarkable is his elaboration on that point for husbands to love their wives, and even to surrender to death for the sake of their wives. Sort of Paul’s way to avoid disrupting the accepted social praxis while still making it more Christ-like.

    1. Thanks Rita

      I readily acknowledge that there is a lot of hurt out there. However my main point is that this is another reason for printing a new edition of the Lectionary. I am a bibliophile and I hate to see any book defaced. I think most people would agree that this solves nothing, however I think that it should also be noted that God isn’t hurt or personally offended by whoever crossed out the words. Although, especially given that only priests actually use the Lectionary, there is a fair chance that it was done by a careless priest.

      1. Alan H, that is exactly my wife’s understanding of that passage – husbands are enjoined to love their wives. And to treat their children in such a way that they don’t build up resentment. Given what we know about the position of woman and children in ancient societies that was pretty revolutionary.
        We did hear the whole passage, but the preacher ducked the chance to teach about it. Pity. But he did talk about worshipping a Son of God who had been a refugee.

    2. And homilists can confront how these texts have been used to harm. It’s a little too convenient to say misused or abused for harm – many (but not all) can see that as misuse and harm now – but the intentional use is not conveniently distant to ignore. Not just in the home or the workplace but confessional and church. Et cet.

      Btw, there are ways homilists “make nice” with too much of a “hard bite” that sometimes give me the cringe. When they vocally assume in directing their preaching, for example, that among a large group of children present that each child present experiences a wonderful and giving and sacrificing parent or pair of parents along the lines of “God is loving, just like your mother/father”. (There’s a fair chance, given a large enough group, that such a line of thinking may be spiritual torment for at least one child.) So too with Scripture taken at ahistorical face value.

  7. FYI – the Dallas bishop had asked his pastors to delete that passage and not use it. Our local pastor (a scripture scholar) repeated the bishop’s directive but then went on the use the passage and then explain it (given today’s culture, etc.)

  8. ” I think most people would agree that this solves nothing.”

    What would begin to solve the problem is intelligent and insightful preaching, and perhaps not from the clergy if they are unable or unwilling to engage what is clearly a stumbling block for many.

  9. The lenses in which this passage was written and then read through the ages have been readjusted constantly. I agree with Rita that the sentiment with with Paul’s directive has been carried out starts problematically in the way it gets carried out.

    If a celibate male preaches on this passage, please have a sit down with a few wives before trying to reason with human intelligence as to what is being said. The best way to deal with someone crossing out lines that cause a very real pastoral concern is to discuss the effectiveness of missalettes.

    Lord knows where this reading would have been used had Paul in his wisdom said “husbands, be subordinate to your wives.”

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