What is a Lectionary?
A lectionary is a liturgical book which contains the readings for the Mass.
Since the Second Vatican Council, there has been patterns for Sunday and weekday readings. The Sunday selections contain two readings, a responsorial psalm and a Gospel. The weekday selections are a first reading, responsorial psalm and gospel.
The Sunday readings are divided into a three year cycle: A, B and C. Each of these emphaizes a Gospel: A has Matthew, B has Mark and C has Luke. The first reading emphasizes the Gospel theme, while the second reading is from the letters of the New Testament.
The weekday readings are divided into a two year cycle, years 1 and 2 (year 1 falls on odd numbered years and 2 falls on even numbered years).
The Church Year does not exactly follow the calendar year. The Church Year begins with the first Sunday of Advent. Thus, the first Sunday of Advent in 1998 began the beginning of Year A for Sunday readings and Year 1 for weekday readings.
A New Lectionary
The lectionary that we have been using in the United States was issued in 1971. The translation in this lectionary is the New American Bible. This is a translation from the original language in which the Bible was written (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek). That is not the case of earlier translations of the Bible which tended to be translated from what was already a translation, the Vulgate Latin version.
Over the next couple of decades, Bible scholars have been revising their translation of the New Testament. The reasons for this are many.
First of all, these past couple of decades have been remarkable for the archaeological discoveries which have occurred. Each discovery helps scholars to understand better what the Bible authors intended to say.
Furthermore, there has been more time for scholars to consider their translation. There had been some criticisms about the earlier version of the New American Bible. Scholars considered those suggestions and revised certain translations.
Another consideration was the tenor of the translations. Some people thought that the first version of the New American Bible was a bit too colloquial for the liturgy. The revision is a bit more formal in some of ways that it was translated.
Some phrases that were confusing have been retranslated. Phrases such as “holocausts” are now rendered “burnt offerings,” “seaks of flour” is now “measures of flour” and “smoking brazier” is now “smoking fire pot.”
Finally, there was the question of inclusive language.
The English language has changed over the past couple of decades. One of the most dramatic ways it has changed is the fact that before the 1960s, phrases such as “all men” and “my brothers” were generally understood to include all people. As people reflected upon these phrases, many found them to be too exclusive (excluding women because they only referred to males). Thus, there is a movement to use more inclusive language in everyday speech (e.g. “all people” instead of “all men,” etc.)
How should scripture be translated? Should it contain more inclusive language?
The National Conference of Bishops of the United States which sponsors the New American translation asked scholars to revise their translation using a moderate form of inclusive language (and this is what one will find in the new version of the lectionary). Passages which were clearly intended to include everyone within the community or all people were phrased in inclusive language. This is not a mistranslation. It is actually saying in modern English what the original author intended to say. Other passages, however, which clearly refer to males or females were left in that form.
Furthermore, when referring to God, the translation, was left as male. This is controversial, for some would argue that God is beyond the sexual definitions of male or female. Others argue that speaking of God as “she” would cause more distraction and possibly scandal than it was worth. Some cite the fact that Jesus consistently referred to Yahweh as “Father.” Yet, others would mention that there are feminine images for God in the Old Testament. The debate continues.
Pastorally, what would be best to print in our new translations of the Bible? As stated above, the bishops decided that a very moderate form of inclusive language would be best.
New American Bible
After working for several years, the scholars produced their revision of the New Testament of the New American Bible in 1986. This translation (with some minor revisions) is the basis for the translation found in the new lectionary.
The bishops of the United States and the Vatican have worked since then to produce a new version of the lectionary. They issued the new Sunday Lectionary the first Sunday of Advent of 1998. The new weekday lectionary hopefully was issued for the beginning of Advent of 1999.
The new lectionary, for the most part, does not change the readings on any particular Sunday, only their translation. The only exception to this is that some of the major feasts and some of the masses for special occasions have been given new optional readings.
One feature that has been added to the new lectionary is that the text is printed in sense lines. This means that the text is divided up into the phrases that one would normally read in one breath. This, hopefully, will aid those who proclaim these sacred readings.
One will notice that the new lectionary has the revised New Testament readings of the New American Bible (1986). Unfortunately, it does not contain a revised version of the Old Testament readings (it was not yet ready). It is projected that a new translation of the Old Testament will be ready in about five years. At that point, the bishops will decide whether to approve a new version of the lectionary including the new Old Testament translation.