Friday, June 21, 2019

The Catholic lectionary

To my knowledge, the contemporary Catholic lectionary is highly selective, excerpting the inspirational passages of Scripture while censuring offensive or disturbing passages. For instance:

So Catholics at Mass are getting a bowdlerized, sanitized, Hallmark card edition of the Bible. 


  1. As someone raised Catholic and who talks to average Catholics who go to mass, I'm dumbfounded by people who argue like this.

    You used a verse in a liturgy. I guess this is a replacement for being able to exegete Scripture in context.

    1. "But Muslims know the Quran, they recite it every day!"

      In Arabic which they don't speak, without any knowledge of Hadith or Tafsir explanations, filtered through the lens of the lesson the imam wants to convey.

  2. Of course, what's in and what's out of a lectionary can become highly political, with some arguing on behalf of "difficult" readings that condemn homosexuality or demand stricter rules for partaking of the Eucharist or others calling for gender inclusive language.

    In the past 50 years the lectionary for the Mass has been significantly updated only four times. In 1965 the Second Vatican Council recognized the need to encourage lay participation and adapt the liturgy to local cultures: They translated the Latin text to the vernacular and turned the priest to face the congregation. In 1969 Mass parts such as the introductory rite and kiss of peace were revised and, most significantly, the readings for both Sundays and weekdays were chosen to expose Mass-goers to a much richer selection of scripture. In 1998 the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), with the approval of all English-speaking bishops' conferences, prepared a translation in part to include more inclusive, less gendered language. However, it was never approved by the Vatican. Most recently, what is known as the "Reform of the Reform" in 2011 not only ignored the ICEL translation but went back to a more literal translation from Latin, resulting in Mass parts and prayers that are still widely criticized as awkward and confusing by laity and clergy alike.

    When it comes to scriptural readings, most pew missals contain 1969-era selections. The Revised Lectionary is the only English-language text approved for dioceses in the United States. It is arranged in two cycles, one for Sundays and one for weekdays. Sunday Mass readings cycle every three years, while weekday readings cycle every two years. Other readings for saints' feast days and special seasons and rituals (such as weddings and funerals) are also proscribed. On Sundays, the first reading, usually from the Old Testament, reflects important themes from the gospel reading. The second reading is usually from one of the epistles, letters written to early church communities. The gospels cycle between Matthew one year, then Mark and John, and lastly Luke, with John being read during the Easter season.

    "The widely held assumption has been that the lectionary faithfully presents the essence of the Bible, with the omission of only a few troubling or gory passages," wrote Benedictine Sister Rose Fox in the journal Liturgy, published by the Archdiocese of Chicago. "This satisfying assumption has recently been controverted by shocking evidence to the contrary."


    1. According to Fox, "a disproportionate number of passages about women...are omitted altogether, are relegated to weekdays...or designated as optional." In an exhaustive study titled "Women in the Bible and the Lectionary" she also found many of the selected readings reinforced the perceived weakness or subservient roles of women. Even the gender balance of approved saints' solemnities, feasts, and memorials on the official liturgical calendar is skewed: 154 male saints compared to just 34 female ones.

      Catholic laity are notoriously less familiar than other Christians with the whole of the Bible,, because we are unlikely to read beyond the USCCB-sanctioned daily readings heard in Mass and published in countless devotionals and Bible study apps. So it was curiosity and laziness that prompted me recently to explore the excised passages in a daily reading of Titus 2:1–8, 11–14. In verses 1–8 I found wives instructed "to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household," and "submissive to their husbands." Was it irony or something worse, I wondered, when I discovered lectionary authors included that passage but omitted verses 9–10, which said slaves must be "submissive to their masters"?

      I knew nothing until recently of the many women included in both testaments, because they are left out of the lectionary entirely. Midwives Shiphrah and Puah, who stood up to a pharaoh and refused to kill boy children, can be found in Exodus 1:15–22, but that scripture cannot be found in the lectionary. Who knew there were prophets named Deborah and Huldah, and a woman deacon, Phoebe, mentioned in Romans, Chapter 2 and elsewhere, as well as many other strong and faithful females? Ruth, Esther and Judith fill entire books of the Bible with their wisdom and example, yet only a few passage about them show up in the lectionary, always as weekday or optional readings.

      To be fair, Fox points out that many stories involving men are likewise left out of the lectionary.

  3. Short, moralistic homilies are a very poor substitute for expository preaching through entire books of the Bible.

  4. According to Pew data, half of Catholics don't even understand that the Mass isn't merely symbolic, yet that happens every week and is a primary feature of Catholic theology. The missing premise of course is that merely being present for select readings translates into Biblical knowledge.

  5. FWIW, a 2016 LifeWay Research survey found (predictably enough) that Protestants are far more likely to have read the entire Bible than Catholics.

  6. Most catholics I know think the immaculate conception is the Virgin Birth.

  7. You guys are too focused on Catholicism. The opposite of love is not hate but indifference. So yo still have hope of eventually becoming members of the Church Christ founded.

    About me, I never comment about none of the 30 thousand churches derived from Luther. When you agree between you which Protestant church has it right, then we can debate if the Catholic church is right.

    1. "You guys are too focused on Catholicism."

      That's because many people are deluded by Catholicism.

      "The opposite of love is not hate but indifference."

      Are you implying Protestants are "indifferent" toward Catholics? If so, that conflicts with your claim that "You guys are too focused on Catholicism".

      "So yo still have hope of eventually becoming members of the Church Christ founded. About me, I never comment about none of the 30 thousand churches derived from Luther."

      Even your fellow Catholics claim this 30,000 churches is a myth. For example, see the National Catholic Register.

      "When you agree between you which Protestant church has it right, then we can debate if the Catholic church is right."

      The Catholic church is just another denomination too.

    2. "When you agree between you which Protestant church has it right, then we can debate if the Catholic church is right."

      Since complete agreement between the hundreds of millions of people who fit the sociological umbrella term "Protestant" is never going to happen, that would mean Protestants can never evaluate whether Catholicism is true. If they aren't allowed to evaluate Catholicism, how can they convert?

      But I'm more interested in why Catholic apologists assume Protestants are responsible for what every other Protestant believes. I'm under no obligation to be visibly unified with every Protestant movement. I can't even speak the languages of most of them.

    3. Chent

      "You guys are too focused on Catholicism."

      i) Since you're Catholic, that's an ironic comment. Do you think Catholics can be too focused on Catholicism?

      ii) Actually, there's a very wide range of topics I write about.

      iii) But I do give a lot of attention to Roman Catholicism because it deludes hundreds of millions of people.

      "The opposite of love is not hate but indifference."

      "Hate" is an overused word in pop culture. I'm not emotional about Roman Catholicism.

      "So yo still have hope of eventually becoming members of the Church Christ founded."

      i) Repeating Catholic tropes isn't convincing to non-Catholics.

      ii) What's the point of joining the Catholic church, anyway? According to Vatican II, non-Catholics can be saved. Indeed, non-Christians can be saved. Catholic theology has shifted from exclusivism to inclusivism. Wake up and pay attention to changes in your own denomination.

      "About me, I never comment about none of the 30 thousand churches derived from Luther. When you agree between you which Protestant church has it right, then we can debate if the Catholic church is right."

      i) That's illogical. It's quite possible to recognize a wrong answer without knowing the right answer. Indeed, recognizing a wrong answer can be a necessary first step in discovering the right answer.

      ii) You're imposing a Catholic paradigm on the Protestant faith, which begs the question. From a Protestant standpoint, this isn't about finding and joining the one right church. Our relation to God is mediated by Jesus, not a church.

      It isn't a process of elimination to locate a needle in a haystack. God hasn't make salvation a process where we must comb through all the competing voices. It's not about us finding God but God finding us. He comes to individuals. He arranges the circumstances of their lives to bring them into contact with the Gospel.

      You may disagree, but simply reciting Catholic tropes isn't persuasive to non-Catholics.

    4. BTW, Chent, I notice that you didn't refute my post. You didn't attempt to show that my statements about the Catholic lectionary were factually erroneous.