Editing the Lectionary

Lectionaries are good things. In general they ensure that the worshipping congregation gets a good exposure to a broad range of scripture.

But (leaving aside the ancient lectionaries – which have their own peculiar histories of development) modern lectionaries are all products of editorial committees. These committees take liberties which publishers of the bible are not able to take: they produce lectionaries that are in fact “expurgated versions” – defined as much by what they leave out as what they include.

There is a clear example of this last Sunday (Catholic 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time / Lutheran 4th Sunday after Epiphany).

I went to mass in my local parish (as is my want) and heard 1 Cor 7:32-35, in which St Paul points out the fitting nature of celibacy for those who devote themselves to “the Lord’s affairs”.

Straight after this I went with my family to the Lutheran service, where they use the Revised Common Lectionary. The second reading set down in that reading is 1 Cor 8:1-13, about eating food offered to idols.

Neither text appears in the other lectionary.

The Revised Common Lectionary is, as its name suggest, a revision of the Catholic three-year lectionary. This would suggest that the Protestant editorial committee balked at having a reading which would suggest scriptural support for anything as “Catholic” as celibacy, and so opted for another text which (I would guess) the Catholic editorial committee decided was too complicated for ordinary Catholics to understand.

Neither lectionary is without its faults. Each one has the fingerprints of the ideology of their editorial committee all over them.

The traditional western lectionary isn’t perfect either, although at least it wasn’t put together by a committee!



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14 responses to “Editing the Lectionary

  1. Vicci

    This would suggest that the Protestant editorial committee balked at having a reading which would suggest scriptural support for anything as “Catholic” as celibacy..

    Of course it would, David!
    Seeing that celibacy is such
    a uniquely Catholic concept, and Lutherans per se would be so threatened by exposure to it.
    < It might also suggest something about the thought processes of the poster.>

    With a beautiful irony, one of the readings from today's RCL was Mark 1:29 ff, where Jesus heals Pope Peter's mother-in-law. No hint of celibacy here! (but a nice touch, seeing Peter had his M in L living at home. Good family man!) One might assume that this passage doesn't list in the Catholic lectionary -using David's line of argument above?
    Gosh! Peter has a wife and family. The 'one whom Jesus loved' did too. His home was chosen as appropriate for Mary to live out her days. I suggest that it was a particularly warm and loving home, too, worthy of Mary, and Jesus' love and care for her.

    It's surprising the Protestant Editorial Committee inc. Lutheran theologans agreed to this Markian text’s inclusion in the RCL, either.
    It mentions ‘healing’..and ‘demon-posession’. The democratic populist Lutherans would have surely removed such subject references by now…they simply aren’t that popular!

    But enough of this.

    Let’s all pray for victims of the fires, for protection for those facing them, and for the openness of heart and spirit to give deeply to the Relief Funds.

  2. Kevin P. Edgecomb

    Interesting. According to my (perhaps outdated) lists (which compare the Anglican, Catholic and Revised Common Lectionary readings), the second readings for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany should have been 1Cor 1.26-31 (Catholic) and 1Cor 1.18-31 (Rev. Common Lectionary). The RC/RCL second readings are usually identical, but track pretty closely when they do differ. Your experience is perhaps related to clergy playing with the lists of readings (which isn’t uncommon).

    Your observation is very interesting. It could very well be the case that the RCL was at times motivated in this way. More attention has been paid to the shortening of readings (a more than millennial process), and the editing involved to maintain the meat of a reading, while keeping it as short as possible. It’d be a worthwhile study to undertake an exhaustive comparison with doctrinal issues in mind.

  3. Joshua

    Today at Mass in the Novus Ordo, the 5th Sunday of Year B, the readings and intervenient chants were as follows:

    Job 7:1-4,6-7
    Ps 146(147):1-6 R/. v.3
    I Cor 9:16-19,22-23
    Alleluia verse – Mt 8:17
    Mk 1:29-39

    It’s interesting that both the first two readings have had more difficult verses dropped!

    Apparently Paul VI gave special instructions to omit any verses that might be troubling – great…

  4. Past Elder

    “Neither lectionary is without its faults.”

    Bloody right. Vatican II, and Vatican II For Protestants. Tweedledum and tweedledee.

    Neither of them the tradtional Western lectionary, both of them based on not being the traditional Western lectionary. Which was the whole point of it.

  5. Joshua

    I must say that, having had the chance to worship in the Traditional Latin Mass for the two years I was in Perth, Western Australia, I FAR prefer the traditional lectionary: no crap about Year A, B, or C, no – living the Church’s Year of Salvation instead.

    PE, Didn’t Luther say that the Epistles in the traditional western lectionary were apparently chosen by “a friend of works” and that it would be for the best to change them in due course? 😉

  6. Joshua

    Funny, isn’t it, how all Protestants follow Rome – all the mainstream groups having a lectionary at all either follow(ed) the traditional one-year lectionary, or took up the three-year post-Vatican II lectionary (which was reedited to become the RCL).

  7. Schütz

    Kevin, you made a very simple error – you were reading the list for Year A. I am talking about 4th Sunday after Epiphany Year B.

    There really are two types of editing that have gone on with the NT selections in both the 3YrL and the RCL.

    1) Sections of the NT are deliberately left out.

    2) “Difficult verses” of particular lections are actually omitted (as both Keith and Josh point out).

    Vicci, I must say that you have certainly entered this blog with all guns blazing. We generally try to keep a modicum of gentility in our discussions without playing the man too harshly.

    I was simply wondering why the RCL would entirely omit a passage that was in the 3YrL, and replace it with another. I was made extra suspicious by the fact that it was a passage about celibacy. I don’t think my conclusion was too wide of the mark. Afterall, in the 3YrL the 2nd reading for the 4th Sunday in Yr B follows on directly from the 2nd reading for the 2rd Sunday. Both readings are rather short. If the Protestants had simply wanted to include the 1 Cor 8 reading about meat offered to idols (it is, afterall, a significant lection and is omitted from the Catholic 3YrL) without omitting the second 1 Cor 7 reading, they could simply have combined both 1 Cor 7 passages as the 2nd Reading for the 3rd Sunday.

    As regards St Peter and his mother-in-law, there is no doubt that Peter was married, and not only him, but the other apostles, and the brothers of our Lord (ie. in particular James and Jude who were leaders in the early Christian community). We know this, because St Paul tells us in a rather snide remark about the fact in 1 Cor 9:5. It isn’t so clear what Paul’s point is in making this remark, however. He seems to be indicating that he (and perhaps Barnabas) have done exactly what he speaks about in 1 Cor 7 – remained celibate for the sake of the kingdom. He has done this out of “freedom”, but the kind of freedom which has made him a “slave” for Christ. This all fits with 1 Cor 7:20,22, etc.

    Thus no one disputes that Peter and most of the other apostles were married. They were obviously married when Jesus called them (the story about Peter’s mother in law happens soon after his calling). Jesus did not expect them to divorce their wives when he called them.

    And certainly in the apostolic Church, men were chosen to succeed the apostles in their ministry who were also married at the time of their calling (cf. 1 Tim 3:2). Yet even this passage has generally been interpreted by the Church as to say: If you are married when you are ordained, then, if your wife dies, you do not take a second wife.

    Yet very soon in the early Church, the sense of what Paul says in 1 Cor 7 started to come home – that the care of the Church was not compatible with the care of a wife and family – and the tradition of celibate bishops began. In fact, as far as I know, we do not have any indication that any of the Fathers of the Church (Ante- or Post-Nicene) were married.

    So, Vicci, I am not ignorant of either history or the scriptures. I do not appreciate your implication that I am. It was a little rude of you, if I may say so. Remember who is host on this blog, and who is the guest, eh?

  8. Joshua

    What is also forgotten (I’m backing up David) is that the tradition – even an apostolic one – was that “let those who have wives be as those who have none”: that is, to live in perfect continence (“as brother and sister”) and to abstain from marital relations.

    Not, of course, out of any hatred of bodily relations or hatred of the flesh (that is Manichæan, not Christian), but as a freely willed sacrifice of what is good for the sake of total focus on what is greater. Our sex-mad age thinks this rank madness – the Church, which has the mind of Christ, thinks otherwise – consult 1 Cor. vii.

    Bishops, priests and deacons were expected to live continence, and in due course this meant that the clergy became a celibate one. It must be remembered that most men were long married when they converted to the Faith, or by the time they took Holy Orders – that’s why down to mediæval times it was common to be the son of a priest or bishop: because one had been entirely legitimately fathered by one’s dad before he gave up the use of marriage and became a priest.

    The antiquity and catholicity of this tradition is proved by the fact that, when the Byzantines (later to become known as the Eastern Orthodox after their sad split from Rome) began to permit clergy to be married AND from time to time exercise their marital rights, they had to make new canons (ecclesiastical laws) to permit this (at the Quinisext Council, or was it the Council in Trullo?); from this developed their married clergy, and from this stems the fact that these only celebrate the liturgy a few days a week at most (on Sundays and feasts) since they must abstain from intercourse the night before they offer the Divine Liturgy.

  9. matthias

    St Paul wrote that for one to fulfill the office of deacon,they had to be the husband of one wife and to have well disciplined children. Interesting that there must have been members of the Early Church who were in polygamous marriages.

  10. Peregrinus

    So far as I know, neither the Romans nor the (non-royal) Greeks nor (in the time of Christ) the Palestinian Jews practiced polygamy. I think St Paul is more likely to have had divorced-and-remarried people in mind, rather than polygamists.

  11. matthias

    You never know in some of the gentile converts eg Pontus,Bithynia and cappadocia. Anyway will not carry this stream on as I am too upset re 128 dead in bushfires here in Victoria

  12. Schütz

    The better translation of the passage about “having one wife” is “married only once” for the very reasons you point out, Perry. That has then been also taken in the Tradition of the Church (by both Greeks and Romans) to mean “even if wife number one has died”. So not only “divorced and remarried” but also “widowed and remarried”. That fits with Paul’s exhortation to remain “in the state in which you were called”.

    And Josh, the passage you allude to about “let those who have wives be as those who have none” is in fact the passage immediately before the lection concerning celibacy, and is both the 3YrL and RCL, which is why I suggested that if the protestants had wanted simply to fit 1 Cor 8 into the lectionary, they could have done so by combining the 2nd readings for the 3rd and 4th Sundays into one reading for the 3rd Sunday.

  13. Kevin P. Edgecomb

    Right, David, how inattentive of me! That whole three-year thing really is bothersome. Especially for the inattentive among us!

    It does look like at that point, it could be charitably interpreted as “splitting the difference.” Both lectionaries are identical for Third Sunday after Epiphany and nearly so for the Fifth Sunday. But there’s all the space of 1Cor 7.32-9.15 to choose from on the Fourth Sunday. That’s quite a lot of good stuff to pick through. No doubt the options were guided by doctrinal considerations for interest’s sake for the congregations, if nothing else. It could be the case that something more polemical is going on, but it doesn’t look that red-handed.

  14. Schütz

    No, I’m not suggesting heavy handedness. Just the personal preference of the editorial committee…