Proper Lessons 1549-1559

There is an interesting trend when we look at the provision of proper lessons for the Daily Office lectionaries between 1549 and 1559.

In the 1549 BCP, there are twelve fixed-feast days that receive proper lessons within the kalendar; these days are identified in the previous post.  Too, within the BCP’s mass sets, there are an additional 10 moveable-feast days with proper lessons, all related to Easter. One of the key changes is the replacement of the OT lessons in Holy Week with Lamentations:

  • Wednesday EP: Lam 1
  • Thursday MP/EP: Lam 2/Lam 3
  • Friday MP/EP: [Gen 22/Isa 53]
  • Saturday MP: Lam 4-5

The 1552 book did away with the instructions hidden in the mass sets. Instead, it offered a table before the kalendar that established what the particular days were that received their own propers. It follows the liturgical year and begins with Christmas, the first feast of the church year receiving a proper.  There were no new additions between the 1549 and the 1549 and only a few changes.

One was Christmas. In the 1549 BCP, two masses were provided for Christmas, this first using the Luke 2 Gospel, the second the John 1; Matthew 1 was the reading at Christmas MP. This fits with standard medieval lectionary practice which appointed Matthew 1 for Christmas Eve (day), Luke 2 for the first two masses of Christmas, and John 1 for the third. The 1552 retains only the second service, drops Matthew 1 and shifts Luke 2 to Christmas MP.

The other major change was the suppression of Lamentations during Holy Week. The new pattern looks like this:

  • Wednesday EP: Hosea 13-14
  • Thursday MP/EP: Daniel 9/Jeremiah 31
  • Friday MP/EP: [Gen 22/Isa 53] (unchanged)
  • Saturday MP: Zechariah 9

Lamentations was used in the first nocturn of the Sarum Breviary Night Office from Maundy Thursday through Holy Saturday; perhaps the suppression of the book in the 1552 BCP was due to too-close of a connection between Lamentations and the old rites of tenebrae.

The 1559 book was presented as substantially the 1552 book but with the addition of a new table of proper lessons. The pay-off here is that the kalendar was unchanged; Cranmer’s pattern of readings from the 1552 BCP was left untouched. Nevertheless, the proper tables presented quite a number of readings that reflect a whole new way of apportioning readings for feasts.

Two tables prefaced the kalendar in the 1559 BCP: a table of Sundays and a table of Holy Days. While conceptually distinct, they are sequentially linked. Evidently, someone had a list of the days needing lessons and a corresponding list of edifying chapters of the Scriptures.The Sundays of Advent begin with lessons from Isaiah. They proceed sequentially through 22 selected chapters from Isaiah, running from Advent 1 through Epiphany 5. Then, Septuagesima begins with Genesis. Genesis runs through the first half of Lent. Exodus is read through Passiontide and the first part of Easter Week. After a brief dip through Numbers, the majority of Easter is given to the selected reading of Deuteronomy with the final exhortation from Moses in 30-34 rounding of the Monday and Tuesday following Pentecost.  From there we head into the histories, take a very quick swing through the prophets, then, on the 21st Sunday after Trinity head into Proverbs. This is significant—we’ll remain in the Wisdom literature for the rest of the tables.

The Sunday table ends on the 26th Sunday after Trinity with Proverbs 17 and 19. Significantly, the first entry on the Holy Days table, St Andrew, receives only two OT lessons: Proverbs 20 and Proverbs 21. It continues the pattern of the previous literally without a hitch. From there things seem to proceed along fairly simple rules: 1) all former readings are retained. If a proper lesson was given in the 1552 book, it is retained here. 2) If an OT lesson was not provided for either MP or EP for any red-letter day, one is provided out of the sequential order.  So, saints’ days receive readings from the Wisdom Lit, the Easter weekdays receive Exodus readings, and the Ascension and Pentecost weekdays receive Deuteronomy.

Over all, 16 new days get added to the table; with OT readings for all plus the previous 21, that’s a lot of days with propers. the 1559 book doesn’t do anything about this large influx of material , nor does it account for the 32+ chapters that are now dropped out of the sequential reading by these new propers.

That’ll have to wait until the revision of 1561…

5 thoughts on “Proper Lessons 1549-1559

  1. wyclif

    The 1552 BCP did away with the descriptive “Mass” altogether, which I think was a wise choice. Growing up in the MId-Atlantic and Tidewater area of Virginia, we only knew the Sunday service as Holy Communion.

  2. Derek Olsen


    That surprises me—growing up in the MId-Atlantic and Tidewater area of Virginia I’d have expected your Sunday service to be known as “Morning Prayer.” :-)

  3. Matthew the Penitent

    Noticed you have an interest in “Saint” Julian of Norwich. Don’t understand why she’s not recognized for her holiness. Anyway, was looking on this site and found a lovely streaming video from 2007 of a Benediction Service for the rededication of the Church and Shrine. Short but beautifully done. Prople should check it out.

    Excellent website you have.

  4. John-Julian, OJN

    re. “Why she’s not recognized for her holiness.”

    One of the earliest Julian scholars, Fr. Paul Molinari, served on the Roman commission responsible for canonizations. I wrote to him in 1983 asking about the possibility of Julian’s canonization. He wrote back it would probably be impossible because (a) so little is known about her life that they couldn’t run the chance that some day something might turn up that would show she had been a heretic; and (b) there was enough “borderline” material in her own writing that could possibly be misconstrued as not entirely complimentary to “the teachings of the Church”.

    Fr. John-Julian, OJN
    The Order of Julian of Norwich

  5. Scott Cooper

    I hope that this will not seem disrespectful to the example and memory of Julian, but as an Episcopalian, I appreciate the fact that not all holy people must be recognized as saints. I just finished reading Glorious Companions, and I like the idea that not all of our glorious companions must be officially recognized as saints. Julian will pray for us in heaven regardless, and I find that comforting.

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