18 January 2010

Lectionary Reflections, Part III

In Part I of this series, I asked a series of three questions. I answered the first to in Part II. In today's article, I intend to reflect on the final question:

3. If the Lectionary is a tool to serve the needs of the People of God, what form should the Lectionary take to ensure that said needs are met?

Part III
Ancient Faith on a Contemporary Mission
When we look back to the writings of the ancient Church, we see -both in Scripture and patristic sources - the idea of the main worship of the local Christian community being focused around the poles of Word and Table. Often, God's Word would be read late into the night on Saturday, with the visiting apostle or the pastor of the local church preaching for a lengthy period of time before the worship moved on to the Table where the Holy Supper was celebrated. As the Liturgy developed more fully, the first portion of the service became known as The Mass of the Catechumens in the Western Church. It was a time of instruction in the Word of God through Scriptural proclamation and preaching. Those preparing for baptism were then dismissed (as were other classes of believers who were not communing) and the Liturgy of the Faithful began.
The term 'catechumens' refers to learners. In the ancient Church it was typically used to refer to the unbaptized... the core word 'catechize' refers to instruction. The 'Mass of the Catechumens' is, thus, the time of instruction that the entire Church should share (yes, Children included! but that's a different topic). We all need ongoing catechesis in the essentials of the faith, and the best way - particularlly in our post-modern era - to provide that ongoing catechesis is to read Scripture in digestible sections, and to discuss thuroughly (at least as thuroughly as our congregation's understanding and tolerance of our preaching will take us) the implications of the Word for both our core doctrines and our modern life.
Neither the traditional one-year or contemporary three-year lectionary offer much in the way to support this ongoing mission, so what, pray tell, is to be done. Well, I wish I had a perfect answer, but instead, the remainder of this article will be dedicated to outlining a vision for what a lectionary could and should be.
The first statement I will make is that there will need to be two separate lectionaries. In reality, there already are in a sense - the readings surrounding the major feasts tend to be rather fixed, and with good reason. So, let's start there.
Use a 1 Year Lectionary Cycle Major Holy Days
At the very minimum, this would encompass 14 separate days:
  • Christmas Day
  • Epiphany
  • Baptism of our Lord
  • Ash Wednesday
  • Palm Sunday
  • Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week
  • Maundy Thursday
  • Good Friday
  • Holy Saturday
  • Easter Sunday
  • Ascension Day
  • Pentecost Day
  • Trinity Sunday
  • All Saints Day
On these days, the readings are fixed from year to year, or provide minimal variation, generally related to providing parallel accounts of the same event (i.e., the Passion Narratives from the Four Gospels). This makes sense because we are reinforcing a theological principle when we celebrate these festal days.
Make Use of a 3 Year Ordinary Time Lectionary
"But wait!" I hear you saying... "Didn't you just say you don't like that?"  Well, you are right; sorta - I don't like the existant 3 Year Lectionary, but... what if you were driving a convertable? Have I lost you? That's OK. My 3 Year proposal goes like this:
Year A:  Chronological Overview of the Old Testament 
Year B:  Chronological Reading of the Complete Gospels
Year C:  Chronological Reading of the Complete New Testament
In this vision, small, digestible sections of Scripture would be be appointed to be read, allowing the true flavor and content of the Word to be savored. Further, they would be provided chronologically and, in many instances, in parallel. By following the unfolding of the narrative of Scripture in chronological order, we develop a contextualization behind what we are reading, and - I believe - come to a deeper appreciation of the Word and its power throughout the ages.
"Oh, but wait," you say. "Those would be awfully long readings if you were going to try to split them up over 40 or so Sundays..." Who said anything about Sundays? 
Make it a Daily Lectionary
Here is where, honestly, the suggestion may fall apart for many. So be it. During Ordinary Time, the reading assigned for the day is assigned to a specific calendar date. I don't mean "Sunday between January 2 and 8", I mean "January 2". That's right, one reading a day. This has the added benefit of providing the overachiever with three pericopes a day (OT, Gospel, NT) to use at Morning, Midday, and Evening Prayer. It leaves the average family with a single reading of manageable size which they may use at family devotions in the home each day. Families would be advised of what year of the cycle one was in, and then they could read the readings at home (together with all the other families of the congregation), readings which will flow into and out of the Sunday readings at Church (and in a far better way than the RCL Daily Lectionary does).
Now, admittedly, this has one flaw - it only provides one reading for a given day. Well, Calvin preferred the idea of a single reading per day, but the liturgical among us would definately want at least one other reading... such a lectionary proposal fits better with our liturgical needs that way. Oh, but how to manage it.
Provide Suggested Add-On's
One way to handle it would be to add at least a second reading (from the Gospels in years A and C, and from wherever else in year B) that thematically relates to the central (i.e., controlling) reading of the day. To this could be added a Psalm and a Collect, as well as other necessary liturgical add-ons.
Allow for Local Variations
Perhaps, however, it would be best to allow pastors to choose a second reading, a psalm, and a collect to match the reading. Sure, sounds horribly Protestant, but it also sounds like a good idea. Providing the controlling reading mandates a thematic base for the service, and the pastor selects a text that reinforces the theme. Perhaps a text will apply or be recieved better in one congregation than another. Sure, this runs the risk of turning the pastor into a typological theologian, but any thematic lectionary is going to do that anyway, and in our era it is my conviction that people need themes to wrap their minds around, comprehend, and make their own.
Skip Nothing (Well, Almost Nothing)
So, it's the middle of November and the Passion narrative is starting to come around in your daily lectionary. So what? Sure it isn't the right liturgical season for it, but preaching 'out of season' may provide opprutunities to preach that preaching 'in season' does not afford. Yes, I'd find it odd to be preaching about the nativity of Jesus a week after we put away the nativity scenes... but so what.  Alternatively, omit only those items covered in the fixed liturgical seasons (thus the Nativity through Baptism of Christ and the Passion, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost).
This falls apart a bit for the Old Testament. I don't think most folks want to read three years of the Old Testament - those who do will do it for themselves. Provide a survey of the great stories and important concepts of the Old Testament, and make it a good one.
If Observing Liturgical Seasons, Provide Them as Thematic Times
Lent should be penetential. Easter a time of joyful exultation. The daily readings in these seasons, as well as at other times, can take on a different tone and method of selection.
Give Careful Consideration to Saint's Days
While commemorating non-biblical worthies is as simple as a collect in their honor and a biography, the question of how to handle Biblical saints with proper readings is sticky.
My initial thought would be to commemorate them as the reading traditionally assigned to their feast occurs in the Lectionary. (This is my solution for Transfiguration.) The problem is that many of the most significant Christian saints would only get mention in years B and C of the cycle. 
The other option is to simply mark those days out as festal days, give three proper readings and a psalm that unites them, and pick up the Ordinary Time cycle the following day. Thus, if I am commemorating Saint Thomas on July 3rd, I read the Ordinary readings on the 2nd and 4th, with the festal readings on the 3rd.  By my accounting, there would be around 30 festal days to work around. Not perfect, but doable.
Here is a proposal for a serious Lectionary revision:
15 Days, Beginning December 18 and Running Through January 1
These days would be strictly thematic.
Full Propers (Collect and Psalm) Provided
(*One will note that there is no provision for Advent. This would be simple to solve, by simply beginning on December 1st and expaning the thematic readings. I'd argue against it, keeping the week leading up to Christmas as more of an Advent-like time.)
103 Days, Beginning Ash Wednedsay and Running Through Trinity Sunday
(39 Days of Lent, 7 Days of Holy Week, 39 Days of Eastertide, 1 Day of Ascension, 9 Days after Ascension, 1 Day of Pentecost, 6 Days after Pentecost, 1 Day of Trinity Sunday)
These days would be strictly thematic.
Full Propers (Collect and Psalm) Provided
Would suggest reading Job in Lent, as its chronolgical place is sketchy
Would suggest reading Revelation in Paschaltide, as it points towards the ultimate goal
247 Days, Not Counting Any Feasts
(If Keeping Feasts, Approximatley 217 Days, Depending on What Feasts are Selected)
Readings assigned to Calendar Dates
Pastor/Preacher free to choose complimentary readings, psalms, and collects
Pastors could compose their own collects

17 January 2010

Lectionary Disgruntlement

I am, apparently, not the only one who has recently been having some rather disgruntled thoughts about the Lectionary of late.

Jeffrey Tucker over at The New Liturgical Movement writes in opposition to the three-year lectionary system of the Novus Ordo Missae, suggesting a return to the previous annual cycle. The comments on the thread alone are worth reading.

Lauren Porter at Porter's Progress writes about the rise of lectionary preaching in the United Methodist Church and his concerns with the Revised Common Lectionary.

William Weston at Disgruntled Center writes, simply, Ditch the Lectionary.

Very intersting...

I just love this Altar!

What an interesting and inspiring Sanctuary and Altar arrangement, from Jesuskirken in Copenhagen, Denmark. Notice the various saints surrounding the central figure of Christ (above the Cross).

For a full resolution version of this photo, click here.

15 January 2010

Lectionary Reflections, Part II

In Part I of this series, I asked a series of three questions. In today’s article, I intend to reflect on the first two:

1) What is the value of reading four passages of Scripture, two or three of which are ignored, marginalized, or even misappropriated to a specific theme?

2) What good is including such a significant amount of Scripture in the Liturgy of the Church when/if people largely tune it out?

The First Two Questions

Shortly after the interim edition of the Book of Common Prayer of my Synod was released, I got an e-mail from my bishop asking about the connections I saw in the readings for a particular day. To be fair, on that particular day I found the connections to be readily apparent. Yet a few months later, as I sat down to prepare for the coming Sunday’s homily, I read, re-read, and re-re-read the four passages appointed in the proper, to find that I couldn’t put together a cohesive homily on the readings.

Going back to my days as a server, I remember having the idea drilled into me that the homily pertained to the readings. A cardinal sin in homiletics is to start introducing tons of additional readings into the mix. It’s one thing to cite and share portions of other texts, but the pericopes of the Lectionary are present for a purpose – to be preached upon! I always found it odd when I would visit a congregation where the Lectionary was used for the readings, and then the preacher mounted the pulpit and read yet another reading, which had nothing to do with the preceding three or four, and which was to form the basis of his sermon (the only thing more pointless was re-reading the Gospel of the Day a second time before commencing the sermon, but I digress!). I wanted to scream from my pew “Preach what you’ve already read!” but I dutifully held my tongue.

Looking back, I can’t begin to count the number of times I have tried weaving tenuous threads together to form a cohesive homily on the texts, and I have to admit that it is very possible that, in doing so, I have fallen into the trap of crafting God’s Word to suit my thinking. This is an alarming prospect, for if I have misled the flock, I am a thief and a robber… which leads to the dilemma of how to handle lectionary preaching.

The problem is largely non-existent in thematically united times of the Liturgical Year. Certainly it would be difficult to argue that there was a discontinuity of message in the pericopes assigned, for example, to the Paschal Triddum or Ascension Day. But in the large ‘green’ swath of the year – and, to a lesser extent, on the Sundays within the preparatory/celebratory seasons of Advent, Lent, and Easter – the discordance between readings become more and more apparent.

The pericopes of the festal times, however, presents another problem – the regular association of specific texts with one another, which often results in the people being exposed to a single aspect of the text itself. Further, it does not allow for the introduction of other texts (perhaps lesser known ones) that serve to equally embrace and enhance the message found in the controlling text (usually the Gospel) for the day.

The result of using disconnected and discordant readings is less than appealing to me from a pastoral perspective. In a post-modern world, Christianity needs to fight the trend to multi-task in the midst of its own worship. Central core messages need to be exposed and explored for the benefit of the people. Many modern Church-goers cannot tell you what their pastor preached about, or what the readings were about, during their Sunday worship service. For some, it is because the pastor meanders between texts, displaying little or no unity, and confusing folks mightily. For others it is a result of a lack of attention. Admittedly, I have had such lack of attention when sitting in a pew. Heck, for that matter, I have had such a lack of attention from time to time when sitting in the pastor’s chair!

While I would strongly argue that abandoning the lectionary altogether is not a tenable solution (in spite of arguments to the contrary, I still believe that the lack of a lectionary allows pastors to cherry-pick favorite texts, much to the detriment of their parishioners), I cannot ignore the fact that neither the historic one-year or the contemporary three-year lectionary systems are optimal ways to present the Word of God in its fullness to God’s people.

14 January 2010

Article Link: Limitations of the Lectionary

In doing some research this evening for my Lectionary series, I came across an interesting article by Walter Sundberg of Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. The article, from a 1990 edition of Word and World, is titled "Limitations of the Lectionary", and reinforces some of the same concerns I have with the traditional and contempoary western lectionary. Please note, I don't have the great concern about the typification of the Old Testament that he does, and I think he is treading on thin ice when he says that that Lutherans should be willing to treat the lectionary with 'at least a modicum of suspicion', as the vast history of the Lutheran movement has maintained a lectionary system (except, perhaps, in Pietist circles) of some form, even if not the traditional one.

You can read the article at this link.

Lectionary Reflections, Part 1

Preface to the Series

2010 marks my thirteenth year as a Presbyter of the Church. Since 1997, I have used several different ‘Sunday and Holy Day’ Lectionaries in various congregations and ministries I have served. They include:
  • The Three Year Lectionary of the Novus Ordo Missae
  • The One Year Lectionary of the historic Book of Common Prayer
  • The Local Use Lectionary of the Syriac Rite Church of the Transfiguration
  • The Three Year Lectionary of the LCMS’s Lutheran Service Book
  • The Three Year Lectionary of the RESA’s Interim Book of Common Prayer
In all those years, I have never felt truly comfortable with any of these Lectionaries for a variety of reasons. My pastoral heart has lead me to ask myself why. This series is my attempt to answer some of those questions for myself, and to share those answers with the Christian community at-large. I hope that you, dear reader, will consider offering feedback to my posts and engaging in discussion concerning them.

Historical Overview and Questions to Consider

Since the late 1960’s, there has been a strong movement afoot in Lectionary development and refinement of providing more and more Scripture to the People of God in the context of the Sunday assembly. Not counting motets, hymns, and choral anthems based on Scriptural texts, most Western Christian congregations hear four portions (lections) from the Word of God when they gather – a Psalm, an Old Testament lesson, a reading from the Gospels, and a lesson from the New Testament. This practice is ancient, to be sure, going back to at least the time of Jerome in the West. Fragments of lectionaries used by many ancient Christian luminaries are known to historians and liturgists, and they tell an interesting tale.

Prior to the reforms instituted by the Second Vatican Council, only a few denominations included such copious amounts of Scripture on a given Sunday or Holy Day. Most Western Churches had snippets of the Psalms which served as introits, graduals, Alleluia verses, offertory verses, and post-communion chants. The Old Testament was rarely found in the Eucharistic lectionary (which was the default public lectionary, as it was the one most frequently used on Sundays) outside of the eves of Holy Days, and the idea of a multi-year lectionary was more a matter of alternate preaching texts (particularly in the Lutheran and, to a lesser extent, Reformed traditions) than regular liturgical texts.

As a result, most of the Christian west heard (as the Christian east still does) the same lessons on the same Sundays and Holy Days year after year. This certainly has a positive impact in terms of impressing the precious truths found in the lectionary upon the hearts and minds of the faithful, but it left the vast majority of the Biblical narrative on the cutting room floor, so to speak – leaving it for the monks, pastors, and industrious laypersons to peruse and apply the more intensive daily lectionaries to their daily life and personal worship.

The Second Vatican Council rightly acknowledged that this was a wholly unsatisfactory situation, and the framers of the Lectionary of the Novus Ordo rite must at least be given credit for attempting to expose more of the Scripture to the people. Sadly, however, what little cohesiveness existed in the preceding lectionary system seemed to disappear in many respects with the adoption of the new lectionary. While the major feasts retain much that is good and valuable (and thematic), many ordinary Sundays now have readings with no seeming interconnectivity, leading to them being frequently ignored by preachers, and disregarded by the faithful.

This leads to three very striking questions:

1. What is the value of reading four passages of Scripture, two or three of which are ignored, marginalized, or even misappropriated to a specific theme?

2. What good is including such a significant amount of Scripture in the Liturgy of the Church when/if people largely tune it out?

3. If the Lectionary is a tool to serve the needs of the People of God, what form should the Lectionary take to ensure that said needs are met?

In my next post on this topic,
I will explore where so many Lectionaries break down in practical use
for both the people and the preacher.

13 January 2010

Baptismal Portraits

Clare had her baptismal portraits this evening... she's utterly adorable!


07 January 2010

Enjoying the Journey

In the past, I have seen numerous one year Bibles, and have recommended them to those who were in need of a good springboard into the narrative of Scripture. Being a nut for contextualization, of course, I often recommended a Chronological Bible to folks. This year, I am taking my own advice. Separate from the Divine Office, I have decided to read the Scriptures using the One Year Chronological Bible in the NLT translation. While I am fairly certain that I have read the vast majority of the sixty-six books of the common Canon of Scripture, I have to admit that some of the finer details between Leviticus and 2 Kings tend to escape me without returning to the text itself and doing some hunting. Perhaps this won't change that... but it's the first time that I will have made a concerted effort to read Scripture in the order the events occured, which usually helps to jog my mind.

Now, let me be clear, the NLT has some issues when it comes to translating old terminology, but on the whole, it is the most enjoyable translation I have ever read. I also have an NLT Study Bible, which contains the most recent revision of the NLT text - the Second Revised Edition. (I understand that there is a newer NLT chronological one-year Bible out there that uses the Second Revised Edition text, but for the moment, I'll stick with what I have.)

Last night, I finished off the narrative of Issac's marriage to Rebekah... and I'll continue on tonight... but I have so far found the experience to be quite rewarding and refreshing. I'd highly recommend picking up a copy of a Chronological One-Year Bible for your own personal reading, or as the foundation for your daily devotions.

05 January 2010

Interesting Book - Still Relevant Today

I recently came across an outstanding little book at Google Books:

Memoirs of the Lutheran Liturgical Association, Volumes 1-4

This book contains articles on the Lutheran Liturgy by various sources, and while the book predates the twentieth century, there is a ton of material there that will bring the history of the Western Liturgy into the eyes of anyone. I especially recommend it to seminary studients, no matter your background.

03 January 2010

My Daughter Makes My Heart Melt

Here is Clare, resplendent in her baptismal gown prepared by her grandmother (who is holding her in this picture). The bonnet is a gift from Dr. Meg Gaffney, a colleague of mine at Wishard.

This has to be the most adorable image of her yet! Doesn't that little face just make your heart melt? It does mine!

01 January 2010

Clare's Baptism

Today our Synod celebrated the Solemnity of the Baptism of our Lord, bringing to a conclusion two weeks of very strong focus upon the incarnation, birth, and early life of our Lord. On this occasion, Bishop Chuck Huckaby joined us here in Bargersville to celebrate with us not simply the Divine Service and to preach the Gospel of Salvation, but he also came to baptize our little Clare.

A wonderful time was had by all... and Clare was adorable in her baptismal gown - made by her loving grandmother. What an amazing day, and an amazingly awesome responsibility that lay ahead - sharing the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ with our little daughter.

Thanks to Bishop Chuck, his lovely wife Renee, Deacon Greg Elsbernd, and all of our family who were able to join us.

Incidentally, this was the first formal service celebrated by Saint Boniface Church, which was offically established today by our Synod, and which I will be serving as Pastor. Please pray for us in the next few months as we begin looking for ways to be responsive to God's call to bring many to the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Now I Have Seen it All (Until the Next Time!)

Happy New Year! As this message posts, I am preparing for the Baptism of little Clare Adele. Bishop Huckaby and his wife have safely arrived, and we enjoyed a nice dinner with them last night after they got checked-in at their motel. 

Those of you who know me know that I am very liturgically inclined, and while some people get their fill from browsing at Macy's, Target, or Parisian... I get mine from reading Church supply catalogs. During a rather bored moment, I recently discovered one of those things which makes me immediately say, "Now I have seen it all!"  And what prompted my moment of shock? You might think it was the automatic holy water dispenser that recently made news in the fight against H1N1... but you would be wrong.

This time it's - get this - an automatic host dispenser!

Just fill this little puppy up with hosts (it will hold 150 without needing to be refilled) and hand it over to your sacramental ministers to distribute the Body of Christ at lightning speed. I mean, the thing has a trigger to eject the host! (I can just see the Altar Boys playing their own version of paintball in the sacristy before Mass.)

The AHD is avaliable in your choice of gold, silver, or white... and there are accessories avaliable!

Please note, this is most definately NOT an endorsement of this product. Like individual cups and automatic holy water dispensers, it's yet another technological response to the paranoia and fear of getting sick from Communion... which is the food of new life for all who believe.

All original material (C) 2007-2010 by Father Robert Lyons.

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