There is one little word that ought never to appear in lectionaries: “or”.
It even appears in the 1662, I’m afraid – if you count Psalms and Canticles, that is.
(But maybe you’re not. And if you’re not, I think I pretty much agree with you. But haven’t there always been choices of readings on the High Holy Days? I thought so….)
(It’s here, too.)
That’s fascinating, Derek.
I’ve often wondered WHY there are alternatives. Would it be because of two local (or cultural) traditions, both of which continue to have local value in different traditions (like Genesis 1 and 2)? Or just two different “good ideas” of two Commission members whom no one wanted to offend? Or was it “Option 2 is just too good to throw out altogether, but not good enough to displace option 1”.?
Not to mention that alternatives may also be the result of trying to accomodate competing theological orientations, as the substitution of Psalms for the Gospel Canticles in the 1662 Prayer Book office. I wonder if this plays out in the lectionaries as well.
Just curious, what do you think about readings that allow for the omission of certain verses. I guess you could see this as an implicit “or.” On one hand, some of those verses could definitely be stumbling blocks for many (dashing babies heads and all that), but could it ever be appropriate to include these “texts of terror” in our liturgical proclamation?
There was a discussion here about this not long ago, I remembered, Kevin. Here’s one post that links to some others.
As I see it, the purpose of a lectionary is to give direction: to set forth a pattern to which we conform our prayer and liturgical ways of being. To provide options from which we choose is therefore a weakening of the process and undermines the principle of obedience to something other than ourselves.
Yes, quite often theologies are at stake and the inclusion of options is an attempt to mediate. But mediation rarely occurs. Rather the groups do what they would have done anyway…
The major “or” in the Revised Common (Mass) Lectionary is a theological dispute: should the “green” seasons have OT readings that are selected and follow the classical principle of typological interpretation or should they attempt to give the sense of continuous reading?
To answer Kevin M’s question, I think the lectionary in view should help make the decision. Theologically, liturgically, historically, the lectionaries for the Mass and the Daily Office have served two different functions. The Mass lectionary is intended to be mystagogical and to lead us deeper into the mysteries of Christ being celebrated through the seasons of the Temporal Cycle. The Office lectionary was intended to be catechetical and to put Christians continually in conversation with the biblical text as a whole (as it read through the entire Bible [or as close as they could get] every year).
Functionally, these distinctions are less meaningful since most modern American Christians get all the Bible they’re ever going to get in whatever they hear on Sunday. Hence, the RCL tries to do both and (in my view) fails at both. The reason I raise the distinction is because the troubling texts of terror are not necessarily suited for mystagogical use. However, I’d argue that they are catechetically essential. These are texts that we need to know and wrestle with for any number of reasons, perhaps the chief being that they profoundly resist our attempts to domesticate the Bible.
Our congregations need to encounter them. Actually–they need to encounter the whole Bible period… However, if a priest/preacher/worship leader/Christian educator lays these before a congregation or class, they’d darn better have something to say about them and a dismissive “we don’t believe this any more” is *not* sufficient!
I’ve always been interested in the fact that the vast, vast majority of the books of the Bible (certainly of the NT) were written to be HEARD and LISTENED TO, i.e., to be read (or even chanted) aloud to an assembled congregation. I seriously doubt that the idea of “Bible Study” was something intended by any of the authors.
And it seems that preaching developed as a way to clarify and perhaps provide a hermeneutic (quite often ideological) for the corporately-heard Readings.
But if the huge majority of Christians who have ever lived on earth never saw or read or owned a Bible, what is it that has made “Bible Study” such a central and fundamental expectation for Christians today?
I’m not ag’n it, but it seems curious to me. Was it the Reformers rejection of “church” in favor of “scripture” that did it?
And if one is going to do any serious Bible Study, doesn’t one have to start with the text itself: i.e., with an unlikely couple of years worth of koine study? Just recently I ran onto Bart Ehrman’s statement that there are 5,366 copies of Greek scriptures surviving (between 2nd and 16th centuries) — except for tiny fragments, no two of which are exactly alike. Variant readings number in the hundreds of thousands.
What do we do with that? How do we teach that? Whenever I have taught “Bible Study”, we begin with the received text and, in passing, I point out some oddities in the Hebrew or Greek and then we go on to discuss the content — and inevitably, it was those variant readings that fascinated the laity most.
And sometimes we just have to leave the “texts of terror” sit there – or decide to teach sociology and anthropology as well as scripture – don’t we?
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