Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Pinpointing the Origins of the Multi-Year Lectionary (Part 1)

The treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God's word. In this way a more representative portion of the holy scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years. (SC 51)
Where did the idea for a multi-year lectionary come from? Who was suggesting and talking about it before the Second Vatican Council? Why did they suggest it would be desirable?

These are questions that have occupied me almost since I started my researches into the liturgical reforms of the 20th century, specifically the lectionary. And it is only recently that I have gotten closer to answering some of these questions. Here at NLM, and over at Lectionary Study Aids, I will be sharing the results of my research.

Our quest to find out more about the origins of the multi-year lectionary starts a decade before the Council. In 1952, the new (at that time) liturgical journal Liturgisches Jahrbuch published an article entitled "Eine Dreijährige Perikopenordnung für Sonn- und Festtage" by Fr Heinz Schürmann. (Later on, Schürmann would be a member of Coetus XI of the Consilium, the group responsible for the post-conciliar reform of the lectionary). In this article, Schürmann calls the order of readings in the Roman Missal a "disadvantage" (Nachteil), and suggests his own, three-year cycle.

For the benefit of readers who don't speak much German, I have translated the article into English, and this can be downloaded by clicking here. (The article in German can be found at Lectionary Study Aids.)

Interestingly, Schürmann's proposed readings do not particularly exhibit the lectio semi-continua we see in the post-conciliar reforms, and neither is there the approach whereby each year is organised around one of the synoptic Gospels. Rather, his system utilises Gospel pericopes with roughly similar meaning and content for each Sunday ("die Evangelienperikopen durch solche ungefähr gleichen Sinngehaltes zu ersetzen"), so there is an attempt at thematic consistency throughout each year of the cycle and with the Mass formularies. It is worth noting that, with regard to the Ordinary Form, this is an approach the General Introduction to the Lectionary says was ultimately not extended to per annum Sundays, "that is, not to have an organic harmony of themes designed to aid homiletic instruction. Such an arrangement would be in conflict with the genuine conception of liturgical celebration" (GIL 68). The Epistle readings in Schürmann's scheme are, however, thematically linked to the Gospel, much like the Old Testament reading is linked to the Gospel in the Ordinary Form lectionary.

Later on, as a member of the Consilium, Schürmann, along with Heinrich Kahlefeld, would go further and argue for a four-year Sunday cycle.

As we shall see, a number of suggestions were made about lectionary reform (and liturgical reform generally) in the 1950s and earlier. In the next post in this series, we will examine some of these, and afterwards go a little further back in time to trace the history of this particular reform.

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