of the Catholic Church
is a predetermined table of selections from Scripture
to be read at Mass
. The lectionary
prevents individual priests from freely choosing readings to promote their own viewpoints and gives the faithful and overall and comprehensive exposure to scripture. One of the unexpected consequences of the development of the Catholic lectionary was its adoption (with modification) by many Protestant churches
, and United Church of Canada
. This has been good for Christian ecumenism.
The lectionary, although generally prescribed for every day of the year, gives exceptions:
- alternate readings are given for solemnities and feast days
- appropriate choices are given for special ceremonies such as marriages and funerals
- a priest may choose alternate reading if they are more appropriate for a one-time gathering, such as a retreat
- the greatest flexibility is allowed for masses with children (probably because of their limited understanding and attention spans)
The Sunday Lectionary is based on a three year cycle (A, B, and C years), with reading adapted to the seasons of Ordinary Time, Lent/Easter, and Advent/Christmas. Three passages are read for each Sunday mass (and masses of holy days): usually one Old Testament reading, one passage from an epistle, and one passage from the Gospel. The fundamental focus is the Paschal mystery of Christ.
In Ordinary Time:
- The Gospel readings of Ordinary Time follow one of the synoptic gospels (Year A = Matthew; B = Mark, C = Luke). John is primarily reserved for the other seasons because of its special nature. Because Mark is so short, John 6 is read for five Sundays during Year B.
- The epistles are chosen with the intention of giving the faithful "a rich and varied" although by no means complete exposure to the most important aspects of those writings.
- Unlike the choosing of the epistles, the Old Testament readings are chosen to correspond to the Gospel text of that day. This is achieved either through the selection of a text with the same theme as the Gospel, or a text that prefigures the Gospel, or a text quoted or referenced in the Gospel.
- The first two Gospel readings in Lent are always about the Temptation and Transfiguraiton, respectively. In general readings about baptism are chosen from the Gospels for the rest of Year A, since it is during this season that all the faithful renew their baptism. In Year B the focus is given to the cross and Resurrection; in Year C on the process of conversion.
- The Old Testament readings during Lent do not necessarily conform to the Gospel; rather, they are chosen to lead the faithful through the Old Testament presenting the main elements of the history of salvation. Year A: Creation and fall, the call of Abraham, water from the rock, anointing of David, Promise of restoration; Year B: the Flood, Abraham and Isaac, the ten commandments, exile and destruction of the temple, promise of the new convenant; Year C: deliverance from Egypt, covenant with Abraham, call of Moses, Passover, promise of a new Exodus.
- The epistles are often chosen to both highlight Lenten themes and stress the themes of the Old Testament readings.
- On many Sundays in the Easter season after Easter itself, the Gospel of John is read and the Book of Acts replaces the Old Testament.