Choosing the readings

Roman Catholic parishes are fully bound to the lectionary. In most English Protestant churches it is generally optional whether to follow it. These alternatives create a push and pull that affects Anglicans, depending on how strong the evangelical or catholic influence is in any particular parish. This post, unusually for this series, therefore primarily relates to the peculiar situation of Anglicans, though I hope it might still be of interest to other readers.

We have already seen that there is a choice in the underlying Revised Common Lectionary between a semi-continuous and a related Old Testament reading. This choice is not yours as an individual reader of Scripture, but rather one where the church corporately decides on its pattern for worship. Common Worship provides several clear pieces of guidance on these choices, as well as permitting an alternative in Ordinary Time which fits the practice of some churches.

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Fitting readings and calendar together

We’ve looked at the pattern of the Church’s year, and at the ways the readings interlink in the Sunday liturgy. Now it’s time to look at how it all fits together over time. I hope, especially as we’ve gone through the calendar in this section, all those different Sunday names have become clearer. This is now where we deal with the last plank of all those detailed references to particular Sundays by years as well as by names.

The pattern of readings is based on organising the reading of Scripture over three years. This is done slightly differently depending on whether we are in one of the two main seasonal cycles, or are in Ordinary Time. This difference is potentially greater for the Revised Common Lectionary than it is for the Roman one. The underlying principle of the three years remains the same throughout.

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When time is ordinary

I should probably offer a health warning on this post: there’s no way of explaining the diversity of ways churches name and number the different Sundays of the year without getting a little bit geeky. I have tried to be as clear as possible, but there is a lot of rather messy detail that demands a certain amount of anorak wearing.

When I looked at the Christmas and Easter cycles, I described them as swimming in a sea of Ordinary Time. Having told these stories, one of the events around Christ’s birth, the other of events around his death, there’s still well over half a year left over. So having told these stories, the church then reflects for the rest of the year on what it means to live out a life that is faithful to the stories of this Jesus, reading through the main teaching sections of the gospels.

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