Saturday, September 1, 2012

What is up with this week's readings?

This week at the weekday masses our first readings have been from 2 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians. The usual pattern for weekday masses is that the first reading is usually from the Old Testament. I wondered why it was different. Had it always been this way? Was there something special about this time of year?

The short answer is because the Pope said so. The longer answer is a lot more interesting.


From the earliest of times, Christian services have always included readings from Scripture. These readings would come from both the Old and the New Testaments. As Justin Martyr describes:

On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.
 
Sounds a lot like what we do now, doesn't it?

Fast forward 1500 years. In light of the Reformation and Counter-reformation, the Council of Trent finally set the prayers and the rites of the Mass in stone for all Catholics everywhere to have the exact same liturgy. Before this, there were several "official" versions of the Mass in use in different parts of Europe. These versions had a myriad of little differences among them, although they all used the same basic format.

 
The new official version, called the Tridentine Mass after the place of it's birth in Trent, went through the same readings every year. The Sunday readings were exclusively taken from the New Testament and the Psalms. There were a few changes to the Mass between 1570 and Vatican II, but most of those changes didn't involve the readings.

Vatican II was the next change to involve the Mass readings. In Vatican II, changes were made to include more of the Bible in the readings. So the Sunday Masses were changed to how they are today. The first reading is from the Old Testament, then there is a Psalm, then a reading from the Epistles or Acts, and finally a reading from a Gospel. With the exception of a few major feast days, the Sunday readings change every year in a three year cycle. The weekday Mass readings change every year in a two year cycle. For example, we are now in Cycle B in the Sunday readings and we are in Year II in the weekday readings. Last year, we were in Cycle A on Sundays and Year I on weekdays. Next year, we will be in Cycle C on Sundays and Year I on weekdays. Or, you know what, just look at the chart below:


Year
Sunday Readings
Weekday Readings
2010
Cycle C
Year II
2011
Cycle A
Year I
2012
Cycle B
Year II
2013
Cycle C
Year I
2014
Cycle A
Year II
2015
Cycle B
Year I
2016
Cycle C
Year II
2017
Cycle A
Year I
2018
Cycle B
Year II
 
In order to cover as much of the Bible as possible, the first reading on weekdays can come from the Old Testament or the New Testament. I guess it's just a coincidence that in both Year I and Year II at about the same time of year our first weekday readings all come from the Epistles. The goal of the Vatican II council was to share all of the highlights of the Bible from the pulpit. If you go to Mass every day for three years, you will hear the vast majority of the Bible. Pretty cool, huh? 


1 comment:

What do you think? I want to know.