Shared Treasure: The Inclusive Lectionary

Article excerpt

No one should denigrate the great ecumenical moments: The pope of Rome meets with the archbishop of Canterbury or with the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinopel. Statements of doctrinal convergence are issued by joint commissions for dialogue. But there are other moments of quieter ecumenism, concrete and pastoral--of regular occurrence and lasting importance.

One of these is the common use of the same schedule of biblical readings at the Sunday liturgy in neighboring congregations, Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and on and on. This common pattern for hearing the word of God is embodied in a common lectionary, now called The Revised Common Lectionary (Nashville: Abingdon, 1992). It is a list that is equally usable with the excellent New Revised Standard Version, the New American Bible, or older versions. The remarkable thing is that this agreed-upon list of readings--now spreading throughout the English-speaking world and under study by the churches of other languages--is basically the order established for the reformed Roman liturgy in 1969.

Among many instances of reciprocal influence in liturgical reform, this is a providential contribution of Vatican II. The council decreed that more scriptural readings should be introduced into the services of worship, whether sacraments or other services, even the briefest. But for the Sunday Eucharist, its chief concern, the council mandated "a more lavish opening up of the treasures of the Bible," with a better selection of passages read over a period of years.

It is hard to exaggerate the impact upon the hundreds of millions of Catholics who follow the Roman rite. The 1969 reform increased the quantity and quality of readings, and the use of a three-year cycle of reading gave it a distinctive character. Based on semicontinuous reading of Matthew, Mark, and, Luke--with John added to the year of Mark--the three-year list enables the Scriptures to be heard as written, without the artifices of scholastic, analytic, or even catechetical arrangements.

The revised Roman order was barely published when other churches in North America began to adopt the same arrangement, with certain refinements and adaptations (for example, changes dependent on different church calendars and traditions). The first launched was The Worshipbook-Services of the Presbyterian Church in 1970 (later accepted by the Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ), followed by Episcopal, Lutheran, and Consultation on Church Union lectionaries. These culminated in a joint effort--involving the collaboration of ICEL, the (Roman Catholic) International Commission on English in the Liturgy--toward a single joint list for trial use in 1983; this was reworked for the 1992 edition mentioned above. …