Introduction to the Lectionary

‍Opening ‍page ‍of ‍John, ‍Jaharis ‍Byzantine ‍Lectionary, ‍1100 ‍AD, ‍Metropolitan ‍Museum ‍of ‍Art, ‍public ‍domain ‍

‍Link ‍to ‍more ‍photographs ‍from ‍this ‍lectionary:

‍ Jaharis ‍Lectionary ‍at ‍The ‍Met.

‍The ‍goalof ‍the ‍Lectionary ‍Projectis ‍to ‍serve ‍as ‍a ‍resource ‍for ‍those ‍interested ‍in ‍learning ‍more ‍about ‍the ‍lectionary, ‍its ‍schedule, ‍history ‍and ‍how ‍to ‍intelligently ‍and ‍devotionally ‍read ‍the ‍lectionary. ‍Special ‍attention ‍is ‍given ‍to ‍exploring ‍the ‍connections ‍between ‍the ‍different ‍texts ‍read ‍that ‍week, ‍how ‍they ‍relate ‍to ‍each ‍other, ‍and ‍their ‍connection ‍to ‍the ‍liturgical ‍year. ‍This ‍internet ‍based ‍commentary ‍will ‍primarily ‍focus ‍on ‍the ‍readings ‍in ‍the ‍lectionary ‍used ‍by ‍the ‍Anglican ‍Church ‍in ‍North ‍America ‍(ACNA). ‍

‍One ‍of ‍the ‍challenges ‍and ‍benefits ‍of ‍reading ‍from ‍a ‍lectionary ‍is ‍to ‍understand ‍its ‍relationship ‍and ‍formation ‍within ‍the ‍Christian ‍tradition. ‍A ‍distinctive ‍feature ‍of ‍Anglicanism ‍is ‍that ‍it ‍is ‍rooted ‍in ‍history ‍and ‍tradition. ‍The ‍lectionary ‍is ‍one ‍facet ‍of ‍that ‍rich ‍tradition ‍(which ‍other ‍denominations ‍also ‍share). ‍

‍The ‍earliestreferences ‍to ‍any ‍form ‍of ‍lectionary ‍comes ‍from ‍Jewish ‍rabbinic ‍sources. ‍In ‍the ‍collection ‍of ‍Jewish ‍laws ‍and ‍teachings ‍known ‍as ‍the ‍Talmud ‍(400-600 ‍AD) ‍we ‍have ‍the ‍following ‍reference ‍to ‍appointed ‍teachings ‍that ‍were ‍to ‍be ‍read ‍on ‍particular ‍feast ‍days:

‍While ‍the ‍Talmud ‍might ‍appear ‍to ‍come ‍at ‍a ‍later ‍date ‍than ‍the ‍following ‍references ‍from ‍the ‍Church ‍Fathers ‍we ‍must ‍keep ‍in ‍mind ‍that ‍the ‍Talmud ‍preserves ‍much ‍earlier ‍teachings ‍(by ‍at ‍least ‍200 ‍years ‍in ‍many ‍instances).

‍On ‍the ‍Christian ‍side, ‍the ‍early ‍church ‍fathers ‍adopted ‍the ‍practice ‍of ‍appointed ‍readings ‍from ‍the ‍Bible ‍for ‍certain ‍days ‍and ‍feasts ‍of ‍the ‍year ‍as ‍well.The ‍practice ‍of ‍reading ‍certain ‍passages ‍from ‍the ‍Old ‍Testament ‍in ‍conjunction ‍with ‍those ‍from ‍the ‍New ‍Testament ‍can ‍be ‍traced ‍back ‍to ‍the ‍authors ‍of ‍the ‍New ‍Testament. ‍Some ‍of ‍the ‍most ‍visible ‍connections ‍between ‍the ‍two ‍Testaments ‍can ‍be ‍seen ‍by ‍how ‍the ‍Evangelists ‍cited ‍prophetic ‍passages ‍as ‍evidence ‍that ‍Jesus ‍was ‍the ‍promised ‍Messiah.

‍The ‍connections ‍that ‍the ‍authors ‍of ‍the ‍New ‍Testament ‍made ‍with ‍the ‍Hebrew ‍Scriptures ‍often ‍formed ‍the ‍basis ‍for ‍the ‍selection ‍for ‍which ‍the ‍texts ‍were ‍read ‍on ‍the ‍different ‍days.

‍A ‍related ‍issue ‍that ‍shaped ‍early ‍lectionaries ‍was ‍how ‍the ‍early ‍church ‍addressed ‍a ‍number ‍of ‍threats ‍- ‍both ‍inside ‍and ‍outside ‍the ‍church. ‍The ‍challenge ‍that ‍heretical ‍teachers ‍posed ‍within ‍the ‍church ‍was ‍very ‍real ‍and ‍widespread. ‍A ‍common ‍strand ‍of ‍teaching ‍that ‍unorthodox ‍teachers ‍often ‍held ‍was ‍that ‍the ‍New ‍Testament ‍was ‍superior ‍to ‍the ‍Old ‍Testament. ‍Some ‍pushed ‍this ‍idea ‍as ‍far ‍as ‍saying ‍that ‍the ‍God ‍of ‍the ‍Old ‍and ‍New ‍Testaments ‍were ‍totally ‍different. ‍The ‍God ‍revealed ‍in ‍the ‍Old ‍Testament ‍was ‍one ‍of ‍judgment ‍while ‍the ‍New ‍Testament ‍was ‍a ‍God ‍of ‍love ‍and ‍forgiveness.

‍One ‍of ‍the ‍primary ‍means ‍the ‍Church ‍Fathers ‍countered ‍these ‍heretical ‍teachings ‍was ‍by ‍linking ‍the ‍OT ‍and ‍NT ‍together ‍in ‍their ‍teachings ‍and ‍writings. ‍Chrysostom ‍(350-400 ‍AD, ‍whose ‍feast ‍day ‍is ‍celebrated ‍on ‍January ‍27th ‍in ‍the ‍Book ‍of ‍Common ‍Prayer) ‍is ‍one ‍of ‍the ‍earliest ‍Church ‍Fathers ‍that ‍we ‍know ‍developed ‍a ‍lectionary ‍schedule ‍for ‍readings ‍in ‍the ‍church. ‍A ‍recent ‍study ‍by ‍Gary ‍Raczka ‍reconstructedChrysostom’s ‍lectionary ‍readings ‍from ‍early ‍manuscripts ‍and ‍sermons ‍from ‍Chrysostom ‍and ‍others.1 ‍About ‍150 ‍years ‍later, ‍Gennadius ‍of ‍Massilia ‍(died ‍496) ‍composed ‍a ‍list ‍of ‍readings ‍for ‍worship ‍at ‍the ‍direction ‍of ‍his ‍bishop ‍around ‍450.

‍During ‍the ‍Medieval ‍period ‍there ‍were ‍a ‍number ‍of ‍different ‍lectionaries ‍that ‍were ‍used ‍by ‍the ‍church. ‍We ‍only ‍possess ‍ten ‍fragmentary ‍lectionary ‍manuscripts ‍prior ‍to ‍800 ‍AD. ‍After ‍this ‍date ‍the ‍number ‍of ‍lectionary ‍manuscripts ‍that ‍still ‍exist ‍dramatically ‍increases. ‍These ‍lectionaries ‍often ‍included ‍the ‍complete ‍text ‍of ‍the ‍biblical ‍passages ‍that ‍were ‍to ‍be ‍read ‍on ‍the ‍appointed ‍days. ‍They ‍were ‍not ‍just ‍a ‍listing ‍of ‍the ‍verse ‍references ‍to ‍the ‍passages ‍(something ‍not ‍fully ‍developed ‍until ‍the ‍15th ‍century). ‍As ‍a ‍result, ‍most ‍lectionaries ‍were ‍likely ‍copied ‍from ‍previous ‍ones. ‍To ‍create ‍a ‍new ‍lectionary ‍by ‍flipping ‍around ‍within ‍a ‍Bible ‍to ‍copy ‍out ‍the ‍respective ‍texts ‍would ‍have ‍been ‍an ‍even ‍more ‍time ‍consuming ‍and ‍difficult ‍job. ‍

‍Readings ‍for ‍the ‍season ‍of ‍Lent, ‍Easter, ‍and ‍Christmas ‍appear ‍to ‍have ‍been ‍fairly ‍well ‍accepted ‍by ‍the ‍5th ‍or ‍6th ‍centuries. ‍Emperor ‍Charlemagne, ‍in ‍attempt ‍to ‍unify ‍the ‍church ‍within ‍his ‍empire, ‍supported ‍the ‍development ‍of ‍a ‍lectionary ‍as ‍well. ‍By ‍1000 ‍AD ‍these ‍lectionary ‍readings ‍were ‍widely ‍accepted ‍in ‍the ‍churches ‍in ‍western ‍Europe.

‍Perhaps ‍the ‍three ‍best ‍known ‍lectionary ‍texts ‍preserved ‍from ‍this ‍time ‍period ‍are ‍the ‍Latin ‍Missal ‍used ‍in ‍the ‍Catholic ‍Church, ‍the ‍Greek ‍lectionaries ‍that ‍were ‍preserved ‍by ‍the ‍Orthodox ‍Church, ‍and ‍the ‍lectionary ‍readings ‍associated ‍with ‍the ‍Sarum ‍Missal ‍in ‍England. ‍These ‍are ‍very ‍broad ‍strokes ‍that ‍cover ‍over ‍1000 ‍years ‍of ‍history.

‍Lectionaries ‍served ‍a ‍significant ‍role ‍from ‍the ‍early ‍church ‍up ‍till ‍the ‍Reformation ‍and ‍the ‍invention ‍of ‍the ‍printing ‍press. ‍Since ‍most ‍people ‍could ‍not ‍read ‍and ‍were ‍dependent ‍upon ‍hearing ‍these ‍passages ‍read ‍to ‍them ‍during ‍worship ‍services ‍the ‍lectionary ‍was ‍the ‍primary ‍conduit ‍and ‍framework ‍by ‍which ‍the ‍laity ‍and ‍the ‍clergy ‍understood ‍the ‍Bible. ‍The ‍passages ‍that ‍were ‍chosen ‍for ‍that ‍worship ‍service ‍and ‍the ‍connections ‍made ‍between ‍the ‍texts ‍became ‍the ‍interpretive ‍grid ‍that ‍shaped ‍how ‍they ‍understood ‍the ‍Bible.

‍With ‍the ‍Reformation ‍and ‍the ‍development ‍of ‍the ‍printing ‍press ‍the ‍relationship ‍between ‍the ‍average ‍believer ‍and ‍the ‍Bible ‍changed ‍but ‍at ‍the ‍same ‍also ‍preserved ‍some ‍of ‍the ‍Medieval ‍practices. ‍Perhaps ‍the ‍most ‍significant ‍cultural ‍change ‍concerned ‍how ‍people ‍read. ‍With ‍access ‍to ‍printed ‍books ‍a ‍far ‍higher ‍percentage ‍of ‍the ‍population ‍not ‍only ‍had ‍access ‍to ‍books ‍but ‍learned ‍to ‍read ‍as ‍well. ‍Access ‍to ‍the ‍Bible ‍was ‍no ‍longer ‍relegated ‍to ‍when ‍it ‍was ‍read ‍aloud ‍during ‍services. ‍The ‍more ‍Calvinistic ‍churches ‍tended ‍to ‍discard ‍the ‍lectionary ‍schedule ‍for ‍reading ‍the ‍Bible ‍in ‍favor ‍of ‍reading ‍through ‍the ‍entire ‍Bible ‍(or ‍books ‍within ‍it) ‍in ‍a ‍chronological ‍manner. ‍However, ‍along ‍with ‍the ‍Catholic ‍Church, ‍the ‍Lutheran, ‍and ‍Church ‍of ‍England ‍continued ‍the ‍practice ‍of ‍using ‍the ‍lectionary ‍schedule.

‍One ‍of ‍the ‍most ‍important ‍recent ‍developments ‍in ‍regard ‍to ‍the ‍Lectionary ‍was ‍spurred ‍by ‍the ‍Catholic ‍Church. ‍During ‍the ‍Second ‍Vatican ‍Council ‍(1962-65) ‍one ‍of ‍the ‍first ‍documents ‍produced ‍was ‍the ‍Ordo ‍Lectionum ‍Missale ‍(the ‍Order ‍of ‍Readings ‍for ‍Mass). ‍The ‍most ‍distinctive ‍feature ‍of ‍the ‍Ordo ‍was ‍the ‍reorganization ‍of ‍the ‍lectionary ‍readings ‍into ‍a ‍three ‍year ‍cycles ‍(Years ‍A, ‍B, ‍and ‍C). ‍Prior ‍to ‍this, ‍the ‍various ‍lectionary ‍schedules ‍contained ‍readings ‍that ‍covered ‍almost ‍the ‍entire ‍Bible, ‍now ‍the ‍church ‍was ‍on ‍a ‍three ‍year ‍cycle. ‍On ‍Sundays ‍there ‍were ‍to ‍be ‍four ‍readings: ‍the ‍first ‍reading ‍is ‍from ‍the ‍Old ‍Testament, ‍the ‍second ‍from ‍the ‍Psalms, ‍the ‍third ‍from ‍the ‍New ‍Testament, ‍and ‍the ‍fourth ‍from ‍the ‍Gospels.

‍This ‍prompted ‍the ‍Protestant ‍denominations ‍to ‍come ‍together ‍for ‍the ‍Consultation ‍on ‍Common ‍Texts. ‍Like ‍the ‍Ordo, ‍the ‍Consultation ‍adopted ‍a ‍three ‍year ‍cycle ‍for ‍its ‍lectionary ‍schedule. ‍It ‍produced ‍a ‍Common ‍Lectionary ‍first ‍that ‍was ‍open ‍to ‍comments ‍and ‍criticism. ‍After ‍nearly ‍20 ‍years ‍of ‍collecting ‍comments ‍the ‍Consultation ‍then ‍published ‍the ‍Revised ‍Common ‍Lectionary ‍(RCL). ‍The ‍RCL ‍was ‍adopted ‍by ‍the ‍Episcopal, ‍Lutheran, ‍Presbyterian ‍and ‍Methodist ‍denominations. ‍On ‍the ‍Episcopal ‍and ‍Anglican ‍side ‍the ‍adoption ‍of ‍the ‍RCL ‍has ‍been ‍complicated ‍by ‍the ‍fact ‍that ‍the ‍1979 ‍Book ‍of ‍Common ‍Prayer ‍contains ‍the ‍lectionary ‍readings ‍that ‍are ‍to ‍be ‍read ‍and ‍there ‍has ‍not ‍been ‍an ‍update ‍to ‍the ‍BCP ‍that ‍reflects ‍the ‍RCL ‍schedule ‍of ‍readings. ‍In ‍many ‍instances ‍the ‍two ‍texts ‍are ‍very ‍similar ‍but ‍at ‍times ‍there ‍may ‍be ‍completely ‍different ‍passages ‍that ‍are ‍read.

‍For ‍example, ‍for ‍the ‍Fourth ‍Sunday ‍after ‍Epiphany ‍in ‍Year ‍C ‍the ‍1979 ‍BCP ‍and ‍the ‍RCL ‍contain ‍the ‍following ‍readings:

‍Lectionary ‍& ‍the ‍Liturgical ‍Year

‍Finally, ‍we ‍need ‍to ‍talk ‍about ‍the ‍relationship ‍between ‍the ‍Lectionary ‍readings ‍and ‍the ‍Liturgical ‍year. ‍Like ‍the ‍Jewish ‍community, ‍the ‍early ‍church ‍saw ‍a ‍strong ‍correlation ‍between ‍various ‍biblical ‍texts ‍and ‍the ‍Liturgical ‍year ‍and ‍its ‍cycle ‍of ‍feast ‍and ‍holy ‍days. ‍In ‍the ‍Jewish ‍community, ‍the ‍Talmud ‍mentions ‍that ‍the ‍passages ‍that ‍talk ‍about ‍Passover ‍should ‍be ‍read ‍when ‍Passover ‍was ‍celebrated. ‍In ‍the ‍Christian ‍church ‍they ‍quickly ‍linked ‍the ‍stories ‍about ‍Jesus’ ‍birth ‍to ‍Advent ‍and ‍Christmas, ‍and ‍Jesus ‍passion ‍and ‍crucifixion ‍to ‍Easter.

‍After ‍the ‍Second ‍Vatican ‍Council ‍and ‍the ‍Revised ‍Common ‍Lectionary ‍the ‍church ‍moved ‍to ‍a ‍three ‍year ‍cycle. ‍During ‍Year ‍A ‍the ‍text ‍of ‍Matthew ‍is ‍read ‍that ‍year. ‍In ‍Year ‍B ‍the ‍focus ‍is ‍on ‍Mark ‍and ‍in ‍Year ‍C ‍it ‍is ‍on ‍Luke. ‍The ‍Gospel ‍of ‍John ‍is ‍read ‍during ‍Christmas, ‍Lent ‍and ‍Easter ‍on ‍all ‍three ‍years. ‍The ‍following ‍diagram ‍is ‍an ‍attempt ‍show ‍the ‍relationship ‍between ‍the ‍Liturgical ‍Year ‍and ‍the ‍Lectionary ‍Readings. ‍Advent ‍marks ‍the ‍beginning ‍of ‍the ‍Liturgical ‍year. ‍This ‍chart ‍then ‍is ‍read ‍in ‍a ‍clockwise ‍manner ‍to ‍see ‍how ‍the ‍Liturgical ‍year ‍progresses.

‍Photo ‍of ‍a ‍page ‍from ‍a ‍Talmud ‍(1000 ‍AD?) ‍from ‍the ‍Cairo ‍Genizah, ‍Egypt.

‍Link ‍to ‍Wikipedia ‍article ‍on ‍the ‍Cairo ‍Genizah

‍The ‍Mishnah ‍states: ‍The ‍verse ‍“And ‍Moses ‍declared ‍to ‍the ‍children ‍of ‍Israel ‍the ‍appointed ‍seasons ‍of ‍the ‍Lord” ‍(Leviticus ‍23:44) ‍indicates ‍that ‍part ‍of ‍the ‍mitzva ‍of ‍the ‍Festivals ‍is ‍that ‍they ‍should ‍read ‍the ‍portion ‍relating ‍to ‍them, ‍each ‍one ‍in ‍its ‍appointed ‍time. ‍The ‍Sages ‍taught ‍in ‍a ‍baraita: ‍Moses ‍enacted ‍for ‍the ‍Jewish ‍people ‍that ‍they ‍should ‍make ‍halakhic ‍inquiries ‍and ‍expound ‍upon ‍the ‍matter ‍of ‍the ‍day. ‍They ‍should ‍occupy ‍themselves ‍with ‍the ‍halakhot ‍of ‍Passover ‍on ‍Passover, ‍with ‍the ‍halakhot ‍of ‍Shavuot ‍on ‍Shavuot, ‍and ‍with ‍the ‍halakhot ‍of ‍Sukkot ‍on ‍Sukkot. ‍

‍Talmud, ‍Megilah ‍32a

1979 Prayer Book

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 71:1-6, 15-17

I Corinthians 14:12-20

Luke 4:21-32

Revised Common Lectionary

 Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 71:1-6

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Luke 4:21-30

‍Four ‍Apostles, ‍Albrecht ‍Dürer, ‍1526, ‍Munich, ‍Alte ‍Pinakothek, ‍photo ‍by ‍author.

Back to Top


1 Raczka, Gary Philippe. "The Lectionary at the Time of Saint John Chrysostom." Notre Dame, 2015.

This website makes use of cookies. Please see our privacy policy for details.