The book of Leviticus has started its run-through in the Daily Office this morning, according our daily lectionary. But if you’re looking at the actual lectionary table rather than just following the entire Office online you’ll notice that tomorrow we’ll skip from chapter 1 to chapter 8. Then we’ll skip to 10, then 16-20 in a row, then 26, and that’s it for Leviticus. Of the 27 chapters, we’ll only cover 9 – just one third of the book! Some of you might breathe a sigh of relief at this news, others might get indignant and ask “what gives?”
The main point of a Daily Lectionary, yes, is to get the “full counsel of God” into the eyes and ears of every Christian. You could to Morning and Evening Prayer every day and over the course of the year you get through the entire Bible. Or rather, the vast majority of the Bible. The fact is, every Prayer Book lectionary is “incomplete” when it comes to biblical coverage. Although this occasionally can be a cover for revisionist selectivism and overlooking difficult/unliked passages (I’m looking at you, 1979) the usual reason is perfectly harmless: not all parts of Scripture are equally accessible and equally beneficial to the reader.
Yes, all Scripture is “God-breathed” or “God-inspired” and therefore beneficial for instruction and training in righteousness, but not all parts of Scripture will accomplish that as well as other parts. To that end, different lectionaries at different times have made different omissions, judging by the needs of and expectations for its congregations. The earliest Prayer Book lectionary included only four chapters of Leviticus: 18-21. It also omitted 1 & 2 Chronicles, much of Numbers and Ezekiel, and the entire book of St. John’s Revelation (apart from one or two snippets in the Communion lectionary). The reasons for these decisions generally revolve around:
- simplicity of use (rather than weaving the Chronicles material into 1 & 2 Kings like our new lectionary, just skip them entirely)
- potential for misunderstanding (the Laws of the Torah and the Apocalyptic visions of Ezekiel and Revelation are too complex or too obscure for the average reader)
- constraint of time (there are only so many days in the year, so unless you read multiple chapters at once you’re not going to cover everything on just 2 readings per morning plus 2 per evening)
With these reasons in mind you can glance at different lectionaries from different centuries and perhaps better understand why some omissions were made in the 17th century and different ones are made today. With public literacy higher, more study resources readily available, and an evangelical background expectation to read “the Bible in a year” already common, the modern reader is better-equipped to tackle more of the difficult and obscure passages of Scripture. But it will always be true that some parts of the Bible simply need to be taught and preached for the majority of readers to finally “get” them.
That said, if you’re of a completionist mindset, and want to read the rest of the book of Leviticus yourself, something you can do is device a supplementary lectionary of one extra reading per day and use it during Midday Prayer. The Saint Aelfric Customary will providing just such a lectionary, and here’s how it finishes the books of Leviticus and Numbers:
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