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We Dropped Some Sundays

Calendar March
Did you know you won’t read the readings for Ordinary Sunday 9 in the next 25 years?! And the next time you read the readings for the 10th Ordinary Sunday will be in 2035?

At the outset, two things: for a number of reasons, I think the 3 Year Sunday reading cycle (and its twin, the Revised Common Lectionary), is the best we Christians currently have; secondly – it is not perfect.

I want to write about a problem with it that may have been niggling in the back of your head when you read how Ordinary Sundays are organised.

Here’s some revision for those who need it: The system has 34 Ordinary Weeks for those years with 53 Sundays. [I have a maths degree and I’m not afraid to use it: If a year starts on a Sunday, there will be 53 Sundays (next time 2017); if a leap year starts on a Saturday (next time 2028) or a Sunday (next time 2040), there will be 53 Sundays].

When a year has 52 Sundays, we drop a week out of the 34 possible weeks. So, the moral of that little story is: most years use only 33 of the possible 34 weeks [In the next 50 years there are only 9 years with 53 Sundays].

The week that is dropped is the one that would follow the last Sunday before Lent. Eg. this year (a year with 52 Sundays), the Sunday before Lent was Ordinary 8 so we drop Week 9. And the week of Monday after the Day of Pentecost was Ordinary Week 10.

Now Lent/Easter only moves back and forth a limited amount. The earliest that Ash Wednesday can be is February 4, the latest Ash Wednesday can be is March 10. So the earliest Sunday that can be dropped is the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time. And the latest that can be dropped is the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Are you still there?!

The propers (readings and collect) for the Day of Pentecost are used instead of the Sunday for the Ordinary Week that follows the Easter Season. And for Trinity Sunday instead of the next Sunday. So, to stay with this year’s example, Ordinary Week 9 was dropped; the Sunday readings for Ordinary Week 10 were actually those of the Day of Pentecost; the Sunday readings for Ordinary Week 11 were actually those of Trinity. [And then some followed Corpus Christi on the next Sunday; and others used Te Pouhere Sunday].

Fr. Michael Slusser explains thatup through 2039

  • Sundays 6 through 9 are pre-empted in 2035
  • Sundays 6 through 10: 2016, 2027, 2032
  • Sundays 7 through 10: 2018, 2024, 2029
  • Sundays 7 through 11: 2015, 2021, 2026, 2037
  • Sundays 8 through 11: 2023, 2034
  • Sundays 8 through 12: 2014, 2020, 2031, 2036, 2039
  • Sundays 9 through 12: 2028
  • Sundays 9 through 13: 2017, 2019, 2022, 2025, 2030, 2033, 2038

What immediately springs to view is that the readings for Sunday 9 are never heard during the years 2014–2039 (although in 2011, the cycle A readings for the Ninth Sunday did get a hearing); only once do we get to hear any readings for the Tenth Sunday, in 2035. Sundays 9 and 10 are in the deepest part of what I call the Paschal eclipse of the Sunday Lectionary. The cycle B and C readings for Sundays 9 and 10 are not used even once in the thirty years 2010–2039. The cycle B readings for Sunday 8 are heard only twice (2030, 2033), and the cycle C readings for Sunday 8 are not heard between 2016 and 2034. On Sunday 7, the cycle A readings are not heard at all from 2023 to 2038, and cycle B is silent between 2012 and 2030. After 2016, the cycle C readings for Sunday 11 will not reappear until the 2040s. Further out on the fringe of the eclipse, the impact of the Paschal Season and associated feasts on the Sunday lectionary is less dramatic, but in 2011 even Sunday 14 was affected.

How much of this is due to the transfer of the Feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord—Corpus Christi—to the following Sunday [or the celebrating of Te Pouhere Sunday]? Actually, the heart of the eclipse, Sundays 9 and 10, would be affected little if Corpus Christi were not transferred to Sunday. For Sunday 9, we would hear the Sunday readings one more time (2035), and on Sunday 10, the use of Sunday readings instead of a festal substitute would rise from once to eight times in thirty years.

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4 Responses to We Dropped Some Sundays

  1. Well, I guess we all should go and read the lections for the 9th and 10th Ordinary Sundays, and see what we are missing!

  2. I would reply: do you know that in our lives, we shall have only one more time a coincidence (concurrence) of Good Friday & Annunciation, in 2016? The next will happen only in 2157.

    What a pity of all these lectionaries… The traditional way of doing is more helpful, with pre-Lent, and with Sundays after the Pentecost. My gradma used to say things like this: «Last Sunday was the Leper’s Sunday; that means that next Sunday it will be the Blinds’ Sunday.» With alternative lectionaries, there’s no more structured Jesus’ life along the liturgical year.

  3. In case you were curious, the Orthodox lectionary gets around this problem by having only enough readings for the shortest possible year (that being Easter to Easter, since the lectionary is based around that cycle primarily). If Easter is early one year and late the next, one or more weeks are repeated. However, since normally, days on the fixed calendar with readings have their readings read immediately after the regular readings for that day, often when the daily reading is to be read at another point in the cycle due to repeated lectionary weeks, only the readings for the saint’s day are read. In part because of this, a disproportionately high number of the January saints have readings associated with them, since the adjustment happens between Theophany and the beginning of Pre-Lent.

  4. Thanks for the physics lesson! I just started blogging weekly on the lectionary to try and extricate myself from my psalms bias – whew – what a complexity of choices! I notice all sorts of things about the lectionary and about the lessons, what is chosen and what is ‘rejected’. Perhaps sometimes just in the interests of getting the church out in time for lunch! Most recently I note in the skipped section of Genesis 25 and interesting circular approach to the cadences which is marked in the sequences of the te’amim. These are both heard and seen in the music, but would be impossible to read as patterns of ‘punctuation’ (except by a computer – which of course is always an option but it’s a complex pattern matching problem).

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Rev. Bosco Peters Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.