You may have noticed yesterday that the Gospel according to St. John started its second sequential read-through of the year in the evening, even though for most of the year so far the gospel lesson has been in the morning (and epistle in the evening). You may be wondering why did it switch to the evening?
If you’re familiar with classical prayer books and their various daily lectionaries, this may be especially jarring. The traditional pattern, with very few exceptions, is that the New Testament lessons in Morning Prayer are from the Gospels and from the Epistles in Evening Prayer. If all you’ve know is the 1979, then maybe you’re still adapting from its weird daily lectionary and didn’t even notice that this little switch has taken place.
On one hand, the daily office lectionary in the 2019 prayer book represents a huge stride toward the style of the 1549/1552/1559/1662 daily lectionary. But this treatment of the New Testament lessons is a surprising exception. So let’s take a look at the logic behind this. (I should be a good role model and cite my sources, but I don’t remember where I read all this, so you’ll just have to trust me on this. Or look through the Prayer Book Q&A stuff yourself.)
How the original daily lectionary worked:
- Most of the Old Testament and about half of the Ecclesiastical Books were read through, continuously, from Office to Office. This meant you had to read Morning and Evening Prayer daily in order to keep up.
- The Gospels and Acts were read through three full times in Morning Prayer.
- The Epistles were read through three full times in Evening Prayer. (Revelation was omitted.)
How the 2019 daily lectionary works:
- Most of the books Genesis through Chronicles, plus extracts from three Ecclesiastical Books, is read through the year in Morning Prayer.
- Most of the rest of the OT, and extracts from the Maccabees, is read through the year in Evening Prayer.
- The New Testament is read once through the year in Morning Prayer.
- Most of the New Testament is read once through the year in Evening Prayer.
The idea here is an accommodation to the reality that many individuals, not to mention churches, do not say the daily offices daily. In the old lectionary, if you only say MP, or only EP, you’ll be reading every other chapter of the OT, and miss half of the NT entirely. In the new one, basically the whole NT is covered in both offices, but in opposite orders (Gospels together, Epistles together). That way if an individual or church has a pattern of only saying one office per day, the morning and evening “halves” of the lectionary can be turned into a two-year cycle to ensure that the most Bible coverage is attained.
The only downside to this plan, as far as I can tell, is that those who do read the whole lectionary in a year has to keep track of four continuous books at a time, instead of three. But then again, if you’re spiritually disciplined enough and mature enough to be saying both offices every day (or almost every day), I guess you can probably handle tracking four books of the Bible in tandem. I just hope you’ve got enough ribbons on your Bible! 😉