Lectionaries, I: Historical

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Lectionary is the term used broadly to refer to any book of biblical passages indicated for liturgical celebration. The individual readings are also known by the Latinate lections or by the Greek technical term pericope (a "snippet" of a biblical book). The history of the evolution of the pericopal system is complicated. This article will focus on the Jewish context, general development, typology, and illustration of the lectionaries for Mass in the West through the Missal of Pius V (1570). Further historical detail is covered in pericopes. The revision and development of the Lectionary for Mass after the Second Vatican Council is treated under lectionaries, ii: contemporary roman catholic and lectionaries, iii: ecumenical.

Jewish Use of the Scriptures. The reading of passages from the Scriptures was one of the elements of worship continued by Christians from Jewish liturgical practice (Lk 4:1621; Acts 13:27). Jewish communities developed an extensive order of scriptural passages designated to be read at the weekly Sabbath services. Nevertheless, the earliest information about which readings were used and how they were read in synagogues dates to the 6th century a.d. Norman Bonneau, following C. Perrot, has explored the evidence. The liturgical action revolved around various prayers and readings, but the high point was the reading from Torah (known in the Greek Septuagint as the Pentateuch in reference to its five books). The Babylonian tradition divided the Torah into 54 sequential segments that were read over a one-year cycle of Sabbaths. The Palestinian tradition read the Torah in 154 sequential segments extending over a three-year cycle of Sabbaths. The one-year Babylonian tradition prevailed and is used in synagogues today. In addition to the first reading from the Torah, each Sabbath synagogue service also included a second reading selected from what the Jewish tradition identifies as the prophets. Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings constituted the "early prophets"; Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the 12 Minor Prophets constituted the "later prophets." The reading from the prophets (called haftorah, Aramaic for "dismissal") was chosen to amplify and comment upon the reading from Torah. Every year, the Jewish calendar feasts of Passover (Pesach ), Pentecost (Shavuot ), and Tabernacles (Sukkoth ) interrupted the sequence of Torah readings. Even if these feasts did not fall on the Sabbath, they nevertheless required the reading, at least on contiguous Sabbaths, of passages consonant with the event the feasts celebrated. In these cases the normally prescribed sequential excerpt from the Torah, with its accompanying prophetic reading was set aside. The major liturgical feasts, then recurring in a yearly cycle, interrupted the weekly cycle of Sabbaths. By the 6th century a.d. the Jewish tradition of lectionaries exhibited the following features: a sequential reading from the Torah, paired with a haftorah from the prophets, interrupted by special readings at the annual high feasts, proclaimed at the weekly Sabbath synagogal service.

Within the Bible itself, there is evidence for the practice of selecting special readings for major occasions. Deuteronomy 31:911, Nehemiah 8:18, and 2 Kings 23:13 are but three examples where texts were read on major celebrations in the Temple at Jerusalem. These passages suggest the temple liturgy at times of high liturgical feasts and are valuable for establishing the practice for the selection of special readings for the yearly feasts as well as the pairing of prophets to readings from Torah.

Early Christian Use of the Scriptures. References found in the Acts of the Apostles attest to regular Sabbath readings that were firmly established and practiced wide-spread: "For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every Sabbath in the synagogues" (15:21). Luke relates how Jesus visited the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath and read from the prophet Isaiah (4:1521), which may suggest the emerging system of haftorah. Many Jewish scholars posit that it was not until after the destruction of the Temple in a.d. 70 that the synagogue was transformed from a place for study of Torah to a place of ritual reading of Torah.

Further references within the New Testament attest to the early Christian use of the Hebrew Scriptures in their worship, especially the psalms (Eph 5:1820; Col 3:16). Scripture was also read for community edification and instruction (1 Tm 4:13). These texts, however, do not mention the Sunday Eucharist. Furthermore, it is not clear that Paul's injunctions to read his letters (1 Thes 5: 27; Col 4:16) refer to liturgical gatherings.

The earliest witness of the use of Scripture at liturgy dates to the mid-2d century at the time of Justin Martyr: "On the day which is dedicated to the sun, all those who live in the cities and who dwell in the countryside gather in a common meeting, and the Memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read as long as time permits. Then, when the reader has finished, the president verbally gives a warning and appeal for the imitation of these good examples" (1 Apol 67).

Ways of Reading the Bible. The early church had coextensive systems of improvisation, continuous reading, and fixed readings. Scholars today emphasize that as far as liturgical readings in the early period were concerned, improvisation was the rule, with readings selected by the bishop according to occasion. As the canon was taking shaping, there was also a degree of variety among the churches as to what books were read; for example, in some churches The Shepard of Hermas or Clement of Rome's letters were read; while in others, Revelation was omitted.

Continuous reading or lectio continua was also a method used in the ancient Church. A related manner involves semicontinuous reading, whereby some passages are omitted. The most obvious example is to be found in the voluminous patristic commentaries on the Old and New Testaments, some of which provide transcription of homilies on the Scripture readings given in the liturgy or for catechesis. From the 4th century on there are letters and sermons of St. Ambrose and St. Augustine that reveal certain books were reserved to certain liturgical seasons: at Milan, as at Constantinople, the books of Job and Jonah were read during Lent. In Africa, Genesis took up part of this season, and the Acts of the Apostles was read during Easter time. In the middle of the 5th century, according to the testimony of Gennadius of Marseilles, Venerius, the bishop of Marseilles, drew up the first authoritative lectionary determining the pericopes proper to the particular feasts and seasons, but it excluded ferial days. The first complete lectionaries date only from the 7th century.

The first evidence of fixed readings for liturgy is related to the development of the liturgical year and to a lesser degree, the local church in which the liturgy was celebrated. The introduction of annual feasts, seasons, and martyrs, is correlated to specially selected biblical books and fixed passages that were deemed appropriate to the mystery being celebrated. This method sometimes is referred to as an eclogadic reading (Greek eklogé, "what is selected"), where a passage is excerpted from a longer narrative context. Often a typological reading was used for the selection of the passages.

The type and number of readings at liturgy varied from region to region. In the Antiochene tradition, for example, there were two lessons from the Law and the Prophets (akin to synagogal practice) followed by one from the epistles or Acts and finally one from the Gospels (Apostolic Constitutions, 8.5.11). The use of three lessons, one OT and two NT, was far more common, as witnessed by the custom in Gaul and Spain until the 7th century and in the ancient Masses in Milan. In Rome, the system of three readings was simplified to two by the 7th century, when the custom was to have two readings on Sundays (NT and Gospel) and one OT reading and the Gospel on serial weekdays. Liturgical vigils for feasts such as Pasch and Pentecost included several longer readings from the OT and NT.

Methods of Indication. Four methods developed and were used coextensively to indicate the biblical pericopes to be proclaimed at the liturgy. The first, the simplest, was simple notes or symbols written in the margins of the books of the Bible to help the reader find the proper passage. From this grew the second method of compiling lists called capitularies. There are three types of capitularies: lists of epistles (sometimes including the Old Testament), lists of Gospel readings, and lists that combined the two. The list would give the liturgical day and the specific incipit (beginning verse) and explicit (ending verse) of the reading or in the case of the Gospels, the appropriate Eusebian section. The division of the Bible into chapters and then verses evolves only in the late Middle Ages. Scholarship has determined that the choice of epistle readings and of Gospel readings developed and circulated separately. The lists came to be combined, but as Vogel points out, more by chance than design. A third type of organization involved giving the whole text of the particular reading, rather than just the beginning and ending. A fourth system developed that gives the readings with the prayers of the sacramentary (e.g., Casinensis 271).

Terminology. Historians of the liturgy note that there is no precision used to described the types of lectionary. The difficulty in classification of the historical manuscripts resides in the fact that books in the Middle Ages were custom made and thus differed one from the other depending upon the design of the scribe or the desire of the one placing the order. Following T. Klauser, complete lists of non-Gospel readings or books with the non-Gospel reading given are referred to as epistolaries. Complete lists of Gospel readings or Gospel readings given in full are generally called evangeliaries. The term "Mass Lectionary" refers to documents that contain both series of epistles and Gospels. The term comes (or liber comitis ) is used in the manuscript tradition to refer to both lists of epistles as well as documents that give the epistles in full, but not Gospels. The term comes is alternatively explained as derived from comma, meaning a "selection," or comes, meaning a "companion" to the whole Bible. Likewise, the term "lectionary" retains its general sense, and one encounters such terms as lectionarius epistolarum or lectionarius evangeliorum. As the full missal (missale plenarius ) (see missal, roman) developed beginning in the 9th century, the readings contained in the epistolary and evangelary were combined with the prayers of the sacramentary and the antiphons into a single book. With the development of the Missal, the readings for the Mass were subsumed into one book along with the mass prayers and chants, rendering the Lectionary redundant.

Further Types of Lectionaries. In the early Middle Ages a variety of liturgical books emerged in response to the liturgical needs and roles of the time. The diverse parts performed by the various ministers were distributed accordingly. Therefore, prayers that the priest had to pray at the altar were in one book, while the readings to be read by reader or Gospels for the deacon were contained in another, and a different volume of antiphons was prepared for the choir. There were also lectionary collections that contained either extracts from the Fathers or historical narratives about the martyrs and other saints, which were read aloud as lessons in the Divine Office. Sometimes collections were made containing just the extracts to be used in choir. Other times a large volume of patristic homilies (known also as a homilary or sermonarium ) or historical matter was employed, in which certain passages were marked to be used as lessons. This last custom seems more particularly the case with regard to the short biographical accounts of martyrs and other saints. In this connection the word legenda in particular is of common occurrence. The legenda (also called passionarium ) is a collection of narratives of variable length, in which are recounted the life, martyrdom, translation, or miracles of the saints. This usually forms a large volume, and the order of the pieces in the collection is commonly, though not necessarily, that of the calendar. A few legendæ come down from the early Middle Ages, but the vast majority of those now preserved in libraries belong to the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries.

Manuscript Evidence. The oldest surviving liturgical documents containing information on the nature and arrangement of the readings in the liturgy date to the 6th century. They are preserved in the manuscripts of Wolfenbüttel (Herzog-August Bibl., cod. Weissenburgensis 76; c. 500, Gaul) and at Fulda (Hess. Landesbibl. Cod. Bonif. 1; c. 545, Capua). Another early sacramentary is the Codex Velseri, ms. lat. 3514, of the Royal Library at Munich, written probably before 700. When these books were used in choir during Office the reader either read certain definitely marked passages, indicated by markings of which our existing manuscripts constantly show traces, or, in the earlier periods especially, he read on until the abbot or priest who presided gave him the signal to stop. After the 13th century, however, this type of book was much more rarely transcribed in favor of a complete lectionary with passages in extenso.

Illustration of the Books of Readings. During the Middle Ages considerable artistic attention was given to the illumination of books for Mass readings. E. Palazzo calls particular attention to this tradition. The Gospel Book was especially suited to elaborate decoration both with the exterior binding and the interior illustrations indicating the privileged place Sacred Scripture had in the liturgy. In the Middle Ages the Book of the Gospels was carried in procession through the church to the ambo where the deacon read from it. In medieval inventories and catalogs of church libraries and treasuries, the books of readings were called such things as "golden book," "golden text with ivory cover and precious stones," or "three books adorned with gold and precious stones" (liber aureus, textus aureus cum tabulis eburnea et gemmis, libri III auro et gemmis ornati ), terms indicating their great value both materially and spiritually. The books of Gospels, with or without capitulare, then the evangeliaries, are the two main books that were illustrated. The Carolingian books of Gospels commonly have full-page paintings of the four evangelists serving as sumptuous dividers between the four Gospels. The tables of canons indicating the scriptural pericopes to be read are often framed in beautiful arches inspired by paleo-Christian subjects, such as the fountain of life and symbolic birds. The Evangeliary of Godescalc (781183; Paris, B.N., new acq. lat. 1203), named for the scribe who signed the colophon and written for Charlemagne in the court scriptorium, contains paintings of the evangelist as well as those of the Majestas Domini and the fountain of life grouped together at the beginning of the book. The Gospel text is written in gold and silver letters on a purple parchment, indicating the regal destiny of this manuscript.

The Ottonian period witnessed a change in illustration of the lectionaries, especially the evangeliary. Certain scriptoria, such as Reichenau, distinguished themselves for the highly ornate evangeliaries with wellworked-out iconographic cycles adopted from the earlier Carolingian books. Most of the Ottonian evangelaries are based upon a christological cycle, which originate in biblical illustration drawn from the sacramentaries. Special attention was devoted to images of Gospel parables, similar to the iconographic tradition of the Byzantine books of the same period. The Ottonian tradition carried through in later books of readings from the Romanesque period, especially in books of German provenance. After the 12th century, the evangeliary and lectionary would diminish in artistic importance in favor of the missal and pontifical. Compared to the evangeliaries, the epistolaries never received the same important decoration during the Middle Ages.

Tridentine Liturgical Reform. One fruit of the liturgical reform of the Council of Trent was a pruning, organization, and standardization of the calendar and lectionary systems. Norman Bonneau has examined the reading assignments of the 1570 Missal of Pius V in its 1955 edition. There was a one-year cycle of readings consisting of 138 difference biblical passages. Each Sunday and feast day had two readings, the Epistle and the Gospel. The OT was read as the "Epistle" only on three occasions: Epiphany, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. The Gospel of Mark was read 4 times; Matthew, 22; Luke, 21; and John, 14 times, primarily in the Easter Season, Christmas, and Lent. There were two minor instances of lectio continua for the Gospels, and a number of short ones for the epistles.

As for the weekday cycle, the scriptural passages for weekday Eucharist in the Missal of Pius V were derived from the Sunday Eucharist without reference to liturgical feast or season. After the Council of Trent when the Roman Missal was being prepared, the suggestion was made and rejected that three weekday readings be provided as a choice when the Sunday reading had to be repeated. A precedent for this practice existed in the sacramentaries from the 8th century to the second half of the 19th century for masses on Wednesdays and Fridays. The ferial Masses of Lent had no reading of an epistle in the strict sense of the word. A pericope (part of a scriptural text used as a liturgical reading) from the Old Testament always took its place. Even though certain Masses, those of the Ember Wednesdays and of the Wednesdays of the Great Scrutiny, had three readings, they still had no epistle, since the first two readings were taken from the Old Testament. The Masses of the Ember Saturdays had, by way of exception, five readings from the Old Testament before the Epistle; but this distribution was not from earlier practicesthe old Roman lectionaries had either four or six readings; the reading from Daniel and the Canticle of the Three Young Men is a Gallican addition (see ember days). In reducing the number of the readings from 12 to four, the Ordo of the Easter Vigil as revised during the pontificate of Pius XII reestablished the practice of the time of Gregory the Great, leading to the reading first from the Law then the Prophets, followed by the Apostle (Paul), and the Gospel.

By way of comparison, in the other rites of the Latin West, the method of organization varied from the Roman system. In the ambrosian rite of Milan and mozarabic rite of Toledo in Spain, there were usually three readings, as in the ancient Gallican liturgy. St. Ambrose indicates the traditional order: "First the Prophet is read, and the Apostle, and then the Gospel" (In psalmum CXVIII, 17, 10, Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, 271 v., indexes 4 v. [Paris 187890] 15, col. 1443). Various indications, in particular the number of Collects given in the early substrate of the Gelasian Sacramentary, allow a presumption that this was also the practice of the Roman Church before St. Gregory the Great. If this is the case, then the liturgies of Milan and Toledo are the guardians of the universal tradition of the West.

Readings for the Divine Office. The lectionary for Mass is distinguished from the lectionary for the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours). The Bible furnishes the broad contours of the Office with its psalmody, singing of the canticles of the Old and New Testaments, and the continuous reading of the Scriptures. Longer and more difficult texts, and even entire books, are read in the Office. This would not be possible at Mass. Given the difference in the cycles of Office and Mass, the different length of the readings, and the continuity of the readings within each service, the Scripture readings for the Office were not harmonized with the lectionary for Mass until Vatican II.

Although the Church has always given a large place in the Divine Office to the reading of the Bible, the place for this reading is not the same in all rites. The day Hours, including Lauds and Vespers, had only "little chapters," vestiges of longer readings. During the papacy of Pius XII a new Latin version of the Office was prepared using the entire Bible with a more abundant use of the New Testament. Vatican II continued the reform of the Office and it was thus that the Constitution on the Liturgy decreed that Matins "shall be made up of fewer psalms and longer readings" (SC 89c). In 1964 when the Consilium met to implement the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, two guidelines were approved: no day without a reading from Scripture; and the Bible readings of the Office are to complement those of the Mass. Pope Paul VI promulgated the new Liturgy of the Hours in 1970 but it was not published until February 1971. The initial plan was to have two volumes: the first to contain the Psalter, the Ordinary, and the Commons; and the second volume the readings, thus constituting a true lectionary. In the end, it was decided that this format would be unwieldy. Therefore, the new Office comprises four self-contained volumes. Regarding the cycle of Scripture readings, originally a two-year cycle was planned. In view of the practical difficulties entailed, it was finally decided to include only a one-year cycle in the books containing the Liturgy of the Hours and to leave the second year of the cycle to a supplement. The supplement as a fifth volume has yet to appear.

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[m. s. driscoll]