Tuesday 30 May 2023

Sunday Mass Readings The Thinking Behind the Lectionary - Thomas O'Loughlin - CTS Scriptures

Sunday Mass Readings: 
The Thinking Behind the Lectionary
Thomas O'Loughlin
ISBN 9781860826245
eISBN 9781784694623
CTS Booklet SC105

Over the last 5 years I have read 350 volumes from the Catholic Truth Society, many of them more than once. Books from the CTS are a mainstay in my spiritual readings. I still have at least that many I want to read, and often when I finish one I find 2 or three more to add to my wish list.  This is the second volume I have read by Thomas O'Loughlin. This booklet number is SC105 and the SCxxx is the CTS Scriptures series. I have read many great books in this series. And this one was a very informative read. The description of this volume is:

“The three-year cycle of Sunday Mass readings is acknowledged to be one of the greatest successes of the Catholic Church's Liturgical reforms after Vatican II and is being used more and more even by non-Catholic congregations.

This booklet explains how the cycle for ordinary time works, how it came about, and how to get the most out of the readings at Mass week by week.”

The chapters in this volume are:

A Reading Plan
Year A at a glance - The Year of Matthew
Year B at a glance - The Year of Mark
Year C at a glance - The Year of Luke
The Sequence of Second Readings
Further Reading

The beginning of this volume is:

“A reading from …

On any Sunday morning millions of Catholics will hear at least four passages from the scriptures. Typically, this will include:

•a passage from a book written before the time of Jesus (e.g. a reading from the Book of Numbers)
•a hymn which may have been composed for the liturgy in the temple in Jerusalem (what we refer to as ‘the Responsorial Psalm’)
•a short passage from a letter by the one of the first generation of Christians written to encourage their fellow Christians or explain aspects of discipleship to them (e.g. a reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans)
•a passage from one of the gospels: this will hold pride of place, it will be listened to standing, begun and ended with music, and sometimes the act of reading will be enhanced with a procession of the book, and then the book will be incensed and flanked with candles.

On any Sunday the same readings will be heard in every Catholic community around the world; and in an increasing number of other Christian communities as well. What these readings mean is the work of a lifetime; but finding out how these particular readings were chosen for this Sunday is a simpler task. Answering that question is what this booklet is about. Knowing how and why the readings we read were chosen, is also a first step towards having a better appreciation of them.”

Furthermore it states:

“The first point to note is this: they have not been randomly chosen by the priest or the preacher. Many people think this would be good idea. So, if there was a very sad story in the news that day, some ‘appropriate reading’ could be chosen. Likewise, if the day is a lovely summer’s day we could have some ‘nice reading’ – the Beatitudes from Matthew 5 for example – then a simple, short sermon and off we could go and enjoy God’s creation! Some priests also have the idea that some of the readings are ‘too difficult for ordinary people’ and think they could make better choices or improve on the official choice by cutting out readings. While these intentions are praiseworthy, the results are, in the longer term, dismal. Whenever the choice of readings is left to an individual, the resulting choice ends up with a narrow range of texts that reflecting particular likes and dislikes. Our faith comes thorough human channels and has a complex history: the larger the range of readings the better. Our faith is also larger than today, this moment, and this feeling: so we need to access the difficult with the easy, the challenging with the comforting, the hard messages as well as those we like. Moreover, we are not just individuals or a just a group who happens to be in the same place: we are the Church, and each church is part of the whole Body of Christ: and so hearing the same stories, reflecting together on the tradition, helps us to grow as people and as one people who are charged with being the heralds of the Good News to our generation.”

Thomas also states:

“The book that sets the readings – you may have read from it or have seen it carried in procession – is called a lectionary. Our present lectionary appeared in 1969 and is one of the great products of the restoration of the liturgy that was initiated by the Second Vatican Council (1962-5). However, despite being over forty years’ old – and gaining new and enthusiastic admirers every year among Christians who are not Catholics – it is probably among the least appreciated and studied book of the entire liturgy.”

For each of the years we are given an overview of the year. The breakdown into Lectionary Units, and then chart of the gospel reading and a char of the gospel and the OT reading it is paired with. For example:

“The creators of the lectionary declared that they saw Mark’s ‘main interest’ as ‘the person of Jesus himself.’ This is seen as progressively revealed in the text as the journey towards Jerusalem moves forward and based around the climactic question ‘who do men say that I am?’ (Mk 8:29). The lectionary sees Peter’s ‘You are the Christ’ as at ‘the heart of Mark’s gospel.’ In taking this position the lectionary is following the mainstream of contemporary exegetical thinking about Mark today.

The Lectionary also explains the inclusion of the 57 verses from John on Sundays 17-21 as incorporating a single unit from John’s, ‘the sermon on the “Bread of Life”’ which it sees as fitting ‘well into [a particular] part of Mark’s Gospel, which is concerned with Jesus’ revelation of himself and is known as “the Bread section”.’ And, as dovetailing of texts goes, this is about as neat as anything we might find: on Sunday 14 we have Mark 6:30-34 which is followed in the gospel text (6:35-44) with the feeding miracle of the five loaves and the two fish, which is supplanted in the liturgical reading by the bread/feeding/eating sermon from John.

The Year of Mark is divided in the Lectionary as follows:

Lectionary Unit I
This unit consists of just two Sundays which are seen to open the year/the gospel by focusing on the figure of Jesus the Messiah. This is expressed on the Feast of the Baptism (Sunday 1) with Mark’s account; and then the call of Andrew and his companion from John’s gospel (Sunday 2). The two events taken together provide the witness from heaven and earth to Jesus being the Promised One.

Lectionary Unit II.I
This unit consists of twenty one Sundays (Sundays 3-23 inclusive) whose overall theme is the Mystery of Jesus being progressively revealed. It is made up of three stages: I. Jesus with the Jewish crowds, II. Jesus with his disciples and III. Jesus’s manifestation of himself.

The first stage runs from the third to the ninth Sunday. In these gospels we encounter Jesus around the Sea of Galilee, healing a leper and a paralytic, and answering questions about fasting and the Sabbath.”

After the breakdown of years A,B, and C we have a chapter on the second readings each Sunday. The book concludes with:

“Reading through this booklet you may already have come to the conclusion that one of the best ways to appreciate the readings of a particular Sunday, perhaps the passage you are reading to the assembly, is to read it beforehand in its larger setting. Ah! But a problem appears: the translation that is read in most Catholic Churches is that of the Jerusalem Bible dating from 1966, but happen to have a different version or have found a different version in the lectionary on the internet! Rather than seeing this as a problem, see it as an opportunity: no translation gets it right all the time. One translation will help with one sentence, another translation with the next sentence: the more translations you can read, the better feel you will get for the passage. The important thing is to spend the time: you are not simply performing a task, you are proclaiming the word in the Church.”

I disagree with the statement: “no translation gets it right all the time.”, but I do agree with “the more translations you can read, the better feel you will get for the passage.”. Which I do agree with. I find different translations better suited for different usages. Some I use fore reading aloud, some for deep study, some for comparison.

Overall this was a great little read. I really appreciated the charts and visual breakdowns. I enjoyed the look at what we have but would have enjoyed some historical of how we got here, the work that went into the selections and breakdowns. I really enjoyed giving this a read. And it was very informative. It was another CTS volume I am thankful to have read and one I can recommend. 

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

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