Before we could all begin Advent last week, a few changes had to be made in the church. The sacristans and I set about it right after the Saturday morning Mass. You probably noticed the violet hangings and simpler altar cloths, and certainly the Advent wreath. Less visible were the changes in the liturgical books.
Advent begins the liturgical year, so the books from which we celebrate the Mass are all reset to the beginning pages. For the Lectionary, the book from which we read the Sacred Scriptures at Mass, we even had to change volumes. Having just finished Year B, in which the Gospel according to Saint Mark is featured, we are now in Year C, when we hear from Saint Luke. One more year, for Saint Matthew, rounds out this three-year lectionary cycle of readings for Sunday Mass.
Each Gospel reading is accompanied by first reading from either the Old Testament (most of the year) or the Acts of the Apostles or Revelation (during the Easter season.) Don’t worry; we haven’t forgotten Saint John! His Gospel, which is less of a chronological narrative (“synoptic”) of Jesus’ life and work, is featured heavily on Holy Days and other occasions.
That’s only Sundays. On weekdays throughout the year, the readings are on a two-year cycle; we just started Year II. The Gospel selections are the same for both years, but the first readings and psalms change.
This may strike you as arcane information, but just think about it for a second. There is system behind the readings at Mass, and if you attend faithfully for three years, you will hear a broad, carefully charted sweep of the whole Bible. Then, it will be time to start afresh. If you attend weekday Mass regularly, you’ll get even more!
Most of you know that a few years back, I had to learn how to celebrate the old form (Latin!) of the Mass, and that I came to appreciate it. But I also came to a deeper appreciation of particular aspects the Mass since the Second Vatican Council, forty-five years ago. The richer, deeper lectionary is definitely one of them. In the old Mass, the readings were the same every year, and there was only one reading before the Gospel, usually an Epistle. The Scriptural texts were more concentrated, and thematically linked – and shorter! However, this is another example of when less is most definitely not more.
As article 51 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, declared, The treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God's Word. In this way a more representative portion of the Holy Scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years.
While the Council directed the actions only of the Church, you may find it interesting to know that since then, a number of protestant ecclesial communities have adopted similar three-year lectionaries, even some that beforehand had no prescribed lectionary at all to provide Scripture selections for their worship.
As we approach the lavish banquet spread for us by the Lord Jesus, who feeds our hungry hearts, let us be grateful for this richer fare of God’s sacred Word, that continually feeds us with the truth and beauty of His plan for us and our salvation, His grace, mercy, and peace, and His love in Christ Jesus, His Word become flesh.