Working as a Spiritual Director is one of the greatest joys of my life. Mainly because I learn and gain so much from it. If I am ever tempted to worry about the future of the church a session with one of the ordinands or newer clergy (some young and some not so young) I see is the antidote. I am constantly challenged, impressed and humbled by the seriousness of faith and commitment my sisters and brothers show.
I am particularly challenged by the lives of evangelical friends inside and beyond the Church of England. Their commitment to mission. The ability to see what is essential – and what is not. The commitment to the poorest. The sacrificial living. The commitment of couples and families. The openness to me with my very different background and tradition. The yearning for contemplative stillness.
I could go on.
One area that I have written about before is the desire to read the bible carefully and frequently. Particularly to read the whole bible each year. there are many such schemes for doing this, some available as apps or in other electronic/virtual ways.
This interests me because it matches my changing thinking on education. Like many teachers educated in the 1980s and earlier and later. Progressive methods, discovery learning, novelty and grabbing the interest of pupils were at the forefront of our methods. Like many others I have more recently come to the view that memory is the basic building block of learning, and indeed of human culture and existence. Therefore repetition, memorisation, learning things by heart, is essential to the educational process and to mission and evangelism.
I am now firmly of the view that the post-Vatican 2 lectionaries for daily prayer and Sunday services adopted both by the Church of England and other churches are part of the problem not the solution.
The lectionaries we are now using demand a three year cycle for Sundays and a two year cycle for weekdays. This is too long period to enable them to become familiar. With many people attending church fortnightly or less on Sundays this is even more a problem now than it was in the rather recent past.
The new lectionaries also cut us off from our spiritual ancestors, from the commentaries and preaching of the centuries and from a sense of belonging.
It is not a surprise to me that among the young committed to liturgical worship there is a ‘return to tradition’ in the use of the Prayer Book lectionary for readings at the Eucharist, and in the one year 1922 lectionary for the daily Office. This matches exactly the desire of non-liturgical younger clergy and others for simplicity in patterns of reading Scripture and frequent use of well know readings for congregational preaching and teaching.
Last year I used the 1662 one year lectionary for the daily Office. I had a couple of periods when I fell back on other patterns while I was travelling, and when praying with others didn’t impose this on anyone, but for most of the year I managed this. Using Common Worship Daily Prayer as the form of the Office and various modern versions of Scripture for the readings.
It was a fascinating experience. Some days it did seem that there was a lot of Scripture and if I missed sections because I was praying with others it was impossible to catch up by adding readings on at the Office – but I could easily read them to myself. When people were staying with me they occasionally commented on the length of readings. Sometime where passages were omitted there seemed to be big gaps. Not having a word-processor Cranmer and his editors generally went for whole chapters.
I liked having much more lectio continua, less interruption from saints’ days. Using the secular calendar rather than the church’s year at times felt odd and this is the main reason I am now recommending the 1922 lectionary.
To use officially approved lectionaries members of the Church of England have three choices at the Office. The CW provision and the 1922, and 1871 provisions.(thank you to Fr Liam Beadle for reminding me that 1871 is still authorised). The CW lectionary is actually a four year cycle. It is relatively complicated, involves many omissions and shortenings and a lot of jumping around Scripture. Where there is lectio continua it is over a 24 hour period, so at Matins, but not across Matins to Evensong.
The 1922 lectionary was adapted slightly to form a 1961 version but this is no longer authorised for use, although it does still appear as an alternative in the ‘Church Union’ Ordo produced by Fr Hunwicke. It re-arranges what had been an attempt at harmonisation of the gospel accounts for parts of the year in 1922 and opts for lectio continua at those times. It is probably an improvement but the harmonisation is interesting.
The original 1922 lectionary is available on the Church of England website here.
For ease of use I have also produced a PDF booklet here:
A big advantage for me is that the first readings from the Old Testament flow from Morning to Evening. This means that for any day commentaries and study is only needed of one OT book, the gospel and the non-gospel reading from the New Testament. I think that is a much more approachable task.
For those who wish there are often copies of lectionaries with the readings in full available second hand. They are sometimes called “Daily Service Book” or “Services of the Church” or simply BCP and lectionary. The Canterbury Press produced a re-print relatively recently.
The 1922 lectionary also preserves many traditional elements of the Christian reading of Scripture. Fr Hunwicke on his blog observes of the 1922 lectionary:
Its ‘Common Worship’ replacement is unbelievably complex and convoluted and, following the Bugnini abandonment of the ‘gesimas’, can make no attempt to start Genesis with Septuagesima. But the 1922/1928/1961 Lectionary … bases itself patristically on what Pope Gregory the Great devised and explained about the meaning of his ‘Gesima’ season. It then uses the ‘lectio continua’ instinct and provides a systematic reading-through of most of the Bible each year (the New Testament, twice a year). This embodies, of course, an aim which the Anglican Patrimony owes to the Reformation period (together with the entire structure of the Anglican Divine Office): the principle that clergy and laity together should “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the Scriptures.
Alongside the use of this lectionary I would firmly recommend the use of the Prayer Book distribution of the psalms over one month (given in very slightly adapted form as an option in Common Worship. Any longer than a month makes it much harder if not impossible to learn the psalms. Reading the psalms in the order in which the final biblical author placed them takes that canonical structure seriously, just as scholarship has moved on from genre criticism to canonical criticism of the Psalter. A longer provision of psalmody also creates a more contemplative approach to the Office, giving time to sink into the psalms and let go of our own thoughts and obsessions. Psalmody needs to be long enough to get us through our own ‘squirming point’. Incidentally using the biblical order on a practical level it makes it far easier to work through commentaries on the book of psalms at the prayer desk where the Office is prayed. I particularly recommend the Reflections on the Psalms produced by Church House Publishing and as an app by Aimer. They are sufficiently short that they can be used for meditation in silences between the psalms at the Office. John Eaton’s commentary on the Psalms is also essential reading.
For Sundays I have written before (in the Church Times in August 2019) on the younger clergy re-introducing the Prayer Book one-year series of readings at the Sunday Eucharist. The Church of England website provide an important document suggesting Old Testament lessons and psalms to accompany the traditional lectionary. I am very concerned about the lack of use of psalmody in most parishes, if it is felt that three readings and a psalm is too much then I would recommend the psalm over the OT reading.
There are many wonderful commentaries and sermons from across the Christian centuries to help the preacher prepare and the pastor to pray. I particularly value Bishop Wand’s three-volumes on the Prayer Book Epistles and Gospels (and indeed Collects), Austin Farrer’s sermons and most beautiful of all the four volume “The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers – Patristic Homilies on the Gospels” which take me at least a week to read on each gospel and provide a lifetime’s meditation.
Finally, for many Catholic Anglicans there is a really important (and I would say essential to the health of the catholic stream) desire to celebrate the Eucharist daily. I would recommend returning to the pattern prior to the late 1960s of repeating the Sunday readings on ordinary days but using the readings for the Propers and Common of Saints whenever a saint’s day occurs. This gives ample opportunity for repeating the readings and getting to know both the Sunday and common and proper provision well. Far from finding this boring (I have been doing this for a year now) it is much more deeply enriching than constant variety. To be faithful to the Anglican tradition of four Office readings a day to have two novel readings at Mass in addition, six readings a day is just too much I believe, for anyone to take in. I use a variety of translations over a week, BCP, RSV, NEB and Phillips, all of which are available second hand.
This post really re-hashes material that I have been saying, perhaps somewhat more tentatively, for a while now. I would be interested in hearing from parishes where the one-year cycle is used, either as a recent change or for many years. I would be particularly interested in places where modern language and children’s resources are used to accompany the cycle of readings. I would be very happy to publish here resources for use of these lectionaries. Using these cycles need not be a wholesale archaeological approach to tradition and liturgy but part of a simple, straightforward approach to the reading of Scripture accessible to anyone without a degree in liturgy and based on the best current understanding of how we learn, and how the human brain works.
Writing and talking about liturgy can sometimes seem like re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Irrelevant to the missional crisis the church faces in the the UK and elsewhere. On the contrary, I have been brought to change my mind about these issues because of my own fundamental drive to mission and evangelism, my lifetime’s work with children and young people and my conversations with those in and beyond Anglicanism who are totally committed to mission in our time and for whom many of the approaches of my own younger days seem rightly obsolete.
One thought on “Scripture for Mission: The Bible in A Year – recommendations for Office and Eucharistic lectionaries”
On the authorization status of the 1961 lectionary, see my note at bottom of https://inthefourthnocturn.de/resources/.
The 1961 does appear to have lost direct authorization at some point, but it’s very probable that its use is still allowed, covered under the canon allowing ‘variations which are not of substantial importance’ to authorized forms of service (in this case, the 1961 would count as a non-substantial variation on the 1922 lectionary). The House of Bishops may have confirmed this in 1988.
I do wish, however, that Synod would simply replace the 1922 lectionary with the 1961 and clear this up once and for all. The 1922’s gospel harmony in the season after Trinity seems fairly universally disliked, and replacing it with lectio continua of the synoptics is the main change made by the 1961. It also replaced the optional lessons on Sundays with a two-year cycle, which is certainly superior for private devotion. When I used 1922, I disliked having to make decisions about which reading to choose based purely on the scripture reference. (When planning public worship, a parson can of course read all of the options to make a more informed decision about which lesson will work best with his sermon, or similar. But in private use, this is not possible or useful.)