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Acts is compulsory

Acts is compulsory?

Acts is compulsory

There is an unusual line in our NZ Lectionary booklet (image above) through the Sundays of the Easter Season: “The reading from Acts must be used each Sunday in Eastertide”.

It is unusual and surprising to find the word “must” in NZ liturgical resources.

Does anyone know: what is the source of this particular “must”ness? I don’t think it is a line in the original Revised Common Lectionary which is a formulary (agreed practice) of our church, and the source of these readings.

Sure, it makes sense that some people need help, when they are used to the first reading being from the Old Testament, that there is a note “During Eastertide a reading from Acts is often substituted for the lesson from the Hebrew Bible.”

There was no such “must” instruction in the 2011 lectionary booklet or earlier. In 2012 it read, “The reading from Acts must be used as either the 1st or 2nd reading”. I can imagine this 2012 instruction confusing Kiwi Anglicans – especially those who have only one or two readings at a service! [It is not unknown to be at a service in NZ Anglicanism to hear, “A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Galatians…”! So I imagine in 2012 there could very well have been readings from “the Holy Gospel according to Acts”…]

Last year and this year have had the same instruction, “The reading from Acts must be used each Sunday in Eastertide”. [Wow – Anglicans in NZ doing something two years in a row – monotony must be setting in; time for a change, surely!]

So, has anyone got any ideas what this is all about…?


Postscript I don’t think any regulars here are surprised that my presumption is that in ordinary parish worship, Sunday Eucharist should* have: first reading, psalm, second reading, Gospel. I can, of course, visualise, beyond ordinary parish worship, contexts where this fare might be reduced by,say, one reading. I know some just have a single reading – and I wonder how they respond to this “must” in the lectionary booklet – do they read solely from Acts? What would be the understanding of the lectionary booklet in an only-one-reading context [remembering the lectionary booklet is not binding or agreed to]?

* Does the NZ lectionary booklet now give precedence for using the word “must” in relation to liturgy in our province?! I remember all too well that I was told I should (actually, must) remove all the “should”s from my book Celebrating Eucharist before the church would support its publication here. I have seen “should” creeping back in. And now there is “must”!

Today is the Sixteenth Day of Easter.

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8 thoughts on “Acts is compulsory?”

  1. Do you have a table somewhere, as the CofE does, distributing the Easter Vigil OT lessons for use by those who don’t wish to abandon the Hebrew Bible in Eastertide? Then the ‘must’ would be allowing OT-Ps-Acts-Gospel or Acts-Ps-Epistle-Gospel but excluding Ot-Ps-Epistle-Gospel.

    1. This is a fascinating thought, thanks, Chris. I am unaware of any such table here in NZ. Until now I didn’t even know of this CofE table. But CofE Common Worship ideas do appear in the NZ Lectionary booklet. These ideas have no status here whatsoever, and, the lectionary booklet notwithstanding, cannot be used when our own formularies (which includes RCL but not the Common Worship variations) apply. Is there a CofE clarification somewhere that indicates Acts must be used? If that is the case, we may have our lectionary booklet simply ripping that clarification out of the CofE context and stating it here where it no longer makes sense.

      Christ is Risen!

      1. Yes, head of the table: “If an Old Testament reading is used, the reading from Acts must be used as the second reading.”

        And I can all too readily imagine that being interpreted in the context of a two-reading Eucharist to give “the Gospel according to Acts”.

  2. Peter Gardner

    For what it’s worth, we Orthodox read from Acts after Easter also — though I doubt that bit of ecumenism is what inspired this mandate.

  3. Peter Carrell

    I have it on good authority that the compilers of the NZ Lectionary have been paid good coin to provide an unending series of creative catalysts for liturgical bloggers … 🙂

    You must go to a different series of parishes to the ones I frequent where there are normally two readings, either the First Reading and Gospel or Epistle and Gospel and almost never the Psalm. There ‘must’ be a post in that observation … 🙂

  4. The Common Worship Rules of the Church of England (See the CofE website) state:
    If there are only two readings at the principal service on Easter Day, the Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth or Seventh Sunday of Easter, Ascension Day, Pentecost, the Conversion of Paul or the Festivals of Matthias, Barnabas, James and Stephen, the reading from the Acts of the Apostles must always be used.
    Presumably the Anglican Church in NZ has used the same rules.

    1. Thanks, Geoff. Yes, it does appear that the editors here have started putting this rule recently into the NZ lectionary booklet. The church here, however, agrees to rules at our own General Synod, independently of what the Church of England’s General Synod decides. We have agreed to the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) here. Where Common Worship varies from RCL – such variations have no canonical status here. So if this is an RCL rule, then it applies here, if it is not then the point is individual pious opinion, and the “must” is well out of place. So now the question remains: is this an RCL rule. Christ is Risen!

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