A Greek word meaning excerpt, pericope was used in early Christian times to designate any passage in Holy Scripture [Justin Martyr, Dialogus cum Tryphone 65.3 (Patrologia Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne, 6:625); Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 7.14 (Patrologia Graeca 9:517)]. Since the 16th century it has become a technical term for a Biblical passage read according to a determined order in the liturgy. This article treats the practice of reading Scripture in the liturgy, the meaning of terms used for such readings, the historical evolution of the Service of the Word, and a description of the various pericopal systems.
Biblical Reading in Liturgy
Sacred Scripture, which "is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy" (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 24), can be read in a more or less continuous fashion (lectio continua ) or in passages that are chosen for their appropriateness for the liturgical day, season, or special objective. Prescinding from the mosaic type of lesson (found in certain liturgies, e.g., Gallican and Spanish), made up of verses from different Biblical books or chapters of the same book, and from the pericopes constructed out of Gospel-harmonies, generally the text is altered only by introductory and concluding formulas, by individual words that help establish the context, and occasionally by the omission of individual verses. The liturgical use of Scripture is a very weighty witness to the canon of the Bible.
The most important place for the reading of Scripture in all liturgies from the earliest days of the Church has been the Mass. "The liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist are so closely connected with each other that they form but one single act of worship" (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 56). The readings of the Service of the Word share the memorial character of the Mass and indeed specify it in the course of the year (ibid. 102–104,109). The Liturgy of the Hours also has Biblical pericopes in Matins and brief passages called chapters or short readings in the other hours. Pericopes are provided for other sacramental rites, e.g., Baptism, Matrimony, and the Anointing of the Sick.
Meaning of Terms
When manuscripts of the Bible were used for the liturgical readings, the beginning and end of the passage to be read were indicated by means of signs (a cross) or words (e.g., lege, finit ) and a liturgical title usually written in the margin (Klauser numbers 11 manuscripts from the 7th to 14th centuries with Roman marginal notes).
Capitulare. In time manuscripts with marginal notes were replaced by lists arranged according to the calendar and containing the necessary details for the Gospels (Klauser notes 429 such lists from the 8th to 15th centuries), less frequently for both Epistles and Gospels (Klauser has 179 for the same period), and very seldom for only the Epistles (Klauser has only seven; these and the following figures represent only Roman manuscripts). Such lists stand either at the front or at the end of manuscripts. The most frequent name for a Gospel list, at least since the 8th century, was Capitulare (also Breviarius ) Evangeliorum; it was so called precisely because it gave the chapter (capitulum ) and verse numbers for the selections to be read. Numerous names were used for the other lists.
Comes. Books containing the full text of the pericopes arranged according to the calendar began to appear, at the latest, in the 5th century. For the period from the 8th to the 17th centuries, Klauser numbers 397 providing only the Gospel text, 147 only the Epistles, and 113 both readings one behind the other. Ancient names for this type of book were many. Modern liturgical science distinguishes between Evangelary, Epistolary (often bound together with Evangelaries), and Full-Lectionary. An Epistolary, Full-Lectionary, or a list (even a Homiliary) was frequently called Comes (companion) or Liber Comitis. This is not to be confused with the Mozarabic name for the Full-Lectionary, Liber Commicus (comma meaning excerpt).
It is often said that Lectionaries appeared later than the marginal notes and the lists. However, both manuscript and literary witnesses to Lectionaries are almost older than those for the lists and marginal notes. Lectionaries were cheaper, more handy, and for areas using cento pericopes, indispensable. The Admonitio Synodalis (J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 14:841), which stems probably from Caesarius of Arles (d. 542), required that every priest possess a plenary Missal, Lectionary, Antiphonary, and Homiliary. Musaeus of Marseilles (d. 461) and Claudianus Mamertus of Vienne (d. c. 474) are known to have compiled Lectionaries. See Gennadius, De viris inlustribus 80 (ed. E. C. Richardson, Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 14.1:88); Sidonius Apollinaris, Epist. 4.11 (Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Auctores antiquissimi 8:63).
Christian Reading Service and Synagogal Worship. There is a formal parallelism between the Service of the Word, especially of the Roman Mass and synagogal worship: two readings separated by a psalm (sung responsorially in early times), intercessory prayers (to be reintroduced according to par. 53 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy ), explanation of Scripture, and a blessing. The NT itself already attests to the reading to the people of NT writings not only in those communities to which they were addressed (1 Thes 5.27; Ap 1.3, 11; 2.1, 8, 12, 18; 3.1, 7, 14; 22.18), but also in others (Col 4.16). First of all, all the texts of the NT were composed, transcribed, and preserved precisely for public reading.
Despite the absence of testimony, one must admit that the OT was read in the liturgy, whether from whole books, florilegia, or testimonia. In favor of this, one can adduce the knowledge of the OT presupposed in the NT (1 Thes, 2 Thes, Phil, Col, 2 Tm, and Ti are, however, without explicit Scripture citations; there is only one in 1 Tm, and three in Eph). But there is no proof that the OT was read according to the order of the synagogue, i.e., the entire Pentateuch continuously (in a cycle of one or three years, known since the 3d century a.d. as the Babylonian or older Palestinian usage) and, in a secondary position, only short selections from other books such as readings from the "Prophets." Moreover, not only Psalms, but also other spiritual songs were sung (Eph5.19; Col 3.16; cf. Ap 5.9; 14.3). A continuous reading of the Pentateuch (consider Lv, Nm, and Dt) seems unthinkable in face of the Christian teaching on the Law, especially the teaching of Paul. The chief emphasis was precisely on the Prophets. New Testament quotations from and allusions to the prophetic books are twice as numerous as references to the Pentateuch. The ratio between the Pentateuch and the prophetic books in the Jewish sense is approximately one to four. The Psalter is either quoted or alluded to as often as the first four books of Moses together; the book of Daniel (never read in the synagogue) as often as Deuteronomy, but a little less frequently than Exodus; and Job (another book never read in the synagogue) not much less frequently than Numbers.
The Apostolic Constitutions (Syria, c. 380) testifies that: "After the reading of the Law and the Prophets, of our Epistles and the Acts, as well as the Gospels, the bishop greets the assembly" (8.5.11; F. X. Funk, ed., Didascalia et constitutiones apostolorum 1:477). From this statement authors usually conclude that there were four pericopes (some speak of five or three). In another obscure place, the Constitutions seem to require at least four (six or eight) readings from the OT before the two (or three) from the NT (2.27.5–7; Didascalia et constitutiones apostolorum 1:161).
The thesis that the ancient Church originally had two pericopes from the OT (as the synagogue) followed by two from the NT is usually based on the Apostolic Constitutions (8.5.11; Didascalia et constitutiones apostolorum 1:477). However, the pericope system found in the Constitutions is to be taken as typical only for the Syrian Church, which was ecumenical-minded toward the synagogue (Kunze, "Die Lesungen," 135–138). This is supported by the actual state of the Liturgies: only the East Syrian Liturgy has two readings from the OT alongside the two from the NT. The West Syrian Liturgy as a rule adds a pericope from the Sapiential books. Historically, many liturgical rites have one pericope from the OT before the two from the NT, namely, the Armenian, the Ambrosian (only in the high Mass; however, on some occasions the first lesson is also from the NT, on others there are only two readings, one of which may be from the OT), the Mozarabic (always three readings, but the first is not always from the OT nor the second always from the NT). There are no OT lessons in the Byzantine (two lessons), Coptic and Ethiopian (all four readings are from the NT, but often the first is hagiographical). The Roman Missal of 1570 had only two readings; the first is taken from the OT on Lenten ferias, on 110 saints' feasts (on many of which the same pericope is repeated), in 11 votive Masses, and in 30 Masses pro aliquibus locis. In the 1969 reform of the Roman Missal, a three-reading (one OT, one Epistle, one Gospel) framework was adopted.
The Georgian Lectionary from Jerusalem of the 5th through the 8th centuries [ed. M. Tarchnischvili, Corpus scriptorum Christianorum orientalium (Louvain 1959) 188–89, 204–05; cf. idem, Muséon 73 (1960) 261–96] supplies for the numerous simple feasts only two pericopes, both from the NT; three, or less frequently four, readings are provided for Sundays and greater feasts, and according to the character of the feast the first or the first two are often taken from the OT (rarely from the historical books, however). On the few days having more than four readings (as many as nine), the number of pericopes from the NT varies from two to seven; the number from the OT, from one to six. The Armenian-Palestinian Lectionary of the 5th century [ed. C. Conybeare, Rituale Armenorum (Oxford 1905) 518–27; A. Renoux, Muséon 75 (1961) 361–85; 76 (1962) 385–98] and the Syro-Palestinian Lectionary of the 9th century [ed. A. Smith-Lewis (London 1897; supplement London 1907)] usually have two pericopes from the NT. A preliminary reading on saints' feasts is taken from the OT for saints of the OT, otherwise from the NT or hagiographies.
In general scholars have claimed that originally the Byzantine Liturgy had three pericopes, the first of which was taken from the OT. The examples brought forward [Chrysostom, Homil. in Acta 19.5, 29.3 (Patrologia Graeca 60:156, 218); Homil. in 2 Thes. 3.4 (Patrologia Graeca 62:486); Homil. in Hebr. 8.4 (Patrologia Graeca 63:75); Maximus Confessor, Mystag. 23 (Patrologia Graeca 91:700)], insofar as they deal with the Mass, as in Maximus, prove only that there were pericopes from the OT (only the first of two?). The three pericopes spoken of by Basil of Caesarea (Is, Acts, Mt: Homil. 13.1 de bapt.; Patrologia Graeca 31:425) belong to a catechetical service. The one place that unequivocally attests to three lessons in the Mass, with the first from the Prophets, is the biography of Bp. Theodore of Anastasiopolis in Galatia, who died in 613 (16; Acta Sacntorum 3:36).
Of the ancient liturgy of Milan, Ambrose has this to say: "First the Prophets are read, then the Apostle, and finally the Gospel" (In ps. 118.17.10; Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum 152:382.17). The Milanese Sacramentary of Bergamo from the 9th century (ed. A. Paredi, Bergamo 1962) contains three pericopes (the first from the OT outside paschal time) for a few Sundays and feast days; otherwise there are only two, the first being from the OT only in Lent and on a few other days.
According to Augustine's homilies, three pericopes (the first from the OT) were read on a few major feast-days, otherwise only two were read [Sermo 13.4.4,112.1.1, 165.1, 176.1.1, 180.1 (Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, 38:197, 643, 841, 950, 972); the first was sometimes taken from the OT: Sermo 45.1, 48.1, 2, 289.3 (Patrologia Latina 38:262, 319, 1309)]. The genuine homilies of Maximus of Turin (Corpus Christianorum. Series latina 23) and Peter Chrysologus [A. Olivar, Los sermones de S. Pedro Crisólogo (Montserrat 1962)] show that both pericopes were taken from the NT.
For Gaul, the writings of Gregory of Tours [Hist. Franc. 4.1.6 (Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum 1.1:149–50); Mirac. S. Martini 1.5 (Patrologia Latina 71:918)] and Pseudo-Germain [Exposit. ant. lit. gall.; ed. J. Quasten (Münster 1934) 13; cf. Patrologica Latina 72:90] give evidence of a prophetic pericope from the OT before the two from the NT (cf. Caesarius of Arles, Sermo 73.2; Corpus Chistianorum. Series latina 103:307). Among the old Gallican Lectionaries, that of Weissenburg, from the 5th through the 6th centuries, contains nine Mass formularies with two pericopes and ten with three (in paschal time, even the first is from the NT). That of Luxeuil, from c. 700, has 39 formularies with three pericopes, and 13 for lesser feasts with two readings (from the NT). The Bobbio Missal from c. 700 has 12 formularies with three pericopes and 51 with two (only six times is the first pericope taken from the OT). The Lectionary of Schlettstadt contains only the pericopes from the OT.
It is almost universally believed that the ancient Roman Mass had three pericopes. A statement of Tertullian, often cited in support of this view, "the Roman Church mixes (miscet ) the Law and the Prophets with the evangelical and apostolic writings and thus nourishes the faith" (Lib. de praescr. 36.5; Corpus Christianorum. Series latina 1:217), can be said equally of the Roman Missal, which as a rule has only two pericopes (the first sometimes from the OT). Seldom are three called for (the Wednesday of Embertides, of the 4th week of Lent, and of Holy Week and Good Friday).
In addition, Roman sources of the 7th through the 9th centuries have three pericopes for Christmas and some other days. But when the Comes of Würzburg provides four Epistles for other occasions, a choice is intended. This is proved by the practice observed in later Lectionaries: if they do not introduce new readings, they choose two of the four readings offered by the older books.
That the Roman Mass had as a rule only two pericopes, at least in the 6th century, is shown by a notice in the Liber pontificalis about Celestine I. He is supposed to have introduced the singing of Psalms, whereas before "only the Epistle of blessed Paul and the Gospel were read at Mass" (Liber pontificalis, ed. L. Duchesne, 1:88). In the homilies of Leo I and Gregory I there is not a trace of a three-pericope system.
One cannot invoke in favor of a three-pericope system the fact that the fragments of the 10th-century Missal of Zurich-Peterlingen-Lucerne (like some other Sacramentaries) occasionally have before the Secret three Orations, the first two of which were to be sung before the Epistles. In these fragments the first two Orations stand together before the first reading, and they are found also on days of lesser rank with only two pericopes; on the other hand, there are a few days with three pericopes that have only one Oration provided.
Lectio Continua. Arguments are often given in support of the thesis that originally the Bible was read in a continuous fashion at Mass. However, they do not hold up under examination. A dependence on the continuous reading of the synagogue is very improbable. As regards the formula Sequentia sancti Evangelii, it first appeared about the 9th century when there was certainly no continuous reading (Roman Ordinal 5.35; M. Andrieu, Les 'Ordines Romani' du haut moyen-âge, 2:216); in early manuscripts, in other rites such as the Milanese and Mozarabic, and in the Breviary, the word Sequentia is lacking. Besides, it means nothing more than "The following passage is from the Gospel according to …" Nor are the references in Justin (1 Apol. 67, J. Quasten, ed., Monumenta eucharista et liturgica vetustissima 19: "as long as there is time"), Pseudo-Hippolytus, and Basil [cc. 37 and 97; W. Riedel, Die Kirchenrechtsquellen des Patriarchats Alexandrien (Leipzig 1900) 224, 273: the readings are to continue until all the faithful have assembled] necessarily to be understood as a continuous reading of the Bible.
Patristic homilies on whole books of the Bible, insofar as they were truly homilies preached at Mass and not at purely catechumenal services, offer a sound argument. Augustine preached his 35 homilies on Jn 1.1–12.50 in the year 413, but he may not have preached them at Mass. During this period, however, not only was there a long interruption from Monday of Holy Week until the 5th Saturday after Pentecost because of paschal time, but also Augustine suspended his series of Johannine homilies again and again on other days, even Sundays. Other evidence in Augustine of a continuous reading is rare and concerns almost always short passages. The same holds for Peter Chrysologus. On the other hand there is no evidence at all of such a continuous reading at Mass in the homilies of Ambrose, Maximus of Turin, Leo I, or Gregory I.
Although according to Augustine the reading of certain Biblical books was obligatory during paschal time [In epist. Ioh. prolog; Sermo 227.1; 231.1; 315.1; In evang. Ioh. 6.18 (Patrologia Latina 35:1977; 38:1100, 1104, 1426; Corpus Christianorum. Series latina 36:62.1)], he repeatedly alludes to the freedom used in choosing pericopes, often occasioned by rather banal circumstances [Sermo 93.1.1; 302.1; 362.1 (Patrologia Latina 38:573, 1385; 39:1611)]. Peter Chrysologus also mentions the fact that pastoral necessity frequently caused him to change the pericopes (Sermo 114, 120; Patrologia Latina 52:512, 529).
The continuous reading obtaining in some current liturgies is a late phenomenon influenced in part by the monastic lectio continua. That for ferias in the Byzantine Liturgy goes back only to the 9th century and is not always carried out strictly. The Epistles of the Roman Missal for the post-Pentecostal Sundays are selected according to the Biblical order; for 18 of these Sundays they hark back to the 41 pericopes in the Würzburg list that are arranged one after the other, following the order of the Pauline Epistles, but without any explicit liturgical determination. This same Würzburg list was the source of many different arrangements in later Lectionaries. The only time of the year in which the continuity of Epistle pericopes is almost complete in the Roman Missal (and Würzburg list) is the season after Epiphany (1st–4th Sundays, Rom 12.1–21, 13.8–10).
In conclusion, it is certain that at the very beginning there was a continuous reading of the NT, at least of the Pauline Epistles; it is equally certain the pericopes from the OT were not read according to strict synagogue order. Freedom to choose pericopes as well as whole books declined sharply as the temporal and sanctoral cycles were formed. A hard-and-fast system of continuous or semicontinuous readings was a secondary phenomenon.
Sundays After Pentecost. The greatest differences—prescinding from the sanctoral cycle—among the various witnesses to the Roman pericope system are found in the Sundays after Pentecost. The Würzburg Epistle list did not yet have fixed pericopes for these Sundays, and its Gospel list was incomplete. Other reasons for differences were the varying ways of designating the Sundays, either as grouped around principal sanctoral feasts (Peter and Paul, Lawrence, etc.) or as numbered after Pentecost, which changed date from year to year; the existence of an octave day for Pentecost in some sources; and variations in the date of the summer and fall Embertides and in the number of Advent Sundays (four or five).
Non-Roman Latin. Non-Roman Latin rites are too numerous to attempt here an adequate description of the evolution of their pericopal systems. Let it suffice to indicate the principal sources for each area.
Gaul. In his Lectionnaire de Luxeuil (Rome 1944), P. Salmon constructed pericope tables from 12 very diverse (and mostly fragmentary) sources from the 5th to the 8th centuries: Gamber 250, 255, 258, 260 c and d, 265, 266, 220, 240, 369 b; the notes in the Kilian-Gospel Book from Würzburg [P. Salmon, Revue Bénédictine 61 (1951) 38–53, 62 (1952) 294–96]; and the Freising manuscript of the Pauline Epistles (Clm 6229).
Northern Italy except Milan. Besides the abovementioned Bobbio manuscripts (Gamber 220, 240), Cod. Vat. Regin, lat. 9 (Gamber 242) is important for the Epistles. Godu has published tables from the notes in the more or less related Cod. Rehd., Foroj., Clm 6224, and Ambros. C 39. The last four have also been described by Gamber [Münchener theologische Zeitschrift 13 (1962) 181–201] along with the notes from the Gospel Books, Cod. Vercell. A and Verona VII, the Evangelaries from Constance (Gamber 261) and Ambros. 28 (Gamber 543), and the Lindisfarne list (Gamber 405, 406).
Milan. The pericopes of the Ambrosian Missal (ed. typica 1902) are based on the Lectionary in the Sacramentary of Biasca of the 9th and 10th centuries (Gamber 515). The 9th-century Sacramentary of Bergamo (Gamber 505), except for later supplements, lacks the first reading; this reading is found in a 12th-century manuscript (Gamber 548). The Evangelary of Busto Arsizio (Gamber 541, 542) contains on older Gospel list. For pre-Carolingian pericopes in a few fragments of Sacramentaries, see Gamber 501, 502, 540.
Elsewhere in Italy. Sources for the Pauline pericopes are the list and notes in the NT of Bp. Victor of Capua (d. 554), Gamber 401; sources of importance for the Gospels are the lists of the Lindisfarne Gospel Book (Gamber 405, 406) and the notes in the Burchard Gospel Books (Roman admixture, Gamber 407). For Benevento and the rest of southern Italy, special pericopes have been preserved in a palimpsest of the 10th century (Gamber 434) and in some otherwise Roman sources of the 10th to the 12th centuries (Gamber 430–432, 440, 442, 455, 1411,1412).
Spain. Beissel constructed an incomplete list of gospels from the Missale Mixtum of 1500 (Patrologia Latina 85:109–1036) and indicated parallels in the Silos Lectionary of the 11th century (Gamber 360). The latter was one of the sources (others in Gambar 362–365) of the Liber Commicus Mozarabicus (Madrid 1950–55), edited by J. Perez de Urbel and A. Gonzáles. A large fragment from the 9th century (Gamber 361) was published in 1956, with tables comparing it with the above-mentioned Lectionaries and the somewhat older notes in Biblical manuscripts of the 8th to the 10th centuries (Gamber 369).
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[e. j. lengeling/eds.]