Update on the Old Testament Lections Project
(By the Revd. Benjamin von Bredow, rector of the parish of Shelburne, Nova Scotia, and the chairman of the committee undertaking this work.)
In the Prayer Book Society’s (2022) Michaelmas newsletter, I described how National Council had blessed the work of a committee to prepare a list of Old Testament readings to supplement the traditional one-year lectionary of the Western Church, as found in the 1962 Book of Common Prayer. The rationale for this project is pastoral. We aim to make it easier for priests to transition their congregations from the Revised Common Lectionary to the traditional lectionary, by providing an option for avoiding the criticism that the one-year lectionary is inferior because it lacks an Old Testament reading.
The work has continued steadily from December 2021 to the present, and I am pleased to say that in the coming months we will have a complete draft of Old Testament selections for all the Sundays of the year. At that point, we will turn to Holy Days and special services such as weddings and ordinations. We will develop and implement a review process, and then discuss publication options. Although we do not have a date for publication, it seems likely that it will appear first as a simple chart on the PBSC website, but we will also explore physical publication of a complete lectionary book, ready for liturgical use. Our concluding work may also include a preface and/or commentary to the resource we have produced, but it is too early to say what shape that will take.
In recent months, one of the most striking aspects for me of our research into the existing lectionary has been to see how the relationship between Epistles and Gospels is not the same throughout the year. Before undertaking this project, I assumed that the Epistles and Gospels related through mutually identical intertextuality, “mingling” together on every occasion to determine dominant themes without privileging one or the other. Now I realize that reading the lectionary often requires assessing which of the two is the dominant voice. In turn, this can require looking at the shape of the lectionary over the course of several weeks at a time and looking critically at its historical formation.
For example, harmonizing the Epistles and Gospels is notoriously difficult in Trinity Season, especially using the common assumption that the Gospel reading is always dominant. However, a critical reading of the lectionary which takes a broader perspective on the season will see that the “backbone” of the season is in the Epistles, which beginning at Trinity 6 are read in canonical order. Introducing the assumption that the Epistle determines the theme of the Sundays after Trinity, one can look in the Gospel for a point of connection to it, one which is often quite specific and which amplifies the Epistle by illustration or extension. This process has led to much greater clarity about the shape and meaning of the season than I had previously had when I relied on generalizations like “Trinitytide is about sanctification”. This clarity makes the (admittedly still difficult and inexact) work of providing Old Testament supplements possible.
The project has been a deeply enriching experience for me, and, I trust for the other members of the committee as well. I would like to thank the members who have been with us from the beginning, Dr. Daniel Driver (Atlantic School of Theology), Fr. David Butorac (Diocese of Saskatchewan), and Fr. Ted Williams (Diocese of Saskatchewan); as well as our new members this year, Fr. Gavin Dunbar (Diocese of Georgia, President of the Prayer Book Society of the USA), Fr. Derek Neal (Diocese of Algoma), and Mr. Geoff McLarney (Diocese of Montreal). May God bless this work as it continues.