Friday, December 17, 2010

Lectionary Teaser

This Sunday I, and many others, will preach according to the RCL readings. The gospel is Matthew 1:18-25. Whoops, that's the reading for Christmas Day, isn't it? No. I have checked again: that is the reading for Sunday 19 December, 2010. But shouldn't it be a Christmas Day reading only and not six days beforehand? Fair point, but do not worry, there are fine readings from Luke's Gospel for Christmas Eve/Day services. Wait. Just hold on a minute there. I am sure this is the Year of Matthew (beginning with Advent, not on 1 January 2011). Surely there would be a Matthew reading for Christmas Day in the Year of Matthew? Well, there is: if you have Morning Prayer. What? Matthew-without-eucharist or eucharist-without-Matthew? Looks like it.

Seems strange, but I suppose it is one of those quirky things whereby in the Year of Matthew there is not a Matthew gospel reading on Christmas Day but in the Year of Luke there is a Matthew reading. Er, stupid. In the Year of Luke (last year) it was Luke readings all the way through: last Sunday before Christmas, Christmas Day.

Let me be clear here for local readers: as a paid up licensed clergyperson of ACANZP which includes rubrics about 'appointed' readings in its liturgies, I am a supporter of lectionary adherence. But I struggle to understand some things about the RCL readings. I do not understand some of its omissions: they look, for all the world, like 'politically correct' decisions (but that is a topic for discussion on another day). Here, I do not understand why the Year of Matthew does not drive forward the gospel reading chosen for one of the great festivals of the church calendar.

I get it, that on Christmas Eve/Day, Luke's Gospel provides a longer birth narrative yielding a better set of consistent (from one gospel) readings than Matthew's briefer account. I understand the choice for Luke year on year. But I think it is a poor consequence that in the Year of Matthew pretty much every preacher is going to feel a need to explain why Matthew 1:18-25 is the reading for six days before Christmas. When we explain we lecture, when we lecture we lose the attention of our congregations.

Who is in charge of revising the RCL?

It is not our General Synod.

What? There is something in the life of our church in which we are beholden to decisions made elsewhere in the world? Quelle horreur! How unAnglican to submit to a written document controlled by others beyond the shores of our fair islands and the control of our General Synod.

Advent (or Early Christmas) Blessings!


Fr. Bryan Owen said...

Quelle horreur, indeed, Peter!

I, too, am a supporter of lectionary adherence even as I also sometimes wonder, "What in the world were they thinking?" (whoever "they" are) when the decision to include this or omit that was made. And I have no doubt that sometimes those decisions are driven more by political correctness than by sound theological or liturgical principles.

That point reminds me of a striking instance of omission in the American Prayer Book lectionary for the Daily Office. Beginning on the Monday of Proper 6 thru Proper 12 of Year Two, the lectionary takes us through the entire letter of the apostle Paul to the Romans. Well, almost the entire letter. The only omission is chapter 1, verses 26-27: "For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error."

Now why in the world would only these two verses be singled out for omission from the assigned lectionary readings from this letter?

Peter Carrell said...

Exactly, Bryan!

Instead of the preacher preaching on that text, he or she may feel enticed into a convoluted explanation of why those verses are not read.

Brother David said...

I think that when TEC adopted the RCL in 2006, that it was "as amended" by TEC. So perhaps ACANZP could adopt an amended RCL.

Peter Carrell said...

That is a good suggestion, David!

We shall see how this flies, 'That this General Synod authorises Peter Carrell to amend the RCL lectionary as he sees fit and adopts in advance all his proposed changes as year succeeds to year.' :)

liturgy said...

1) The readings for Morning and Evening Prayer are not part of RCL whatsoever. Bryan and David are reading quite different readings for Morning and Evening Prayer than we are in NZ, but we all read the same RCL readings.

2) Each year in RCL the Christmas Day readings provided are exactly the same. There is never an RCL reading from Matthew on Christmas Day. There is always the RCL reading from Luke provided at Christmas. In every year the same.

3) Advent 4 Year A Matthew 1:18-25 is a story set before Christmas Day, not on it.

4) In the past one could not be ordained in NZ unless one passed a test on the lectionary and calendar. Your job, should you accept it, Peter, is to let us know when and why that changed :-)



A. J. Chesswas said...

Seriously, though, Peter, can't we appoint you to chair a Committee for an ACANZP lectionary?

My wife and I use the lectionary for daily readings, and find it silly the way that portions of scripture are entirely left out. For example, today we had Jacob's prophecies for his sons - but verse 1 was left out so there was no context, and the prophecies for Reuben and Simeon were left out - like its screened for kids or something: we can't talk about a son dishonoured for defiling his father's bed, or another son's curse for his violent reputation.

Just because some people don't like certain parts of scripture, doesn't mean they can be left out. It seems odd if it's the result of TEC-liberals - I thought they prided themselves on critical scholarship. If thats the case then surely the bits they disagree with should be preached on and critiqued, and not just left out. I think you could run an argument along these lines for a more inclusive lectionary, that gets on board all ACANZPs, liberal conservative and middle. And I think the world over there must be a demand for a lectionary like that.

So, Peter, are you serious about that motion? Because I would back it, support it, promote it as much as I could. I follow your blog regularly, and your articles which appear all over the place, and in my humble opinion I think that if anyone in this country could tackle this one you could.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi AJ,
Thank you for your affirmation!
I think my 'teasing' motion might be stronger if it included words about any changes agreed to by Peter Carrell AND Bosco Peters :)

I would be somewhat loathe to take on a committee role. Better to be the autocrat, I say!!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
You are right: the RCL is confined to the eucharist readings.

Matthew 1:18-25 as a pre Christmas story? An intriguing thought. I think I would be more comfortable with that analysis if the reading set down was 1:18-24. The RCL is not averse to verse omission!

Your challenge re the lectionary test. Wouldn't it be more challenging to reintroduce the test? You could be examiner and I could be moderator :)

Peter Carrell said...

And no question in the lectionary and calendar test could be too obscure!

liturgy said...

AJ Chesswass: “Just because some people don't like certain parts of scripture, doesn't mean they can be left out. It seems odd if it's the result of TEC-liberals - I thought they prided themselves on critical scholarship.”

Oh puhleezz!!!! The current rain in Christchurch is the result of TEC-liberals, the ongoing recession is the result of TEC-liberals, and the Christchurch and Haiti earthquakes and global warming is the result of TEC-liberals – BUT! The particular readings you are referring to are the result of the ultra-ultra-ultra liberals Pope Benedict XVI and his Vatican allies. These are the RC Daily Mass readings you are following.

Peter: Your suggestion of having Matthew 1:25 as the Christmas Day reading, whatever your interpretation of the Greek for “until”, would, I posit, beat even St Matthew in the City’s billboard for imagery shock value.

I am quite happy to have the introduction of a province-wide set of tests to ascertain consistent standards prior to ordination – as they have them in TEC. I would be quite happy to function as an examiner for such a set and hope you will promote it through the network of those responsible for ordination training and formation.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
I did not actually say I would have Matthew 1:25 as my Christmas Day Matthean reading :)

I would be quite happy with some repetition of 1:18-24 so the Christmas Day reading would be Matthew 1:18-25.

Of course at midnight one could time the reading so that 1:18-24 were read up to and including 12.00.00 and 1.25 was read from 12.00-12.00.01!!

A. J. Chesswas said...

Oh its the RCs, that explains it. Do you agree, though, Bosco - that we shouldn't censor the Bible in our lectionary readings?

Gene Packwood said...

Politically correct, indeed. I've heard of someone who makes a point of preaching on the omissions.

Father Ron Smith said...

"But I struggle to understand some things about the RCL readings. I do not understand some of its omissions: they look, for all the world, like 'politically correct' decisions".

If you really are struggling with the RCL readings, Peter, perhaps it is because you are not altogether comfortable with an ordered system of Scripture passages at the Eucharist.

In churches where the Eucharist is the primary source of Sunday worship - bearing in mind that there is at least one church in the Diocese that relegates the Eucharist to the place of an 'occasional service' - then the Sunday Readings are the focus of most people's understanding of the real presence of Christ with them at that time.

The Common Lectionary, therefore, has been devised by those whose understanding of Eucharistic worship is such that the Readings are meant to reflect the best possible outcome which is able to take account of what is actually 'going on' in the interface between Christ and those who have come to receive from Him the spiritual gifts He has in mind for them at the Holy Common-Union.

On the other hand, those whose expectation of Christ's special presence at the Eucharist is not so highly developed; the Readings may be geared more especially to the theme of the preachment - based on random and personally selected words from The Bible, rather than on The Word-Made-Flesh encountered in every Celebration of the Eucharist.

There is no special sanctity in the random choice of which of the Scriptures is selected for the day, whereas an ordered selection makes for unity of understanding by the hearers. Surely that is a bonus?

liturgy said...

“Do you agree, though, Bosco - that we shouldn't censor the Bible in our lectionary readings?”

Hmmm – how can I respond – this is a trick question isn’t it, like: have you stopped beating your wife yet?

For Sunday readings, I am firmly committed to RCL. It is not perfect, and I do not believe a perfect system is possible. But it’s what we have agreed to ecumenically, internationally & that’s very hard to get agreement on.

Similarly, I would maybe not translate the Lord’s Prayer, “…save us from the time of trial…” but it’s hard enough to get ecumenical, international agreement without my doing my own eccentric departure from that…

For daily Eucharistic readings, like you are using, again – we could do better, but these are the most-used readings on the planet. When you read them you are reading them with millions of other Christians all around the planet – that counts for something IMO.

When it comes to the Morning Prayer readings that Peter refers to – well, you are talking about a much much much smaller group. So let’s see if we can improve that.

I don’t know how regularly you visit my site, but I’ve been advocating a new resource reading the whole Bible in three years.

Well it’s censored actually. It’s not reading the whole Bible – just the Protestant one ;-)

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
It is a bonus to have unity of readings.

I am puzzled at your emphasis on 'random' selection as the alternative to the RCL: generally I find that Anglicans not following the lectionary follow another scheme (e.g. systematically preaching through a book of the Bible).

My point questioning RCL selections is not to question having a lectionary per se. Naturally I do not subscribe to any theories of RCL-selectors' inerrancy :)

A. J. Chesswas said...

Thanks Bosco for pointing me to your resource - I will make some comments at your blog re Connolly's book.

But you didn't answer my question. I share the sentiment of wanting to read the scriptures ecumenically. I'm not advocating dropping the RCL. I'm suggesting (RCL+RS) where RS = the remaining parts of the passages that get left out. And I'm suggesting that we participate in RCL not passively, but as ecumenical fellows seeking to do our bit to help improve and edify an imperfect system.

So at the next synod we move a motion for Peter to fill out the RCL for canon-friendly Anglicans, and we move a motion for Synod to try to get you up in the palaces with Pope Benny et al.

Father Ron Smith said...

".. generally I find that Anglicans not following the lectionary follow another scheme (e.g. systematically preaching through a book of the Bible)." - Peter Carrell -

In this diocese, I believe it is incumbent upon all parish clergy to follow the Bishop's directive to use the Lectionary readings for all Eucharistic Services. Is this not so?

As for other Offices of the Church - or alternative services - it may be advantageous to follow through a series on a particular theme or book of the Bible. However, at all celebrations of the Eucharist, it would seem to be more helpful to everyone to follow the theme of the Church's Year - something that is accepted in mainline Anglicanism.

liturgy said...

Allan (here called A.J. Chesswass), I’m not sure which question you think I haven’t answered. The daily Mass readings that you and your wife use clearly are not going to read the whole Bible. Have a look at the size of the Bible – that’s no where near reading enough daily. It is, as Fr Ron is suggesting, a lectionary with a eucharistic focus. Complaining about it omitting parts of the scriptures misunderstands its purpose. It is set within a framework of the Daily Office, including the Office of Readings, and personal Bible study. Your lifting it out of its framework and then complaining about TEC liberals causing you to miss other parts of the Bible, both misunderstands what you are doing, and betrays prejudice.

In any attempt to complement RCL, I suggest: just don’t worry too much about working around RCL – just make up a system pretty much independent of it.

Peter, and others, this is not the first time that there are these type of complaints about lectionaries. One time a priest (he would call himself a minister) raised issues in comments, and when I went to his parish website it was not as Peter suggests, any systematic reading of scripture – it was clearly haphazard. Anyway: do the Maths: following such a system, how many years you can avoid the scripture you really don’t want to preach on!

What is evident in these moans about RCL is that – have you actually read a book on RCL? Have you researched it? Have you studied lectionary development, history, and theory? I have already stated – I believe this should be compulsory for everyone being ordained. Thinking that our daily Eucharistic lectionary originates with TEC liberals trying to avoid certain scriptures should not appear on a public website. Who would have corrected this prejudice if I hadn’t? Another anti-TEC prejudice confirmed…

When we read the Christmas readings you complain about at the start of the post, we not only read them with the majority of Christians around the world, but we read these readings that Christians have read on Christmas day through the centuries. I see the same options in Wurzburg in the sixth century, in Alcuin’s choices, in the Murbach lectionary of the eighth century, in the Sacramentary of Bergamo, in the Ambrosian Missal…. These are the readings Christians have read on Christmas Day… Demand a change to them if you wish, but be aware of what you are demanding.

Unlike you, I do believe that the RCL is a movement of the Holy Spirit in our time. It is a miracle of unity across our divided Christian world.

Sadly, after Pentecost, it removed our link with the synagogue lectionary and calendar. It is not perfect. But it is an amazing feature of contemporary Christianity. The scandal is those Anglicans who do not use it (promising and signing that they will!!!), and you yourself state few use all its features – how can people complain that it omits stuff, when they aren’t even using what it provides!!!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron ... Bosco

Ron: you are right about the expectations in the Diocese of Christchurch and I would hope and urge that they are fulfilled.

Bosco: just about every time you write about the lectionary I learn something new, and your comments here are no exception: thank you!

A. J. Chesswas said...

My question, Bosco, was in an earlier short comment which you had noticed and mentioned was difficult to respond to:

"Do you agree, though, Bosco - that we shouldn't censor the Bible in our lectionary readings?"

The question related to Peter's & Bryan's mention of bits that get left out, Bryan's example of the bit in Romans 1, and my example from Friday's reading from Genesis 49.

I am convinced, as it seems is much of the world of biblical studies, that good biblical scholarship should read scripture in context, and in its proper parts (i.e. pericopes, stanzas, etc.). But the NZ Anglican lectionary seems to rip biblical passages apart. And when you try and theorise why it may be, on the basis of comparing what got left out to what didn't, it seems clear that the more human, violent and judgmental parts of scripture get left out. Don't tell me that this has been on on across the world since lectionaries began!

So my question, is this: Should we encourage the powers that be to honour the canon, and honour good exegetical principles, in formulating the lectionary? With the effect of including those bits that currently get left out when we're told to start with verse 2, skip the next few, begin again at verse 6b to 8, drop 9 - 15, and back again at 16 through to 22 (this is just a hypothetical example, but typical).

liturgy said...

"Do you agree, though, Bosco - that we shouldn't censor the Bible in our lectionary readings?"

This is not so much difficult to respond to, Allan, as phrased in the sort of way that the Pharisees phrased questions to test Jesus out. My response was to indicate that – clearly not as well as Jesus would.

I am surprised to be asked the question a second time – after having pointed to a resource I am strongly promoting which reads the whole of the Bible without omission.

Now to your example of the Mass reading that you and your wife read on the 17th and you complained about. This is a prophecy. The verses are NOT being omitted. The extra verse is an ADDITION!!! The extra verse is put prior to the prophecy being focused on so that you know the context and who is speaking. Yes, if you approach the readings negatively and with prejudice, you will always find something supporting your prejudice. If you approached the reading with an open mind to hearing what the Spirit is saying to the Church in this passage of prophecy the Church connects to Christmas, perhaps you would have noticed my point.

What continues to confuse and astonish me, is the thought that your reading four verses with your wife had you thinking you were reading the whole Bible. In order to read the whole Bible, you need to read about three chapters a day. At the rate you are reading, you would need more than 16 years. Particularly surprising would be that the same four verses were read on the 17th last year, and the year before that, and the year…

You are complaining about trying to plough a large paddock with a trowel. Then you are complaining that TEC liberals have deliberately produced the trowel you are using in order to make ploughing the field impossible, whereas, actually TEC liberals did not make the trowel, and the trowel works really well for its intended use: to work on a wonderful flower bed.

A. J. Chesswas said...

Bosco, I understand that the resource you are promoting isn’t a lectionary. My question wasn’t “where can I find a resource that allows me to read the bible in entirety?” If it was, your direction to Commoly’s resource would have addressed my concerns. My question was purely concerning the lectionary.

I am not necessarily expecting the lectionary to take me through the whole bible – although it would seem to me that would be a useful thing for a lectionary to achieve, in connection with the church seasons. All I am expecting is that a resource used by the Anglican Church for reading and interpreting scripture would apply good canonical and exegetical principles.

But, admittedly there are two aspects to what I am addressing:
1) Whether or not a lectionary should employ ALL scripture
2) Whether or not the scripture that the lectionary employs should be offered both in context, and in textual wholes (i.e. full periscopes, stanzas, prophecies, etc.)

The question of whether or not we should censor scripture applies to both of these aspects. I am much happier to accept that the question of employing all scripture is debatable. But I would like to think that scripture, & human communication and meaning, would be honoured enough by the church for passages to be read as wholes.

Perhaps the Genesis 49 example was a bad one – you are right, that it could be considered that verse 2 was added as context. But the example Bryan offers, and my memory of a reading of James 2 leaving out verses 13 – 15. These sorts of examples cannot be explained away as easily, and surely you have noticed them yourself?

I wouldn’t let my remark about TEC-liberals get you all hot under the collar either. My reference to them followed Bryan and David’s comments – I have no conspiracy theory of my own, and happily accepted correction that it was the RCs. I did remark that it would seem odd to blame TEC-liberals.

liturgy said...

Allan writes: “Bosco, I understand that the resource you are promoting isn’t a lectionary.”

Sorry, Allan, I don’t have that much energy to pursue every fine detail that concerns you. I am not responsible for the lectionaries that the editor of the NZ Anglican lectionary booklet has chosen, nor for their construction. I am merely explaining the purpose of the RCL and the Daily Eucharistic Lectionary – not the many others you are now bringing into the conversation. I certainly might choose different lectionaries to print, and if you follow my site, you will see I certainly have many issues with that publication.

I now have no idea what you mean by a “lectionary” and why you claim so categorically that the resource I point to is not a lectionary?

I do not know what your concern is about James 2: 13 – 15. These verses were read in NZ on July 26 and 27, and are read in NZ at Eucharists where the focus is “For Social Responsibility” (see For all the Saints, p.504).

There are IMO far, far bigger issues in our liturgical life in NZ, and even in that booklet’s publication, than wondering why a particular verse is omitted here and there. No one is preventing anyone from adding verses to the readings set – particularly when you are just reading at home with your wife. You may have noticed that the RCL Gospel reading this morning has expanded the original Vatican versification – so much for the conspiracy theory that RCL is reducing what we read. Not for centuries has so much scripture been read so systematically within our Eucharistic communities.

The real scandal is those communities that are not offering what RCL provides – and Peter says these within the Anglican Church in NZ are way and by far in the majority.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco et al,
For the record and with apologies if I have been unintentionally ambiguous, it is no part of my ruminations on the use of the lectionary(s) in ACANZP to assert that the majority of our faith communities do not follow the RCL in Sunday eucharists. I assert no such thing!

I do observe that not all parish communities follow the RCL in Sunday eucharists. My general sense is that these are a minority of parishes across our church, not a majority. Of course some of those among this minority are following lectionary readings otherwise authorised by our church (notably the two year cycle which receives the greater emphasis in NZPB than the three year cycle).

In sum, my own observations and my anecdotal evidence is that the RCL is alive and well followed in ACANZP.

liturgy said...

Two points of clarification:

1) The RCL sets three readings and a psalm for each occasion. You have, more than once, Peter, stated that you did not know (m)any communities that used that full provision. The final paragraph of my last comment refers to that. When we have all used what RCL provides for a round or two, then, I think we may have the right to sit down and talk about how that was for us & how we might improve it. I just think it is a cheek of people to talk about a verse the RCL omits here or there when communities omit whole readings provided!

The liturgical issue is that NZ still generally has a very "cluttered vestibule" in our entrance rite being so poorly done - the intention of the entrance rite is preparation for hearing what the Spirit is saying to us through the scriptures. We lay too much stress on the preparing and too little on the scriptures that the preparation is for IMO. The emPHAsis is all on the wrong syLLABle! [For those unfamiliar with NZ: some communities read only the Gospel reading set! Some, as Peter mentions, don't follow RCL at all. I'd love a list or numbers: who actually, seriously still uses the NZ 2 year Sunday cycle?]

2) In NZ we read Rom 1:26-27 on May 25. Unless there is a systematic removal of all similar texts, how about following the "stuff up" theory - it's a typo! Or provide us with the General Convention debate about removing these two verses from Romans - for certainly there must have been at least one person that would have raised it?! We are talking about the 1970s here - not the everything-from-TEC-is-a-conspiracy noughties!

Peter Carrell said...

Fair points, Bosco!

I shall amend my 'clarification' to:

In my observation and from anecdotal evidence:

(1) most NZ Anglican parishes follow the RCL (to some degree) at the eucharist;

(2) most NZ parishes do not follow all four readings provided by the RCL;

(3) a goodly number (either a small majority or a large minority?) offer just two RCL readings (always the gospel)

(4) possiblly less than in (3), a reasonable number of parishes offer three RCL readings (probably omitting the psalm);

(5) the most likely place to find all four readings is a cathedral!

A. J. Chesswas said...

"Sorry, Allan...I am not responsible for the lectionaries that the editor of the NZ Anglican lectionary booklet has chosen, nor for their construction. I am merely explaining the purpose of the RCL and the Daily Eucharistic Lectionary – not the many others you are now bringing into the conversation."

Bosco, I've been pretty plain and can't see why you are so confused. I have talked the whole time about how my wife and I are reading the ACANZP lectionary - daily. And the ACANZP lectionary is based on the RCL and DEL. So when you talk about the "many others" I am bringing to conversation you have me completely lost.

I figured a lectionary is written up for use in eucharistic worship - whereas I got the impression that Connolly's plan is just a general reading plan. Lectionary = readings for use in eucharistic worship. And at the end of the day, Connolly’s plan is not a central part of the life of our community. I’m not looking for something I can tailor for myself, as though these things are a matter of taste. I am critiquing what is embraced collectively, and suggesting developing our imperfect common life in a more perfect direction.

I can only conclude from your comments that you are happy for scripture to be used as isolated verses, out of context, and for parts of passages to be skipped in Eucharistic readings. I think such an approach treats those attending Anglican Eucharist as dummies, and waters down the quality and depth of teaching in Anglican churches. I think it helps cultivate (paradoxically) individualistic, fundamentalist and relativist reading of scripture by congregants.

liturgy said...

Allan, the RCL and DEL form less than a third of the content of the ACANZP lectionary. I have never heard of your definition of a lectionary, think it is false, and cannot see it corresponds to anything in reality. It does not even match your description of your own use, nor the comments in this thread. You can, of course, conclude whatever you like from my comments. That does not mean I need to concur with your conclusion or that your conclusion is correct. You have a habit, as I have tried to point out, of phrasing things in such a way that dialogue becomes almost impossible.