I was recently at a gathering with a wide spectrum of clergy and laity from throughout New Zealand and a discussion developed whether or not the Lectionary is obligatory.
Some were saying that at least one bishop has stressed it is; but then there was discussion whether that bishop’s position had any bearing in other dioceses…
Our Prayer Book says, “The appointed readings follow” (eg. p.409). “A duly authorised table of readings and psalms shall be followed.” (p.29). The Lectionary (Revised Common Lectionary – RCL) is a formulary of our Church. Formularies “may not be diminished”. It makes little sense to me that our Church would go through all the effort and energy of: passing a Bill at General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui about the lectionary, its needing to be passed in a majority of diocesan synods and by Te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa, and the Diocese of Polynesia, back again to be passed again by a newly-elected General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui, and then wait a year prior to it being authorised… and then the Church understanding this as merely another resource alongside the many other good ways to read the Bible that people can think of!
But the discussion does underscore, once again, my contention that it is way past time that there be a clear listing of what is required, what is allowed, and what is forbidden.
Personally, I do not find the “it is required… it is in the rules… it isn’t in the rules” approach the best way forward. I am much more interested in the merits (or not) of the lectionary. For the Eucharist I would assume that the lectionary is followed. There may, of course, be a rare exception when other readings are more appropriate, but note the words “rare” and “exception”. I would preferably use all three readings and the psalm, or at the very least a reading, psalm, and gospel. I see, more and more, the practice of using solely the gospel reading – and this from leaders who have cluttered the Gathering rite with lots of optional material (hence no excuse, as far as I’m concerned). The only occasion that springs to mind when it may be appropriate to read only the gospel reading is communion at a sickbed.
For a non-eucharistic liturgy I would look at the Revised Common Lectionary as a starting point. There may be reasons why a community, having looked at the lectionary, decides to do something else instead. We can all come up with criticisms of RCL, but I have yet to see a community which, say, prides itself on “systematic expository preaching” come up with anything as good as RCL. They tend to read less scripture and create a new favourite canon within the canon (see CS Lewis Screwtape Letters). With a little bit of longer term planning and some creativity, expository preaching can find RCL a valuable foundation.
The Revised Common Lectionary is used across denominations, across languages and cultures, all around the world. Worshippers can prepare for Sunday in their devotions at home, preachers can meet ecumenically locally or online, there are innumerable resources both as books and on the internet. It is an astonishing movement of the Holy Spirit in our day. To not use it is not only breaking our promises, it is ignoring the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
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