Friday, April 22, 2016

On the Inclusion of 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 in the Ordinary Form

In his recent NLM article The Omission that Haunts the Church, Dr Peter Kwasniewski rightly observes that the omission of 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 from multiple points in the usus recentior has contributed to the contemporary crisis over who can receive Holy Communion. There was a brief but interesting exchange in the comments section of the article about whether or not it was licit for a priest or lector to include vv. 27-29 in the relevant Ordinary Form readings. I thought this question deserved some further consideration, since the rubrics governing this, as well as their history, are actually quite interesting to look at.

It should be said, first of all, that in my conversations with people about the lectionary of the Ordinary Form, they are often quite surprised about these sorts of omissions, and are unaware that not every reading from the preceding tradition has been included in the OF. [1] Of course, some readings, such as 1 Cor. 11:23-29 for Corpus Christi, had verses eliminated from them by the Consilium; others, such as 1 Pet. 2:11-19a (the epistle for the 3rd Sunday after Easter) are missing entirely. These omissions are more common than many people think, and my recently published book Index Lectionum: A Comparative Table of Readings for the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite provides the tools to make discovering them much easier. [2]

With regard to the topic at hand, the General Introduction to the Lectionary (GIL) states that “in the celebration of Mass the biblical readings with their accompanying scriptural chants may not be omitted, shortened, or, worse still, replaced by non-biblical readings” (GIL 12). It should be noted that this paragraph has nothing to say on whether or not readings may be lengthened.

On the issue of ‘difficult’ texts, among which 1 Cor. 11:27-29 could be classified, the GIL says:
In readings for Sundays and solemnities, texts that present real difficulties are avoided for pastoral reasons. The difficulties may be objective, in that the texts themselves raise complex literary, critical, or exegetical problems; or, at least to a certain extent, the difficulties may lie in the faithful’s ability to understand the texts. But there could be no justification for depriving the faithful of the spiritual riches of certain texts on the grounds of difficulty if its source is the inadequacy either of the religious education that every Christian should have or of the biblical formation that every pastor should have. Often a difficult reading is clarified by its correlation with another in the same Mass. (GIL 76, my emphasis)
There is a certain subjectivity as to what the “religious education” or “spiritual formation” of clergy and laity “should” consist of, but I would hope everyone can agree that knowledge of Who one is receiving and of the dispositions necessary to receive Him in Holy Communion are an essential part of this (cf. Code of Canon Law 913.1, 915-916, 919.1; Catechism of the Catholic Church 1384-1387, 1415). Thus, we are entitled to ask: can the omission of 1 Cor. 11:27-29 be justified based on what the OF lectionary says about itself in this section? To state the question differently: can the addition of these verses be defended on the basis that their exclusion unjustly deprives the faithful of the spiritual riches that are rightly theirs?

(It should also be noted that the way in which the principles in this paragraph were applied in the OF lectionary, along with those of GIL 75, [3] deserves much more critical attention that it has received up until now.)

On the omission of verses within readings, GIL says this:
The omission of verses in readings from Scripture has at times been the practice in many liturgical traditions, including the Roman. Admittedly such omissions may not be made lightly, for fear of distorting the meaning of the text or the intent and style of Scripture. Yet on pastoral grounds it was decided to continue the tradition in the present Order of Readings, but at the same time to ensure that the essential meaning of the text remained intact. One reason for the decision is that otherwise some texts would have been unduly long. It would also have been necessary to omit completely certain readings of high spiritual value for the faithful because those readings include some verse that is unsuitable pastorally or that involves truly difficult problems. (GIL 77)
It is true that, from time to time, verses are omitted from lections found in the 1962 Missale Romanum: for example, Acts 3:13-15, 17-19 on Easter Wednesday, and Eph. 3:8-12, 14-19 on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The GIL seems a little disingenuous here, though, because I can find no occasion on Sundays in the EF where verses are omitted from the middle of readings, yet this happens with some regularity in the OF. [4]

Still, when this paragraph of the GIL speaks of “continuing the tradition”, common sense would indicate that this refers to certain readings that are new to the OF lectionary, and thus were not part of the Roman lectionary tradition up until 1969. It would not be consistent to say, for example, that leaving out vv. 27-29 from 1 Cor. 11:23-29 “continues the tradition” of the omission of verses, as those verses have been part of the tradition for centuries. In fact, it would be against the tradition of the Roman Rite to omit them! [5]

With regard to the readings on Sundays and solemnities, it may surprise some to learn that the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) has changed over the years:
Dominicis et sollemnitatibus assignantur tres lectiones, scilicet Prophetæ, Apostoli et Evangelii, quibus populus christianus ad continuitatem operis salutis, secundum mirabile propositum divinum, educatur. Hæ lectiones stricte adhibeantur.
Sundays and Solemnities have assigned to them three readings, that is, from a Prophet, an Apostle, and a Gospel, by which the Christian people are instructed in the continuity of the work of salvation according to God’s wonderful design. These readings should be followed strictly. (GIRM 357 [2002])
Diebus dominicis et festis assignantur tres lectiones, scilicet Prophetæ, Apostoli et Evangelii, quibus populus christianus ad perennitatem operis salutis, secundum mirabilem disciplinam divinam, educatur.
Sundays and holydays have three readings, that is, from the Old Testament, from the writings of an apostle, and from a Gospel. Thus God’s own teaching brings the Christian people to a knowledge of the continuity of the work of salvation. (GIRM 318 [1975])
The stipulation that the readings for Sundays and solemnities are to be “followed strictly”, which would seem to exclude any lengthening of them, does not appear in the earlier GIRM. Thus, from a technical standpoint, only since 2002 has it been illicit to lengthen readings in the Ordinary Form. [6]

Given what the most recent edition of the GIRM has to say, I would argue that, at the present time, adding 1 Cor. 11:27-29 to the relevant readings on Sundays and solemnities in the OF is illicit. However, the omission of these verses does not seem at all consistent with the language and ambitions of Sacrosanctum Concilium 51:
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 (my emphases).
Again, we are entitled to ask: How is it “more representative” to omit verses that have been read for centuries in the Roman Rite? How do this and other omissions serve to “open up more lavishly” the scriptures? How is “richer fare” provided when the traditional readings of the Roman Rite are shortened or eliminated? I would argue that, in the particular case of Corpus Christi, rather than omitting 1 Cor. 11:27-29 out of a concern that these are ‘difficult’ verses, the proper solution for the Consilium would have been to lengthen the traditional reading for the OF to include the more ‘upbeat’ conclusion of vv. 30-32:
That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
These verses most certainly “correspond to the principal themes” (cf. GIL 108) of Corpus Christi as expressed in the Collect common to the OF and EF: tribue, quæsumus, ita nos Corporis et Sanguinis tui sacra mysteria venerari, ut redemptionis tuæ fructum in nobis iugiter sentiamus (“grant us, we pray, so to revere the sacred mysteries of your Body and Blood that we may always experience in ourselves the fruits of your redemption”).

In any case, it is to be hoped for that the Holy See will correct this and other serious omissions in the Ordinary Form lectionary in the years to come. Until then, bishops, priests and deacons should be strongly encouraged to read these verses in the one place in the OF where it is licit to read them: the homily.


[1] Some are also surprised to be informed that the Church does not read the entirety of all four Gospels every year (or every three years), or the whole New Testament every two years, for example. I am not sure quite where these sorts of myths about the OF lectionary originated, but they certainly need to be debunked when possible.

[2] The Index Lectionum is available from Amazon (US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain). In his Foreword to the book, Dr Kwasniewski goes into more detail about some of the readings and verses in the EF that have been omitted from the OF.

[3] “In the case of certain rather long texts, longer and shorter versions are provided to suit different situations. The editing of the shorter version has been carried out with great caution.” This is all that the GIL has to say about why long and short forms of certain texts exist in the OF lectionary. However, Phil. 3:17–4:1 (2nd Sunday of Lent, Year C) is not a long text, yet it has a short form (3:20–4:1); Mt. 13:44-52 (17th Sunday per annum, Year A) also has a short form (13:44-46), despite being only 9 verses long! Readers can look at these passages for themselves and quickly deduce perhaps why, in the case of certain rather short texts, even shorter versions are provided.

[4] For example, in the following sequence of Sundays in Year C: Neh. 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10 (3rd Sunday per annum); Jer. 1:4-5, 17-19 (4th); Isa. 6:1-2a, 3-8 (5th); Lk. 6:17, 20-26 (6th).

[5] Text-critical omissions, such as that of v. 44 from Mt. 21:33-46 (read on Friday of week 2 of Lent in the EF and OF) are perhaps the one exception to this rule, though the relationship between text-criticism and tradition certainly warrants further discussion.

[6] SC 22 § 3 does say that “no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority”, though it has to be said that the rubrics of the OF (e.g. the frequent use of vel similibus verbis) somewhat undermine this particular section of the Constitution. Whether bishops or bishops’ conferences could mandate the lengthening of particular readings in their dioceses is a separate question (cf. SC 22 §§ 1-2).

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