Saturday, June 26, 2021

The Omission of 1 Corinthians 11, 27-29 from the Ordinary Form Lectionary: What We Know, and a Hypothesis

The recent discussion and vote of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on whether to draft a teaching document on the Eucharist [1] has spurred much discussion online, once again, about the omission of 1 Corinthians 11, 27-29 from the lectionary of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Dr Peter Kwasniewski examined this omission here on NLM some years back, and it is one of the better-known omissions in the Mass lectionary of the OF. [2] The passage in question reads as follows (omitted verses in italics):
Brethren: (23) I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, (24) and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (25) In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (26) For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (27) Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. (28) Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. (29) For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement on himself. (ESV-CE)
As there is a lot of speculation about this particular omission and the reasons behind it, I thought I would share what I have managed to find out in the course of my study and research into the post-Vatican II reform of the lectionary. The picture is not yet complete, but I think there is enough information to form a tentative hypothesis as to how 1 Corinthians 11, 27-29 ended up being omitted from the reformed lectionary.
*     *     *
Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, asked in no. 51 that “the most important parts/a more representative portion” (praestantior pars) of the Bible be read at Mass “in the course of a prescribed number of years” (intra praestitutum annorum spatium). [3] Coetus XI of the Consilium ad exsequendam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgia [4] would subsequently be the study group in charge of putting together the reformed order of readings. By July 1967, their work had progressed to the point where a draft Ordo lectionum for Sundays, weekdays and certain Saints’ days was published and sent out for consultation to each episcopal conference, all the participants in the first Synod of Bishops, and around 800 biblical, liturgical, pastoral and catechetical experts. [5] Fr Annibale Bugnini, the secretary of the Consilium, tells us that around 460 responses were received as a result of this consultation, made up of 300 pages of general remarks and 6,650 ‘file cards’ on individual pericopes. [6]

For the feast of Corpus Christi, two sets of readings were provided in the 1967 Ordo lectionum: one designated in die, and one designated in solemnitate. The in die readings are largely similar to the existing ones in the 1962 Missale Romanum, with the addition of an Old Testament reading and responsorial psalm:
  • First Reading: Exodus 24, 3-8
  • Responsorial Psalm: 115[116]:12+14, 15+16ac, 17-18 (R. 13)
  • Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 11, 23-29
  • Gospel Acclamation: John 6, 56 [Nova Vg = v. 55]
  • Gospel: John 6, 56-59 [Nova Vg = vv. 55-58]
Ordo lectionum pro dominicis, feriis et festis sanctorum (Schema 233, July 1967), p. 74
It is vital to note that the second reading proposed here is identical to the 1962 Missal’s epistle for Corpus Christi. No verses have been omitted. [7] The Gospel reading is also unchanged from the 1962 Missal, with the first half of the Alleluia verse here proposed as the Gospel Acclamation.

The readings designated in solemnitate are as follows:
  • First Reading: Proverbs 9, 1-5
  • Responsorial Psalm: 22[23], 1-2a, 2b-3, 5, 6 (R. 5ad)
  • Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 10, 14-21
  • Gospel Acclamation: John 6, 57 [Nova Vg = v. 56]
  • Gospel: Luke 22, 14-20
Ordo lectionum pro dominicis, feriis et festis sanctorum (Schema 233, July 1967), p. 75
Aside from the Gospel Acclamation, which is the second half of the 1962 Missal’s Alleluia verse, the readings proposed here are new to Corpus Christi. The Gospel is taken from the votive Mass of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Eternal High Priest in the 1962 Missale.

We can see, then, that at a fairly advanced stage in the reform, 1 Corinthians 11, 27-29 was still going to be included in the revised lectionary. So, what happened?

As a result of the consultation mentioned above, a number of changes were made to the 1967 draft. In his account of the liturgical reform, Bugnini writes that:
[T]he system was radically revised in January 1968: passages regarded as too difficult were eliminated; missing passages were added; the division into verses was improved; the readings for the Sundays of Lent and some major feasts were changed. The most important changes were made on the occasion of the tenth general meeting of the Consilium (April 1968)… It was the periti to whom the international questionnaire had been sent who suggested that on the major solemnities alternative passages be provided at least for the gospel, without the feast thereby losing its characteristic tonality. [8]
Coetus XI themselves give us a little more information in their schema of April 1968:
The feast of Corpus Christi. For this feast, the Ordo distinguished between readings in die and readings in sollemnitate. Many periti doubted the usefulness of the readings in sollemnitate, and proposed that three complete formularies would be better, according to the three-year cycle. The texts would then appear sufficient and also be of great importance. We accepted this proposition. In this way, it is additionally possible to read the pericope from Mark, which otherwise is heard by the people only on Palm Sunday in the context of the whole Passion narrative. [9]
The readings for Corpus Christi were thus changed for the 1969 editio typica of the Ordo lectionum Missae to the following:

Year A
  • First Reading: Deuteronomy 8, 2-3; 14b-16a
  • Responsorial Psalm: 147, 12-13; 14-15; 19-20 (R. 12a)
  • Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 10, 16-17 [note: this lection is taken from the “in solemnitate” formulary in the 1967 draft, and has been shortened]
  • Gospel Acclamation: John 6, 51
  • Gospel: John 6, 51-58 [note: this lection is taken from the “in die” formulary of the 1967 draft, and has been lengthened]
Year B
  • First Reading: Exodus 24, 3-8 [note: this lection is taken from the “in die” formulary of the 1967 draft]
  • Responsorial Psalm: 115[116]: 12-13, 15+16bc, 17-18 (R. 13) [note: this psalm is taken from the “in die” formulary of the 1967 draft, with some small changes in the verses used]
  • Second Reading: Hebrews 9, 11-15
  • Gospel Acclamation: = Year A
  • Gospel: Mark 14, 12-16; 22-26
Year C
  • First Reading: Genesis 14, 18-20
  • Responsorial Psalm: 109: 1, 2, 3, 4. (R. 4bc)
  • Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 11, 23-26 [note: this lection is taken from the “in die” formulary of the 1967 draft, and has been shortened]
  • Gospel Acclamation: = Year A
  • Gospel: Luke 9, 11b-17
Ordo lectionum Missae, editio typica altera (1981), pp. 94-95
With the introduction of the three-year cycle to the feast of Corpus Christi and the changes made by Coetus XI, the traditional epistle reading was thus, lamentably, both shorn of verses 27-29 and relegated to being read only in Year C.

Unfortunately, we are still missing the one last major piece of this puzzle: the 460 responses from the consultation. In the absence of this information, one cannot say for certain why 1 Corinthians 11, 27-29 was removed from the epistle reading for Year C, but I think the existing data allows us to construct a reasonable hypothesis.

I have mentioned previously on NLM the remarks of Dom Adrian Nocent, O.S.B., on “advertising” the lectionary in the context of the debate within Coetus XI: “Some, for example, arguing from modern advertising methods, wanted to have only the ipsissima verba Christi proclaimed in a single sentence. This could have made a deep impression on the hearers.” [10] Although this slightly bizarre idea was rejected by the members of the group, the fact that it was discussed at all would seem to indicate that at least a minority of Coetus XI were generally in favour of shorter rather than longer readings. The group’s early comments on the length of some of the pericopes suggested to them by biblical experts are also indicative of this:
Many have noted that certain pericopes as they have been selected by the biblicists are very long, especially those selected from the Old Testament, while on the contrary others, according to exegetical principles, are divided here or there, and are clearly shorter. […]

What, in our judgement, seems proper according to pedagogic principles?

– if pericopes are brief, there is not enough time for the attention of the listener to be truly established.
– if pericopes are lengthy, they will not sustain the attention of the listener;
– pericopes, especially those intended to explain doctrine, must end with verses which are really attention grabbing, because immediately afterwards the attention wanes. [11]
Coetus XI obviously thought that they had the lengths of readings about right in the 1967 Ordo lectionum pro dominicis, feriis et festis sanctorum, as only seven pericopes in total are provided with optional shorter forms, all on Sundays. [12] After the consultation, however, the number of these drastically increased, and a total of forty-two pericopes on Sundays alone would be given optional short forms in the promulgated Ordo lectionum Missae.

One reason for this is that some readings were combined in order to create space for extra ones. For instance, Ephesians 1, 3-8 and 9-14, which in the 1967 draft were read on Sundays 5B and 6B after Pentecost respectively, were merged into one lection, 1, 3-14, now read on Sunday 15B per annum; this was done to reduce the number of readings from Ephesians and increase the number of readings from 2 Corinthians. [13] To compensate for this, Ephesians 1, 3-14 was given an optional short form, vv. 1-10.

These rearrangements and combinations of pericopes do not explain the majority of the short forms provided in the 1969 Ordo lectionum Missae, however. Thus, even without access to the feedback from the consultation, it seems fairly obvious that a number of the experts recommended that readings be made shorter. I suspect that the minority of Coetus XI who were in favour of shorter readings generally were very keen to highlight these parts of the feedback, which probably played the ‘we told you so’ role in the group’s discussions. I also think it is more than likely that the majority of the ad libitum short forms in the reformed lectionary as promulgated are a last-minute compromise position between those members who felt many pericopes were too long and those on the other hand who were happy with their length. [14]

Further, it also seems obvious that length was not the only consideration in the late edits made to the reformed lectionary. As Bugnini alludes to in the quote above, the experts who were consulted also seem to have suggested the excision of many “difficult texts”. For example, on every occasion in Year A of the Sunday cycle where the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” appears, the Gospel reading (from Matthew) is given a short form that omits this phrase, a fact I have noted in a previous NLM article.

It seems to me that there are, therefore, two possible reasons why 1 Corinthians 11, 27-29 went missing late in the process of the post-Vatican II lectionary reform:
  1. the verses were removed because some experts, along with members of Coetus XI, thought that they were a distraction from what they saw as the ‘core’ of the passage (the institution of the Eucharist) and that making the lection shorter by dispensing with them would improve the catechetical focus of the lectionary;
  2. they were removed because it was felt that the aspect of “judgement” was too “difficult”; the obvious solution, to my mind, of lengthening the pericope to v. 32 so that it ended on a somewhat ‘positive’ note (“that we may not be condemned along with the world”) was de facto excluded due to the focus on making lections shorter.
In conclusion, as someone familiar with the schemata of Coetus XI, I am fairly confident that my hypotheses here are likely to be close to the truth of the matter. Still, it should be stated that these explanations are not mutually exclusive, and at the moment are only possible rather than definitive, given that we still lack one major piece of information (the feedback from the consultation). Charity would seem to require that malice and ill-will also be ruled out at this stage — as we lack any comments made in the consultation process of the 1967 draft lectionary, there can be no certainty about any ‘good’ or ‘bad’ intentions.

However, even if the intentions behind this omission could be construed as ‘good’ or ‘well-meaning’, it seems undeniable that, over half a century on, the removal of 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 from the Ordinary Form’s lectionary has had catastrophic effects on the liturgical, dogmatic and spiritual formation of the Catholic faithful. It is an omission that, along with many others, urgently needs to be corrected.


[1] To reiterate: this was not a discussion or vote on a document, but on whether the USCCB Committee on Doctrine should even draft such a document in the first instance. The vote passed, with 168 voting in favour and 55 against, with 6 abstentions. For more information, see here.

[2] See, for instance, this recent article on Corpus Christi Watershed. This omission is by no means the only notable one; see Dr Kwasniewski’s foreword to my 2016 book Index Lectionum: A Comparative Table of Readings for the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite for examples of others.

[3] On the translation of praestantior pars, see Gregory DiPippo, “Sacrosanctum Concilium and the New Lectionary”. For more on the Council Fathers’ suggestions and discussions about the lectionary, see my three-part NLM series “The Second Vatican Council and the Lectionary”: part one, part two, part three.

[4] The Consilium ad exsequendam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgia was the organism established by Pope Paul VI to carry out the post-conciliar reform of the liturgy. The Consilium was organised into various coetus (‘study groups’), who would each be responsible for drafting particular parts of the liturgical reform; their proposed schemas would be discussed and voted on by the Fathers of the Consilium, adjusted if necessary, and then sent to the Pope for final approval.

[5] Schema 233 (De Missali, 39), July 1967: Ordo lectionum pro dominicis, feriis et festis sanctorum (Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1967). In 2018, I compiled a table of readings for this draft ordo; this can be found here.

[6] Annibale Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1990), p. 419.

[7] Though it should also be noted that the epistle reading in the 1962 Missal for the evening of Maundy Thursday, 1 Corinthians 11, 20-32, was shortened in the 1967 Ordo lectionum to 11:23-29, i.e. the same lection as on Corpus Christi.

[8] Bugnini, Reform of the Liturgy, pp. 419-420. The revision of the readings was discussed by the Fathers of the Consilium on 25th April 1968: see ibid., p. 177 fn. 74, and [n.a.], “Decima sessio plenaria «Consilii»”, Notitiae 40 (1968), pp. 180-184, at p. 184.

[9] Schema 286 (De Missali, 49), 6th April 1968, p. 2:
In festo Corporis Christi. Pro hoc festo Ordo distinguebat lectiones in die et lectiones in sollemnitate. Multi periti dubitant de utilitate lectionum in sollemnitate, et proponunt ut potius fiant tria formularia completa secundum cyclum trium annorum. Textus sufficientes adsunt et sunt item magni momenti. Ideo accepimus propositionem. Hoc modo poterit legi etiam pericopa Marci quae, secus audiretur a populo solum in Dominica Palmarum in contextu narrationis totius Passionis.
[10] See Adrian Nocent, “The Roman Lectionary for Mass” in Ansgar Chupungco (ed.), Handbook for Liturgical Studies (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1997-2000, 5 vols.), vol. 3, pp. 177-188, at p. 185.

[11] Schema 148 (De Missali, 18), 31st March 1966, p. 12:
Plures animadverterunt quasdam pericopas prout a biblicis sunt selectae esse plus aequo longiores, praesertim illae quae ex Vetere Testamento sumuntur, dum, e contra, aliae, quae iuxta principia exegeseos, hinc vel inde secantur, breviores apparent. […]
Quid iudicandum vobis videtur de principiis pedagogicis: 
– si pericopa est brevior, tempus non datur ut attentio vera auditoris inducatur; 
– si pericopa est longior, auditor non sustinet attentionem; 
– pericopae, praesertim quae doctrinam explicite intendunt, finire deberent cum versiculo qui attentionem vehementer percutit, quia statim postea attentio deficit.
It is also worth noting that, earlier in the same schema, examples of pericopes that could have longer and shorter forms are given: “Item opportunum videtur ut aliquando celebrans eligere possit inter textum longiorem et textum breviorem eiusdem pericopae pro opportunitate. V.G. Isaiae 6, 6-11 vel 1-11; 1 Regum 8, 22-26 vel 22-53; Isaiae 7, 10-17 vel 2 Regum 16, 1-5 / Isaiae 7, 10-17” (pp. 9-10). The fact that the shorter text is given first, followed by the longer one, could indicate that Coetus XI expected the shorter version to be the ‘default’, with the longer version provided as an option to be used when a priest considered it pastorally beneficial to his congregation.

[12] Namely the following:
  • Matthew 15:1, 7-20 [1, 7-11, 15-20] (Sunday 8A after Pentecost);
  • John 4:5-42 [5-26] (Sunday 3A of Lent);
  • John 9:1-38 [1-13, 24-38] (Sunday 4A of Lent);
  • John 11:1-45 [17-45] (Sunday 5A of Lent);
  • Acts 1:15-26 [15-17, 21-26] (Sunday 7B of Easter);
  • Acts 2:14, 22-32 [14, 22-24, 32] (Sunday 3A of Easter);
  • 1 Peter 2:1-10 [1-5, 9-10] (Sunday 2A of Easter). 
Only the Gospel lections for Sundays 3A-5A of Lent would be kept in place with (different) short forms.

[13] In Year B of the 1967 ordo, 2 Corinthians had only three readings on Sundays 2-4 after Pentecost, and Ephesians had ten readings over Sundays 5-14 after Pentecost. In Year B of the 1969 Ordo lectionum Missae, however, 2 Corinthians now has eight readings from Sundays 7-14 per annum, and Ephesians has seven readings from Sundays 15-21 per annum.

[14] This would also go some way to explaining the rather curious declaration in no. 75 of the Praenotanda to the Ordo lectionum Missae (1981 editio typica altera), which claims that “the editing of the shorter version has been carried out with great caution” (in huiusmodi breviationibus conficiendis magna cautela adhibita est), something that is obviously not entirely accurate!

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