The Daily Office Lectionary of the 1549 and 1552 BCPs

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.

Official Statements

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.

Preliminary Reflections

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.

4 thoughts on “The Daily Office Lectionary of the 1549 and 1552 BCPs

  1. Father Gregory

    Dear Derek,

    That is a very interesting article!

    Would be willing to say a few more words concerning some things I would like to raise in this comment?

    The Preface to the BCP quoted above correctly says: “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” – what if some of the presumptions evident in the way the BCP was composed out of the old Office itself shows these signs of corruption? Hans Boersma, an Evangelical scholar, has recently argued (“Heavenly Participation”) that Medieval Catholicism and Protestantism have both (in different ways) erred with regard to understanding Scripture. Scripture – argues Boersma – needs to be understood sacramentaly as did the authors in the patristic era. Under the influence univocity of being and nominalism Medieval Catholicism has increasingly lost this sacramental understanding (which Boersma also styles “Heavenly Participation” or as “Sacramental Tapestry”) which becomes very clear in the struggle of the “Nouvelle Theologie” authors with the Neo-Thomist school. The latter had lost the sacramental understanding and based their rejection of the Nouvelle Theologie’s attempt to recover it on univocity and nominalism. Hence the emphasis on authority over Scripture, physical over spiritual Presence in the Eucharist, etc. The Reformation, Boersma argues, was fighting the symptoms of the Medieval errors of univocity and nominalism but instead of overcoming it succumbed to it. Thus the ripping of Scripture out of its ecclesial context, the spiritualizing of the Eucharist, loss of ceremonial etc. The irony is that the “corruption” detected by the author of the BCP preface is correct, but a cure is not provided. Instead the corruption is continued. The tearing of the ecclesial year and the celebration of the sanctoral cycle (instead of their repair) seems – to me – to be a symptom of univocity and nominalism as described by Boersma.

    Do you think applying Boersma’s argument as I presented it (should you find it acceptable, and I certainly am convinced he is on to something) could be applied this way toward the understanding the reforms of the BCP?
    If so, would you be inclined to see the Anglican Breviary, the Benedictine Office (Canon W. Douglas), and your own St. Bede Breviary as first and necessary steps on the way to recover this “Heavenly Participation” in our reading of Scripture?

    I am thinking about these issues (I have recently moved into the Anglican Catholic tradition) and I am leaning in a particular direction, but I am not as widely read in the material as you are and would appreciate your thoughts on the subject if at all possible.

    Fr. Gregory +

  2. Tom

    Thank you so much for this good work!

    I eagerly await any further reflections on this topic. Lectionaries, specifically those of the BCP, are a special interest of mine.

    I am especially partial to the 1922 lectionary, combining as it does course reading with a liturgical year slant.

  3. Derek Olsen

    Thanks, Tom!

    Fr. Gregory,

    I confess I’m not familiar with Boersma, but what you summarize here sounds like something I’m quite amenable to. The way I’d say it comes out of an approach best captured in the first half of The Future of Catholic Biblical Scholarship. Luke Johnson argues here that what is distinctively catholic is not the magisterium or a narrowly construed Thomism, but communal practices—preeminently the liturgy—that form an interpretive foundation.

    As an Anglican biblical scholar, I’d agree entirely: to interpret the fullness of the Scriptures from a (catholic) Anglican perspective, it must be done within the framework of the Mass and the Office. One of the great losses in the Reformation Offices was the paring away of the liturgically interpretive material that had always bounded and aided the interpretation of the biblical texts. In particular, the loss of the patristic sermons and homilies and the responsaries of Matins deprived future generations not just of the content of patristic reflection of the Scriptures but their method as well.

  4. Christopher

    And yet, Fr. Gregory, one cannot say or sing the Psalms daily and not finally be shaped precisely to a sacramental worldview in which Creation too is God’s other Book. As I write this, birds are chirping and communicating outside my office window and I cannot help but give God thanks. I would say that the heart of Patristic methods or perhaps better their foundation remained and was reinvigorated, namely daily and public Office and (hoped for) Sunday Mass (this reform took centuries given how folks had been formed to and then later canonically prevented from receive(ing) (more than) once a year in the Isles. Even so, given the Fathers (and later a few Mothers), I do note that they often shared methods and came to different conclusions on less central theological matters, and even understood central or core matters in different ways and through different angles. We too often write and speak of them and their teachings as if they were a seamless coherence when they aren’t. They are contextual, liturgical, and this is notably so because much of their teaching comes through sermons, hymns, and the like.

    We should be careful about dismissing the concerns to downplay the visual and ceremonial in light of the practices of the late 15th century. Emphasis was newly given to participating, and particularly receiving. While from this location in history, I cannot agree with the suppressions our Reformed tended to take, being more congruent with our Elizabeth, the Carolines, and our so-called “Liberal Catholics”, like Ramsey, we are dealing with very different issues than they both liturgically and socially–the denigration of the created world, for example, which to my mind means playing up the sensual in liturgy and the connection of this to seeing and hearing all of the creation as God’s general revelation alongside or rather read through God’s specific and Self- revelation, namely, the history with the Hebrew people and Jesus Christ. Indeed, our current situation, like that of St. Irenaeus or Bl. Julian, times when the Incarnation was in question and led to highlighting the Eucharist, requires the same.

    I might add that there is a lot of debate among scholars about the liturgical year and its relative influence on the Office, depending on location and time period. Given that we inherited from traditions in which the Office was greatly influenced by the Kalendar, I cannot help but see this as a loss and would prefer readings tied to the Year over a continua approach. Both, however, are quite catholic ways of dealing with the public reading of Scripture, however, depending on location and time period.

    I would caution against overreaching readings of the Reformation for two reasons: 1) The Isles Churches had several Reformations, meaning that the early Reformed orientation of Cranmer et al did not have the last word, and 2) The Continental Reformation was not everywhere the same in emphasis. One simply cannot say that Luther spiritualizes the Sacrament of the Altar-Table in reaction to the Thomistic account. On the contrary his understanding of the creative Word is quite Hebrew and his notion of the Sacrament is quite physical…

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