Saturday, May 29, 2010

Studying the Lectionary - May 2010

An intellectual glimpse behind the scenes at the end of May...

Most careers today require continuing education and development.  This is certainly true of ministries in the Church.  One must constantly develop intellectually in order to minister effectively today. I love to read and do research, so I must admit that this is one of my favorite diaconal tasks.

When preaching, I don't usually stray too far from "imprimatured" sources - Scripture itself and liturgical sources are always primary, but papal documents, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Fathers (esp. Augustine), Newman and artists are often in the mix too.  In other words, I don't handle the new stuff too often and I have a particular aversion to controversial theological stuff when preaching. For a whole bunch of reasons, [which I can share with you if you're interested], I just don't think the homily is the place for that. Note: I am not averse to current issues - the sex abuse scandals for example - being spoken about; I am referring to theological conjecture.

However, that should not be taken to mean that I am not interested in theological development.  I am indeed interested. It is there in every homily and every lesson I teach, but it is there in the inscape, not as the object. My parish outlet for intellectual "new" stuff is the St. Jerome Book Club sessions we have once a month.  At our Book Club, I often get to explore and hear new perspectives, challenges, viewpoints, etc.  These discussions, coupled with the amazing questions my teenage students ask, often send me off on a research jag. 

The last month or so, I have been studying the formation of the Sunday Lectionary.  This interest comes out of my homily preparations primarily. While I am usually focused solely on the readings of a particular Sunday, lately I find myself taking a "meta" view of the lectionary.  I started this line of study by pursuing the answer to a simple factual question, viz., who designed the current lectionary?  This led, as most interesting questions do, to whole new areas of exploration.

I recently read The Sunday Lectionary: Ritual Word, Paschal Shape (1998) by Normand Bonneau, OMI.  He is a Professor of Biblical Studies at St. Paul University in Ottawa, Canada. This book was a great first read on the lectionary.  It answered my question about the designers of the current lectionary on page 23!  More importantly it gave me a general introduction to the history of lectionaries in the Church and provided many intellectual trajectories to pursue. Perhaps most importantly, it pointed me in the direction of Elmar Nubold's Formation and Appraisal of the Roman Rite's New Order of Readings for the Celebration of Mass on Sundays and Solemnities (1986). This is the "touchstone" of lectionary studies. I am in the process of tracking down a copy now.  It may be available only in the original German.

At the suggestion of one of my former professors at Christ the King Seminary with whom I consulted on my research [who was kind enough to mail a copy to me!], I read Gerard S. Sloyan's article from Liturgy 19(3): 13-18, 2004  titled: The Plan of the Lectionary: Suggestions for the Reader. The very title is a reminder that lectors/readers are a liturgical rediscovery.  From 1570 through 1971, the priest did the Bible readings at Mass in Latin.  They were all contained in the Missal itself; there was no separate Sunday Lectionary until 1971. [The current Lectionary was completed by 1969 but not in force until 1971.] While learning much from Sloyan's article, I kept thinking how blessed we are to have the current Lectionary (in spite of its shortcomings).  Sloyan reminded me that, from 1570 through 1971, considerably less Scripture was proclaimed at Sunday Mass in the Roman Rite. In fact, almost none of the Hebrew Scriptures were proclaimed before the new Lectionary came into force. I have a new-found appreciation for the current Lectionary!

Now it's this question of the "integration," for lack of a better term, of the Hebrew Scriptures into the Catholic Liturgy that is consuming me.  Some scholars suggest that the Hebrew Scripture pericopae in the Lectionary too often give the impression that they have no intrinsic value and exist only to prepare and predict Christ. Of course, do not misread me, the Hebrew Scriptures DO do that from the Christian perspective, but they have intrinsic value too.  In other words, they are not solely propaedeutic for the Christian Scriptures. Too often, at least in the view of some scholars, the Hebrew Scripture readings of the Lectionary are simply there for typological reasons.  This is a problem that the developers of the Lectionary probably could not have foreseen since again, the very fact that Hebrew Scriptures were included at all at Sunday Mass was a giant leap forward liturgically.

I found Michael Peppard's article in Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations, Volume I, Issue 1, 2005 titled: Do We Share a Book? The Sunday Lectionary and Jewish-Christian Relations helpful in this regard.  I am trying to track down a copy of Regina A. Boisclair's Ph.D. dissertation (Temple University, 1996) titled: Proclaiming Salvation - The Hermeneutics of Six Contemporary Christian Lectionaries, which was mentioned in Peppard's article.  There may be some interesting insights to be gleaned from what other denominations find useful/objectionable in our Catholic Lectionary. My guess is that they downplay the typological pairing significantly; but, having not read it yet, I might be totally wrong on this!  Either way, I'd like to see what Dr. Boisclair has to say in her dissertation.

That's where I am in my studies this month.  I will undoubtedly continue my focus on the Lectionary for the next few months. I still have many unanswered questions and continue to find new avenues for exploration.  If you have any thoughts or suggestions, please send them my way -