Thursday, June 17, 2010

Read it!

It has become common in some parishes of more liberal and/or Catholic bent in Australia to omit one or more of the set readings from the Lectionary, on weekdays including feasts, and sometimes even on Sundays.

This is a very unfortunate development, for many reasons. It undermines the Catholic Anglican claim to present an appropriate relationship, 'both/and', as it were, of Word and Sacrament. It reflects and deepens a wider problem of biblical illiteracy. It undermines the intentions of the lectionary framers, and often particularly suggests a quasi-Marcionite view that downgrades the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (since this is so often what gets dropped).

The reason? Apparently nothing more profound than that the liturgy 'takes too long' with all the readings.

This is breathtakingly bad reasoning and practice, but there are a few factors to consider to understand it.

One is that the Revised Common Lectionary, commonly now in use in Anglican circles, has been ineffectively introduced and is poorly understood. The lack of connection across the readings of a given day (as opposed to the readings from week to week) makes it easier to dislodge one or more of them, without a deep sense of loss for the congregation. And without a pattern of preaching that engages with the Lectionary as a whole, the disparate lections are all the more precarious. So there is a serious unmet need for teaching about the Bible, and the Bible in the liturgy - its natural home!

Yet the concern about excessive length or boredom suggests a problem of performance, for the readings and for the liturgy more generally. If participants are not engaged with the readings, or with any aspect of the celebration, attention needs to be given to how they are presented.

There is no rubric, printed or arcane, that requires readings to be done badly or inaudibly just so people can have a turn. There is no rule that says anyone equipped to mow the lawn or do bookkeeping has the duty or right to mangle complex rhetoric in the NT Epistles. If a music group can rehearse, so can a reader - but we just don't seem to care as much.

In other words, this problem suggests not only some difficulties about our interest in the Bible, but about our seriousness regarding the liturgy as a whole.

Our plea, then, is 'Read it!'. The Lectionary is there for a reason, and those who treat it in a sloppy manner will be ill-equipped to defend use of any set pattern of readings against the critical and the ignorant who think it more 'biblical' to pick and choose whatever they want.

If the reading of three disparate pieces of scripture and the Psalm presents a challenge, treat it as a positive one, and consider how to train readers, how to expound the course-readings from the OT/HB in preaching, and how to use other liturgical opportunities to 'read, mark, learn and inwardly digest'. This process of serious engagement with scripture is essential to Anglicanism, and we are on weak foundations without it.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Percy

    You have hit the nail on the head so far as the lectionary is concerned. Discipline in using the lection, practice in the delivery of the words and celebration of all that is good in liturgy. JOHN