The Lectionary is the collection of readings from the Bible used at Mass. It includes Old Testament readings, responsorial psalms, New Testament readings and the Gospel readings assigned for each Mass of the year (Sundays, weekdays, and special occasions). Readings are divided by day or theme (baptism, marriage, vocations, etc.) rather than according to books of the Bible. Not all the Bible is included in the Lectionary.
The Lectionary is arranged in two cycles, one for Sundays and one for weekdays.
The Sunday cycle is divided into Year A (mostly the Gospel of Matthew), Year B (from Mark and chapter 6 of the Gospel of John), and Year C (from Luke). The Gospel of John is read in the Easter season of all three years. The Gospel is the “control” reading, with the first reading, usually from the Old Testament, reflecting important themes from the Gospel. During the Easter season, the first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles. The second reading is usually from one of the letters (epistles) of the apostles written to the early church community. These letters are read semi-continuously. Each Sunday, the second reading picks up where it left off the Sunday before, though some passages are never read. During Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter, the second reading reflects concerns of the season.
The weekday cycle is divided into two years, Year I (read in odd-numbered years) and Year II (read in even-numbered years). The Gospels for both years are the same. During the year, the Gospels are read semi-continuously, beginning with Mark, and then moving to Matthew and Luke. The Gospel of John is read during the Easter season. For Advent, Christmas, and Lent, readings are chosen that are appropriate to the season. The first readings on weekdays may be taken from the Old or the New Testament. Generally, a single book is read semi-continuously until it is finished and then a new book is started. There is generally only one reading before the Gospel on weekdays.
There are options for weekday readings for the feasts of saints or for special needs, and other readings may be substituted for a serious pastoral reason.
The cycle does not change on January 1, but on the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the liturgical year. Liturgical year 2000 runs from November 28, 1999, through December 2, 2000. In liturgical year 2000 Year B Sunday readings are proclaimed and Year II weekday readings.
An international commission sponsored by the Holy See arranged our current Lectionary. On April 3, 1969, the Lectionary (in Latin) was published following the Directives of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican Council II and approved by Pope Paul VI.
On November 29, 1971, the first English version of the American Lectionary was published, using the New American Bible translation, first commissioned by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine in 1944. The 1970 edition of the New American Bible was used. At the same time, permission was given to read from the Jerusalem Bible or the Revised Standard Version.
With the mandated revised Lectionary, in the United States we use only the New American Bible translation. The only exception is the special Lectionary for Masses with Children, based on the Contemporary English Version of the Bible.
On January 21, 1981, the Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments in Rome published a revised Latin Lectionary, approved by Pope John Paul II. There were some changes, and added readings for Masses not covered in the first edition of the Lectionary. It was mandated that this Lectionary be adopted for use, with local changes approved by Rome, throughout the Latin Rite churches.
On October 6, 1997, the Roman Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments confirmed the order of the readings for volume I (Sundays and solemnities) in the proposed American Lectionary. On June 19, 1998, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops approved the Second Edition of the Lectionary for Mass for use in the Dioceses of the United States and sent volume II (weekdays and special Masses) to Rome for confirmation.
The Second Edition of our American Lectionary employs the 1986 edition of the Revised New Testament of the New American Bible and the 1970 edition of the Old Testament, including the psalms of the New American Bible with certain changes. Some language changes were made for increased precision or for greater ease in proclamation, for example, “a smoking brazier” was changed to “a smoking fire pot.” There are also returns to traditional diction, for example, “astrologers” has changed back to “Magi,” and “I solemnly assure you” is once again “Amen, Amen, I say to you.”
In cases where the original language of the scriptures was not gender specific, certain words and phrases (such as “whoever” and “anyone”) were used to achieve greater inclusivity, but maximum fidelity to biblical texts was a fundamental criterion used in preparing the revised edition of the Lectionary. The revised Lectionary never changes the biblical text in order to make it more inclusive.
There is a new, extensive theological introduction to the Lectionary. New Masses have been added. Pentecost, Holy Family, the Baptism of the Lord and the Ascension now have a full set of readings for years A, B, C, which they did not have in the old edition.
Volume I of the revised Lectionary for Mass, with readings for Sundays and Solemnities, was first used on the First Sunday of Advent, November 29, 1998. Volume II, with readings for weekdays and other Masses, is waiting approval in Rome. After approval is received, the American bishops will set a date for the use of Volume II in our parishes. Saint Jude Church began to use Volume I, the revised Sunday Lectionary, at the beginning of Advent, 1998. You may have noticed the new, beautifully bound book the lectors use.
On the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent, we hear the Year A readings every year at 9:oo a.m. Mass, because we have catechumens in our midst. The Year A readings for those Sundays prepare our catechumens for baptism, and prepare the baptized to renew their baptismal promises. These readings include the premier Gospels of baptism and of Lenten renewal – Jesus meeting the Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s well; Jesus healing the man born blind; Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. The Lectionary specifies that these readings be proclaimed in parishes with catechumens, no matter the year. It also allows these crucial readings to be proclaimed every year in every parish, even if there are no catechumens.