If the Word is food, as many church documents tell us, ("particularly in the Sacred Liturgy, to partake of the bread of life and to offer it to the faithful from the one table of the Word of God and the Body of Christ" "The readings lay the table of God's word..." [my emphasis]), then the Church actually went through a 400-year famine from the introduction of the Missal of Pius V in 1575 until 1969, when the new Lectionary was introduced following the Second Vatican Council.
In 1969, the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship promulgated a new order of readings for use at Mass. From this directive, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States authorized the publication of a new lectionary for use in our churches effective Palm Sunday, 1970. That the Catholic Church survived at all during this time of 'starvation' is amazing. How fortunate we are today to "have the treasures of the bible opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for (us)".
Ever wondered about these books that determine what is said at Mass? Wikepedia has brief summaries of the history and contents. Click the image above to go to the Lectionary page which also contains links to the other books.
The urgency that was obviously felt following the Second Vatican Council to put a new Lectionary together is very obvious because in "Church Time" three years must be like three seconds. The speed with which this was accomplished is quite remarkable, especially when one considers how slow the Church usually is to act. That the Lectionary, as we know it, is so good is also notable considering the short time it took for it to be realised. It is actually surprising it does not have more deficiencies than it does.
These deficiencies being that the pericopes of the Old Testament are fragmented and disjointed to fit them with the Gospel. The Old Testament loses its own spiritual value and seems to only have any significance when it highlights the New Testament, "the Old Testament does not just validate the New." The lack of any continuous reading of the Gospel of John as with the synoptic Gospels is another deficiency, as John's Gospel differs in many ways to the synoptics. Also the Homily often, due to lack of time, only "actualizes" the Gospel and by extension the first reading, and the second readings are neglected. That's if the homily has anything to do with the actual readings.
The other deficiency, and this certainly gives pause for thought, is the obvious lack of scriptures that relate women's achievements, faith, values, and roles in the liturgy and church. This is so pronounced one has to think it was a deliberate decision. This decision would be understandable 500 years ago, even 100 years ago, but only 30 years ago it is hard to fathom any reason for such a decision except gender bias. The reasons for leaving out Biblical texts in the Lectionary are "texts that present real difficulties are avoided for pastoral reasons ... raise profound literary, critical, or exegetical problems; or the ability of the faithful to understand the texts." and for the omission of verses within a text "omissions may not be made lightly, for fear of distorting the meaning of the text or the intent and style of Scripture ... on pastoral grounds ... some texts would have been unduly long ... less useful or that involve truly difficult questions."
It is difficult to see which category the many omissions of women fall into except perhaps the "too difficult". Is this because of the "stupidity" of the laity or the lack of the ability of pastors to articulate a difficult concept? The choice of readings on a given day to celebrate a memorial, feast or ritual Mass can be made where this option is available. The Ordo is a valuable resource to know when these choices are permitted. The Lectionary can be used more effectively when these choices are considered and used to benefit the community. Too often, our Mass is just left to happen. How often do we hear the "short" version of a reading. Often in our church it was only because 2 minutes longer at Mass was 2 minutes too long. This takes no planning. We use the Mass of the day and any options available are too much trouble. I think that these options could be a way of overcoming some of the inadequacies of the Lectionary. For example, where the choice is a reading not included in the Lectionary elsewhere. Choosing to celebrate all the optional memorials of women saints throughout the year may help to overcome the loss of women in the Lectionary. Other choices to be made are those where long or short versions of a reading are to be made. Often the short version leaves out women! Are we really in the "too difficult" basket? To help overcome the loss of women the long version should be the option. An example of this is in the Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B, the woman with the haemorrhage healed by Jesus may be omitted. "If it is always omitted by the Presider in Year B it will never be heard by the Sunday Assembly."
I know in my own parish the old Irish priest would ALWAYS read the short version of every Gospel. He was there for 24 years. Imagine, anyone who was not a daily communicant and didn't read their bibles from one Sunday to the next would never hear this story. The other plus for him was he never had to preach on menstruating women I guess.
How many Catholics know that at the Easter Vigil, after the Exodus we always hear about what Moses did but there is also a very valid reading about a Liturgy led by his sister Miriam. She led a dance of "thanksgiving"… Eucharist?
No wonder our brothers and sisters in other Christian faiths think we are lacking in Biblical "truth" and understanding.
Lets hope the new ICEL Lectionary will not only have more women's stories but inclusive language as well. If it doesn't then I guess we'll know for sure whether the Catholic Church is the church for women or a men's only club. I'm not holding my breath!
For other examples of the Loss of Women in the Lectionary…which are quite numerous I highly recommend a read of "Women in the Bible and Lectionary", Ruth Fox, www.cta-usa.org/reprint6-96/fox.html.
Bibliography and Further Reading:
Constitution on Divine Revelation, no 21
Instruction of the Roman Missal, Chapter 2, no 34
Concilium, no 51
of the Word, Lucien Deiss, The Liturgical Press, Minesota, 1993
6. General Instruction of the Roman Lectionary No 76
7. General Instruction of the Roman Lectionary No 77
8. Women in the Bible and Lectionary, Ruth Fox, www.cta-usa.org/reprint6-96/fox.html
9. USCBC Lectionary OnLine: www.usccb.org/nab/
10. Wikipedia info on Lectionary & related Liturgical Texts: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lectionary
11. Church Resources Daily
Prayer Online is based on the USCBC Lectionary
KateD is another of the original gang from the CathNews discussion board which became a close-knit international cyber community. She continues to tease us with her Elle avatar and so we continue the tradition in this new forum. Kate lives on the central coast of NSW and has had an active involvement in RCIA and liturgical endeavours at parish and diocesan level.
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