Elizabeth’s Lectionary, Cont.

According to Procter and Frere’s history of the BCP, Elizabeth’s letter to her ecclesiastical council written on January 22, 1561 had little impact on the lectionary.

They were wrong.

The kalendar revision of 1561 was the biggest shift in both kalendar and Daily Office lectionary policy since the production of the first Book of Common Prayer. 1561 represents a sweeping reform that fully embeds the modifications from 1559 into the kalendar system, moves the devotional clock “back” towards late Sarum practice, and establishes a new guiding hermeneutic for how biblical lessons are assigned through the year.

So—what precisely happened here? First, 1560 happened and the translation of the 1559 Book of Common Prayer into Latin. When we look at the kalendar of the Liber Precum Publicarum (LPP), two things are immediately obvious. First, the Daily Office readings are identical with the 1559 book. (As far as I’ve determined… I’ve been surprised on this in the past, though.)

Second, the kalendar has exploded with commemorations. Most every day of the year has a black-letter observance.  The exact source of all of the commemorations is not easy to trace. According to Vernon Staley (one of the the greats of the English Use movement), there are four negative indicators that these were taken up from the kalendars of the Sarum Missal and Breviary. In both the LPP kalendar and the Sarum kalendars:

  1. Neither Joseph, adoptive father of Our Lord nor Joseph of Arimathea are present
  2. There is an absence of Scottish and Irish saints with the sole exception of Bridget
  3. Certain Western greats are conspicuously absent: viz. Anselm, Aquinas, and Bernard
  4. There is an absence of the Eastern saints–even the two directly mentioned in the prayer book (Athanasius and Chrysostom)

The 1561 kalendar revision is a slimmed-down version of the 1560 LPP kalendar. Staley states:

It is exceedingly difficult to determine on what principles the four commissioners proceeded in compiling the list of black-letter or minor saints days, which we find in our present Kalendar [Ed.: he means the 1662 kalendar]. The selection has, to say the least, an appearance of caprice and inconsistency which is almost, if not altogether, impossible to justify.

. . .

Broadly speaking, the holy days in the Kalendar of the Book of Common Prayer correspond to the Feasts of Nine Lessons in the Sarum books. It does not seem improbable that the compilers of the Kalendar of 1561, which is practically our present Kalendar, took the Feasts of Nine Lessons in the Sarum books as their working basis, making such modifications as they felt desirable ; though this theory by no means disposes of all difficulties and inconsistencies as to omissions and additions which are presented to students of the Kalendar of the Prayer Book.

Thus, the sanctoral revision of 1561 is best thought of as a capricious rendering of the more important feasts of the Sarum kalendars.

When it comes to the Scripture dispositions, things are a bit different.

The first change between the 1561 kalendar and the ones that came before it is that all of the red-letter days from the proper lessons table have been thoroughly incorporated into the yearly round. Thus, days like Candlemas, the Annunciation, St Matthew and St Luke all receive their own proper OT lessons. On the surface this is a small change as these lessons had already been in the proper tables of the 1559 book. What makes this so important is the effect that it has on the rest of the year. The chapters appointed for Sundays and Holy Days were also retained without exception in the in-course reading cycle (so they would be read twice every year, once on the Holy Day and once where they fit within the canon). But, in order to make room for these proper OT readings, 38 chapters of Scripture had to be cut in order to let the rest of the cycle function as it should.

Cranmer’s original prime directive of comprehensiveness—reading through all of Scripture every year—has just moved into second place. It has been replaced by “edification.” Comprehensiveness is self-evident: you’ve either read through all the chapters or you haven’t. Edification is a fundamentally interpretive criterion: what is edifying is based on what the selectors  deem to be edifying.

So—38 chapters had to go. To put this in perspective, it would be like losing one large book of Scripture (like cutting the entire book of Job) or losing more than half of the minor prophets (those twelve books contain only 69 chapters between them). What got cut? We’ll go sequentially through the year:

  1. January loses Exodus 6 (a narrative reduplication of God’s promise to Moses and Israel concluding with the genealogy of Moses)
  2. The usual jump from Exodus 24 to 32 is retained
  3. Exodus 35 and 40 on the construction & erection of the tabernacle get dropped
    Leviticus 26 gets added back in (details blessings and curses on those who keep or don’t keep God’s law)
  4. Numbers gets savaged, losing 10 (silver trumpets, order of march), 15 (sacrificial regulations), 18-19 (sacrifice, red heifer), 26 (second census of Israel), 28-29 (sacrifices), 33 (stages of march), 34 (boundaries of land, naming of leaders)
  5. March loses  Deuteronomy 23 (no eunuchs, foreigners in sanctuary, on noct. emissions, prostitutes, usury, etc.)
  6. The reduplication of Joshua chapters that we had seen in the 1552-9 ends, but the readings now jump from 10 to 23, dropping more chapters than before and wrapping with Joshua’s final address
  7. Ezra begins at ch. 2, leaving out 1 (edict of release and return of temple treasures), 8 (appointment of priests and vessels), and 10 (condemnation of foreign brides, list of priests and levites who had married them)
  8. Nehemiah missing 3 (builders of sections of wall), 7 (registration of the nation), 11-12 (naming of leaders, dedication of wall)
  9. Omits Job 23 (Job’s cry of dereliction on the absence of God)
  10. Prov 30 (sayings of Agur) omitted
  11. A note on MP on July 26th states that Dan 13 is read until the end of Susanna, omitting Bel & the dragon; no Dan 14, Prov 30 [left out earlier] takes its place instead
  12. Tobit is read in course on Sep 28th, break for Michael, continues on 30th, then on October 1st replacing Tobit 5 (angel travels with Tobit), and 6 (fish magic) are replaced with excised Exodus 6 minus genealogy and Joshua 20 (appointment of the cities of refuge);Tobit 7 picks up on MP of the 2nd.  Joshua 22 (Joshua’s instructions to the Reubenites) replaces Tobit 8 (exorcism) at EP on 2nd
  13. The note on Ecclesiasticus 46 seems to indicate that the last verse is left off, the one speaking of Samuel’s prophecy after death.
  14. Isaiah begins on EP of December 23 with the ending of Baruch

In summary, we see a few things going on here. There’s a continued curtailing of the law which, again, seems to focus on descriptions of ritual worship. We also see some consistent moves against genealogical material and the mass listings of tribes and people and foreign places. Some of the more objectionable material is dropped from Job and from the apocryphal narratives.

I’ll unpack some of the implications of these cuts in another post (lest this one get hideously long…).

6 thoughts on “Elizabeth’s Lectionary, Cont.

  1. Derek Olsen

    Dunno–we haven’t gotten there yet… :-D

    I can tell tell you that the Apocrypha was trimmed back in the Laudian Scottish 1637 BCP that set off the whole revolution. The English 1662 as originally written (I just checked the facsimile of the manuscript version) includes all of Tobit even replacing the bits removed here. The question is how it fared in the revisions after the publication of the 1662, what influence the Scottish book had on successive Scottish books and therefore on the American books that followed them. Tobit doesn’t appear in my copy of the 1790 American bookso we’ll have to see where that branch is coming from.

  2. Tom

    I could read this stuff all day, what a treat!

    Are you writing a book on the lectionary? Please say yes. I really like your take on it and your style.

    If you’re not writing such a book, do you know of any books that handle the changes that have taken place in BCP lectionaries (and/or other lectionaries)?

  3. Derek Olsen


    I’m not actively working on a book on the lectionary. I find that I work best when I have two projects going in parallel; thus, this is actually the side-project to help move forward a book I *am* actively working on.

    This series is probably best thought of as my research notes towards a book to be written at a later date.

    I don’t know of any books on the Office lectionary, although I have heard rumors of a text on the 1940 lectionary. If any of my readers know of such works, I’d be happy to hear about them!

    It seems to me quite odd that, at a time when there is increased interest in a distinctively Anglican approach to Scripture, we haven’t studied more carefully the primary channels through which the Prayer Book traditions introduce us to Scripture through the lectionaries…

  4. brian m

    Derek/Tom: there is “The American Lectionary” by Bayard H. Jones (1944) on the 1943 lectionary for the 1928 BCP.

  5. Pingback: Elizabeth’s Lectionary–Payoff | haligweorc

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