The Bishops’ Prymer and Daily Office Lectionaries

I ran across an interesting discovery the other day…

While looking through the Three Prymers for another purpose, I took notice of the kalendar of the second prymer, referred to as the bishops’ prymer, written by John, Bishop of Rochester and others within the reign of Henry the 8th. (According to my downloaded file, the kalendar of which I speak begins on PDF page 308.)

Just to clarify, this text was written when the official public services of the Church of England were still the Latin-language Sarum services according to the Missal and the Breviary.

The kalendar is not a true kalendar in the sense that it would give a listing of the days and the sanctoral or occasional fixed temporal feasts that fall upon it. Instead, this kalendar is used as a general framework on which is superimposed the moveable contents of the Temporal Cycle with the red-letter days inserted as they appear.

The page has three main columns. The middle column gives only the dominical letters and so is just a string of letters repeating from A to g. A thin column by the side of the page gives a breviary-type reading (you’ll see why I call it that in a second) while a wider column on the other side of the letters gives the incipit and chapter for the Epistle and Gospel readings for Sunday and festal masses. The “breviary” column is roughly aligned with the Sundays listed in the “Mass” column.

These are the contents of the “Mass” column for January:

  • [New Year’s Day]: For the, Tit. ii; And when, Luke ii
  • On the Sunday within eight days of Christmas whenever it fall: And I say, Gal. iv; And his, Luke ii
  • [Untitled–Christmas II? Vigil of Epiphany?]: For the, Tit. ii; When Herod, Matt. ii
  • The Epiphany: Esa. lx; When Jesus was born, Matt ii.
  • On the Sunday next after Twelfth Day: Rise up, Esa. lx; The next day, John i
  • On the Second Sunday after Twelfth Day: I beseech, Rom xii; And when he, Luke ii
  • On the Third Sunday, if there fall so many: Seeing we have, Rom xii; And the third, John ii
  • On the Fourth Sunday, if there fall so many Twelfth Day and going out of ma.: Be not wise in your, Rom xii; When Jesus was, Matt. viii
  • On the Fifth Sunday if there be so many between Septuagesima and Twelfth Day: Owe nothing, Rom xiii; And he entered, Mark iv
  • On the Sixth Sunday, if there be so many between Twelfth tide and Septuagesima: Now therefore as elect, Col. iii; The kingdom of heaven is, Matt. xiii
  • On the Sunday when marriage goeth out [Septuagesima]: Perceive ye not how that, 1 Cor ix; For the kingdom of heaven, Matt. 20

If you check your Sarum Missal you’ll find that this is pretty darn close to the list of readings there. It’s not exact, but that that may have as much to say about variation in the Sarum Missal tradition than anything else. For instance, my Missal shows Matt 8 for the Fifth Sunday (Fourth after the Octave) but the passage pointed to here, Mark 4, is the Synoptic parallel of the same miraculous feeding. Likewise, my missal doesn’t include a Sunday after the Nativity, but the readings here line up closely with the Sixth Day after the Nativity (the only one without a feast) whether a Sunday or not. Thus, this appears to be a rough and ready means for the laity to either follow along or to read beforehand the Epistles and Gospels that will be heard in Latin at Mass.

Here, then, is the “breviary” column:

  • New Year’s Day: Read the Epistle to Tit[us] & 2[nd Letter] to Timothy
  • [Opposite Sunday after Twelfth Day]: Read the Epistle to the Romans
  • [(sort of) Opposite Second Sunday]: Read the Epistle to the Corinthians
  • [(sort of) Opposite Third Sunday]: Read the 2[nd Letter] to the Cor[inthians]
  • [(sort of) Opposite Fourth Sunday]: Read this week to the Gal[atians] & 1[st Letter] to Tim[othy]
  • [(sort of) Opposite Fifth Sunday]: Read the [Epistle to the] Epeshians & [to the] Phil[ippians]
  • [Opposite Sixth Sunday]: Read [the Epistle] to the Thess[alonians] & to the Col[ossians]
  • [Opposite Septuagesima]: On this Sunday the Church beginneth to read the Scripture in order

As we move through the rest of the months, we find that the instructions given in the “breviary” column move in rough correlation with the Sundays indicated in the “Mass” column. Sometimes they are unable to link clearly due to spacing and the type already on the page. However—as in the case of January—by counting back and giving each instruction a week, the proper arrangement can be found. Now I’ll give the sequence for the rest of the year, noting months and Sundays where pertinent, passing in silence over reiterated readings:

  • [Opposite Sexagesima]: Read this week within the Church, Genesis.
  • [Opposite Mid-Lent Sunday [The Fourth Sunday]]: Read here with the Church the Second Book of Moses, called Exodus.
  • [Opposite Passion Sunday [the Fifth]]: Read this week with the Church the prophet Jeremy.
  • [Opposite Easter-Day]: Read this week the Acts of the Apostles.
  • [Opposite First Sunday after Easter]: Read this week with the Church  the Apocalypses of John.
  • [Opposite the Third Sunday after Easter]: Read this week the Epistle of James and of Peter both.
  • [Opposite Fourth Sunday after Easter]: Read this week the Canonical Epistle of John and Jude.
  • [Opposite Sunday before the Cross [Rogation] Days]: Read of the Acts of the Apostles this week.
  • [Pentecost Week]: Read of the Acts.
  • [Opposite the First Sunday after Trinity]: Read in the First Book of the Kings [1 Samuel] with the Church this week.
  • [Opposite the Second Sunday after Trinity]: Read with the Church this week in the Second Book of the Kings [2 Samuel].
  • [Opposite the Third Sunday after Trinity]: Read this week the third [Book of the Kings [1 Kings]].
  • [Opposite the Fifth Sunday after Trinity]: Read this week the fourth [Book of the Kings [2 Kings]].
  • [Opposite the Seventh Sunday after Trinity]: Read this week the Chronicles called Paralipo.
  • [Opposite the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity (First in August)]: Read here the Proverbs with the Church.
  • [Opposite the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity]: Read here Ecclesiastes.
  • [Opposite the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity]: Read here the History of Job.
  • [Opposite the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity]: Read the History of Tobit.
  • [Opposite the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity]: Read here the story of Judith.
  • [Opposite the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity]: Read here the History of Hester.
  • [Opposite the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity (First Sun. in October)]: Read the First Book of the Maccabees.
  • [Opposite the Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity]: Read the Second Book of Maccabees.
  • [Opposite the Twenty-Third Sunday after Trinity]: Read Ezechiel.
  • [Opposite the First Sunday of Advent]: Read Isaie with the Church.
  • [Opposite the Fourth Sunday of Advent]: Read Isaie still until the First Sunday after New Year.

What we have here is a pre-prayer book attempt to set the breviary pattern of reading through Scriptures before the literate laity. Note that we’re only talking one passage of Scripture at a time (not four as we’ll see with Morning and Evening Prayer).

As a scheme, it exhibits many of the faults that breviary schemes have suffered throughout Christian history, namely: too much time for some books, not nearly enough for others. The late summer is a classic case. One week is provided for the dense poetic book of Job and its 42 chapters, while just a little later three weeks are given for the 14 novelistic chapters of Tobit. Again, Genesis is spread out from Septuagesima until Mid-Lent (not a bad plan for its fifty chapters, some of which are lengthy); Exodus is allotted one week (not nearly enough).

As far as absences go, there’s no Daniel, none of the Twelve Minor Prophets, no Law after the first two books, and we miss the apocryphal wisdom books altogether.

Nevertheless, this is the first attempt that I’ve seen to introduce a plan of Scripture reading to the laity.

I imagine there’s more to be said about this scheme, how it compares with other pre-Reformation schemes, how it feeds into the prayer books, as well as how it connects to the rest of the prymer as a whole. So this is the first rather than the last word on the subject.