The last post in this series described how the readings for Sundays are chosen and how they relate one to another.
This post will do the same for Seasons and weekdays.
For Sundays of Ordinary Time we have a 3 year cycle based in turn on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Lunk, with 3 readings for each Sunday – one from the Old Testament – followed by a psalm; one from the Letters of the New Testament ;and the principal reading, the Gospel reading.
There are 3 readings also for the Sundays of the Liturgical seasons of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter. However these are selected to suit the spirit of the Season rather than on the same basis as the readings for Ordinary Time.
For weekdays in Ordinary Time the Church has provided a 2 year cycle of readings. In each cycle the Gospel readings are the same, but the first readings in each cycle are different, and take the form of a semi-continuous reading of various books and Letters of the Old and New Testaments.
It is generally recognised that one of the weaknesses of the Sunday Lectionary is the way it restricts our hearing of the Old Testament to isolated passages chosen to harmonise with the Gospel reading of the Sunday. It especially fails to do justice to the great narratives of Genesis, and I and II Kings, for example.
The way in which the readings for ferial weekdays are selected helps correct this lack. Unfortunately of course far fewer people attend weekday Mass than attend Sunday Mass, and fewer still attend weekday Mass every day and so even these miss out hearing these narratives.
Care has been taken to ensure the readings for consecutive days pretty much make sense one day to another, but miss the previous day’s reading you may find the reading a challenge!
For this reason, if a community does not have daily Mass but Mass maybe two or three times during the week it is permitted to extend the readings so that omitted readings may be added to the reading of the day. This helps if the congregation has ‘missed’ the masses, but not much help to the individual member of the congregation who maybe comes to weekday Mass only on Tuesdays.
Of course one might encourage them to read the readings daily at home, if not able to come to Mass, but this is maybe a counsel of perfection!
That said, quite often there is no difficulty in hearing a reading out of its fuller context, especially if the reading is well proclaimed; if there is an opportunity for good listening; and if the homily of the day bears in mind the need to help contextualise the reading.
Readings for Saints Days
One of the things that can seriously hobble the logic of the weekday Lectionary is when the ferial Lectionary is too regularly interrupted by readings from the Commons for the memorials of the Sanctoral calendar.
There are exceptions when proper readings are set for Masses commemorating the saints – mostly saints of the New Testament mentioned by name in a reading, or when the celebration has the dignity of a feast or Solemnity in the Universal or local Calendar. But in other cases the celebration of the saint ought not to be allowed to disrupt the sequence of ferial readings and only in the rarest of occasions might there be reason for selecting readings from the Common.
Somewhat confusingly the current Weekday Lectionary published for England and Wales has made selections of readings from the Commons for memorials, and printed them in place. So people can be excused from thinking those readings should be used. But this is not the case, and if you look carefully, where there are proper readings for a saint – which should be used – this will be noted in very small print!
Take a look for example at the page for 29 August, the memorial of the Beheading of John the Baptist. The Gospel is proper to the feast but the publishers of the Lectionary have made their own suggestion for a first reading, taken from the Common of Martyrs. It would be better to use the first reading and psalm provided for the ferial day and the Gospel acclamation and the Gospel of the memorial. It is expected that this misleading presentation will be corrected in the new edition and translation of the Lectionary for England and Wales presently in preparation.
Other weekday celebrations
There are many occasions when people will gather for a celebration of Mass on weekdays to mark a special celebration. On most occasions there is freedom to choose other readings from the Lectionary than those given for the day. (Guidance on the freedom available is given here)
However very often the readings of the day will have something to bring to the reason for the celebration. It is good counsel to start the preparation for the liturgy by giving careful consideration to these and only looking elsewhere if they are truly not appropriate. There is much to be said for liturgy which draws us from the over-familiar and expected into a deeper appreciation of the riches of scripture.
A log with links to previous postings in this series is kept here.
~ Commentary: (c) 2021, Allen Morris
~ Photograph: (c) 2019, Allen Morris. Detail from Pulpit, Wells Cathedral.