Calling the modern lectionary into question

05- Evangeliarium Dominicanum1400


The other day, Rorate Caeli published a lecture given by Dr Kwasniewski at the Sacra Liturgia conference in 2015 in New York, on the reform of the lectionary. See: 50 Years of a Religious and Cultural Catastrophe: When the Yearly Biblical Readings of Immemorial Tradition Were Cast Away

At the heart of the discussion over the modern rite lectionary is the question of the purpose of the scripture texts at Mass. Until recently, it was unheard of to suggest that there was any other purpose than the instruction of the faithful. Kwasnieski argues that the lessons have first and foremost "an ecclesial identity, a sacerdotal orientation, and a eucharistic finality." This question is crucial in the discussion of such matters as the length of texts or the manner in which the scripture is presented at Mass: who reads it, which direction they face, what they wear, whether they speak or chant...

The purpose of the lessons also nags away in the background when we come to decide whether to have the semi-continuous readings of the day on a Saint's Day. The modern lectionary preference is to keep going with the Book of the Apocalypse or whichever, but Kwasniewski calls this into question on the grounds that "the goal of Christian faith is not a material knowledge of Scripture but personal sanctification and conversion, which is the formal content and aim of Scripture itself" and therefore the use of particular readings for the different types of saints puts scripture at the service of the life of grace.

The most obvious difference between the traditional and modern lectionaries of the Roman Rite is that the modern lectionary has a two year cycle for weekdays and a three year cycle for Sundays. This undermines a fundamental characteristic of the structure of the Liturgy "Sacrosanctum Concilium itself furnishes a convincing account of why the liturgical year is just that—a year" - as Kwasniewski puts it, citing SC 102-104

I encourage you to read the whole of Dr Kwasniewski's important article which covers much more ground and marks the beginning of a serious critical discussion of the modern lectionary. It is a good thing that such discussion can nowadays be better informed and move away from the unexamined assumption that the lectionary of the modern rite is its greatest unassailable advantage, or that it is simply better that we now have a larger number of verses of scripture to read out.

You may also be interested in my piece Cardinal Sarah, reconciliation and the lectionary which looks at some related questions as well as the article "Why are the readings not chanted?"

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