What is the Lectionary?
In our Anglican tradition, like that of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eucharist, the Mass, is a liturgy of both word and sacrament, each of which has its own significance. In the liturgy of the word we feed on scripture, the bible, through listening together to the record of the revelation of Godself, and of God’s relationship with God’s people, in the Old and New Testaments. The Gospel reading, required at every celebration of the Mass, is treated with particular respect: we stand to face the Gospel-book, which in our Catholic tradition is also censed, to honour Christ speaking to us today through his words recorded in the Gospels. In the liturgy of the sacrament we take and offer bread and wine in obedience to Jesus’ command, and we feed on him, the Bread of Life, in holy communion, and so are nourished as the Body of Christ.
In the Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions, the choice of readings is governed by what is called the Lectionary. The Reformed traditions have also begun to recommend the Lectionary, but their ministers still have the right to select readings of their choice. The use of the Lectionary attempts to provide an ordered reading of scripture, and avoids the temptation of a minister or congregation using a limited selection of “favourite” passages.
The Anglican Church of Canada’s Book of Alternative Services uses the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) based largely on the Roman Catholic Lectionary as revised in the liturgical reform after Vatican II. RCL is a three year cycle, A,B,C, with each of the years having as the guiding Gospel one of the Synoptics, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. We are currently in Year A, that of Matthew. The fourth Gospel, John, which is more reflective and theological than a sequential narrative, is interspersed on Sundays over the three years. The Liturgical Year is divided into two sections: the seasons with their specific focus, Advent, Christmas and Epiphany (known sometimes as the Incarnation season), Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide; the remainder of the year, known as Ordinary Time, the “green” Sundays after Epiphany and before Lent, and the Sundays after Trinity.
Father Kevin Hunt