Michael asked a question in a different venue about the Daily Office lectionaries of the various BCPs. This is a topic about which I have commented here on occasion and have been collecting notes until the time I have an opportunity to write on it more fully. However, the mood strikes to write a bit on the lectionary of the first two prayer books.
In the main, there is very little difference between the first book and the second. Indeed, there are no Scriptural differences that I can tell—there are only changes in how the days are entered in the kalendar and how the names of the books are rendered. The reading of Scripture between the two is identical. There are two places where the Daily Office lectionary is discussed. The first is in the initial preface that discusses the problem with the old way of doing things. It is a corruption of an originally better plan:
THERE was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so surely established which (in continuance of time) hath not been corrupted : as (among other things) it may plainly appear by the Common Prayers in the Church, commonly called Divine Service : the first original and ground whereof, if a man would search out by the ancient Fathers, he shall find that the same was not ordained, but of a good purpose, and for a great advancement of godliness : for they so ordered the matter, that all the whole Bible (or the greatest part thereof) should be read over once in the year, intending thereby, that the Clergy, and specially such as were ministers of the congregation, should (by often reading and meditation of God’s word) be stirred up to godliness themselves, and be more able also to exhort other by wholesome doctrine, and to confute them that were adversaries to the truth. And further, that the people (by daily hearing of holy scripture read in the church) should continually profit more and more in the knowledge of God, and be the more inflamed with the love of his true religion. But these many years past, this godly and decent order of the ancient Fathers hath been so altered, broken, and neglected, by planting in uncertain stories, legends, responds, verses, vain repetitions, commemorations, and synodals, that commonly when any book of the Bible was begun, before three or four chapters were read out, all the rest were unread. And in this sort, the book of Isaiah was begun in Advent, and the book of Genesis in Septuagesima : but they were only begun, and never read through. After a like sort were other books of holy scripture used.
Thus, this preface lays out a fundamental principle: mass coverage on a yearly basis. Another preface describes the structure of what’s going on:
The Old Testament is appointed for the first Lessons at Matins and Evensong, and shall be read through every year once, except certain books and chapters which be least edifying,
and might best be spared, and therefore are left unread.
The New Testament is appointed for the second Lessons at Matins and Evensong, and shall be read over orderly every year thrice, beside the Epistles and Gospels ; except the Apocalypse, out of the which there be only certain Lessons appointed upon divers proper feasts.
And to know what Lessons shall be read every day, find the day of the month in the Calendar following ; and there ye shall perceive the books and chapters that shall be read for the Lessons, both at Matins and Evensong.
And here is to be noted, that whensoever there be any proper Psalms or Lessons appointed for any feast, movable or unmovable, then the Psalms and Lessons appointed in the Calendar shall be omitted for that time.
Ye must note also, that the Collect, Epistle, and Gospel, appointed for the Sunday, shall serve all the week after, except there fall some feast that hath his proper.
This is also to be noted, concerning the leap years, that the 25th day of February, which in leap years is counted for two days, shall in those two days alter neither Psalm nor Lesson ;
but the same Psalms and Lessons which be said the first day, shall serve also for the second day.
Also, wheresoever the beginning of any Lesson, Epistle, or Gospel is not expressed, there ye must begin at the beginning of the chapter. [1552: And wheresoever is not expressed how far shall be read, there shall you read to the end of the chapter.]
Structure and Organization
Organizationally, the pattern is very simple. The books of the OT are read sequentially a chapter at a time except when certain major feasts intervene and receive their own readings. Case in point is the feast of the Circumcision on January 1—as a result the sequential read through beginning with Genesis 1 doesn’t begin until January 2nd.
So, MP (Morning Prayer) has two readings, the OT [Gen 1] and the Gospel+Acts [January 2 begins with Matthew 1]; EP (Evening Prayer) has two readings, the OT continuation from the morning [Gen 2] and the Epistles [Rom 1]. The fundamental rule is maximum coverage. If repetition happens, so be it. Case in point—Romans 2 is the appointed NT reading for the Circumcision at MP, and is then repeated in course two days later as the NT reading for EP.
May 1st ends the first read through the New Testament Epistles—Jude is appointed on that day, on the next we begin again with Romans 1. The Apocalypse (as noted in the preface) is absent from the sequence. Likewise, the Gospels+Acts track of MP completes Acts 28 on May 2nd and Matthew 1 begins again the next day. The third NT read through is synchronized, Matthew 1 and Romans 1 beginning again together on August 31st. The cycle ends neatly and precisely on Dec 31 with Acts 28 and Jude.
It then remains to note exactly what the ” except certain books and chapters which be least edifying” might actually be…
We’ve already noted the absence of the Apocalypse. This is the only omission from the New Testament. It appears in the NT readings appointed for the feast of John the Evangelist: MP gets Apoc. 1, EP gets Apoc 22. It also appears on All Saints: Apoc. 19 at EP.
Turning to the OT, things are a little more interesting. Because of the sequential lay out, I’ll move through sequentially, identifying dropped stitches or other items worthy of note:
- Gen 10 (genealogies of the the sons of Noah)
- Exodus 25-31 (these are the infinitely precise regulations around the construction of the tabernacle, describing how the tent and the vestments are to be made from costly fabrics, precious metals and gems, and how worship there is to be conducted.)
- All of Leviticus except 18-20 which largely is about sexual relations with some economic and ceremonial rules thrown in too.
- Numbers 1-9 (reckoning of Israel and disposition of the Levites, offering and worship rules)
- Oddly, Isaiah is removed from sequence. Jeremiah follows immediately after Ecclesiastes
- Mass omissions in Ezekiel; it’s easier to say what does remain than what doesn’t. What remains is Ezekiel 2-3, 5-7, 13-14, 18, 33-34.
- The Apocrypha begins with Tobit on October 5th immediately after the end of Malachi. However, the books read are (in order) Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch. No Maccabees.
- Isaiah begins on November 28th.
A full study uis needed to think through the implications of what’s here, but let me make at least a few tentative comments regarding what I notice here.
Lack of Liturgical Year
It should be noted first of all, that there is a notable absence of the liturgical year as a structuring device. The movement of the readings is determined primarily by the civil calendar and the sequence of the books themselves. In one sense, this is helpful because it greatly aids the cause of coverage: it’s quite plain what you’ve read and what you haven’t. On the other hand, it suppresses the liturgical year’s role as a means of ordering Christian time.
There’s only one clear departure from this principle and one perhaps accidental one. The movement of Isaiah to the end of the year is intentional. The first preface notes the custom of reading Isaiah in Advent—this lectionary keeps the same principle. The only other possible concession to pre-Reformation custom is the appearance of the wisdom books of the Apocrypha in the Fall. It’s hard to say, though, if this was by plan or simply sequentially-induced coincidence.
Lack of Apocalyptic
With the suppression of the Apocalypse and Ezekiel, we loose much of the hardcore apocalyptic content of the canon. Yes, Daniel is still in there as is the little apocalypse of Isaiah. However, the heavily visual vignettes disappear. I’m not sure exactly why. Part of the concern might have been the persistent interpretation of apocalyptic symbols with reference to governments and rulers. In short, apocalyptic provides ready fodder for those who would use the Scriptures against their rulers; Cranmer may have been taking this option out of their hands. Another interesting possibility is that much of the visionary material in Ezekiel and Revelation relates to worship, particularly heavenly worship. Was there a suppression of the rich ceremonial described in relation to the worship of God in these texts?
Lack of Worship Law
Much of the legal material of the Law was suppressed. This is not surprising given the tendencies of Radical Reformation groups to try to take these seriously and impose ancient Israelite law on the portions of Europe they held. What seems significant to me, though, is the particular targeting of the legislation around the construction and ceremonial of the Tabernacle. The description of the wealth to be used and the richness of the material is excised. Why? Was this through concern about Radical Reformation tendencies, or was it a suppression of a particular biblical attitude towards worship that might have been used to uphold “Romish” customs around vestment and ornaments in churches?
Given the suppression of apocalyptic worship in relation to suppression of the regulations around the Tabernacle, it seems likely that one of the aims of this lectionary was to downplay the visual and ceremonial aspects of worship—but more study would be required to prove this point.
In fine, this is an interesting lectionary. Its principle goal is coverage of Scripture and it does that well. The OT is read through every year, the NT three times. Readings are at least a chapter long and therefore could get lengthy depending on the chapter. There is a conspicuous absence of the liturgical year in its organization and the omission of certain texts seem to further downplay the scriptural witness to ceremonial worship.