The Bible and the Lectionary

Written by Sandra Dooley - parishioner, liturgist, and author.

In his recent apostolic letter, Aperuit Illis  Pope Francis has reminded us that “the relationship between the Risen Lord, the community of believers and sacred Scripture is essential to our identity as Christians.” (AI#1) At every Mass, during the Liturgy of the Word, we hear readings proclaimed directly from the Bible. The Church stipulates that these readings must come from the Bible and not from any other source.

The bible is not a history book. It is the story of our salvation, a collection of books inspired by God, and written by human beings. The bible is divided into two major sections: the Hebrew Scriptures, or Old Testament (OT), and the New Testament (NT).

The 46 books of the Old Testament are further divided into the Pentateuch (first 5 books, also called the Torah), Historical books, such as Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy and the Books of Kings; books of Wisdom (Job, Proverbs, Sirach, etc.) and Prophetic books, including Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea and many others.

In the New Testament, we have 27 books: the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; the Acts of the Apostles, which chronicles events in the lives of the early Christians after Jesus left this earth; the Book of Revelation; and 21 epistles, or letters, most of which are attributed to St. Paul.

For a little  more information about the bible, take a look at pages 20-23 of Joe Paprocki’s book, A Well Built Faith. This book was gifted to parishioners on the feast of the Epiphany, Jan. 4-5.

The most important Scripture reading at every Mass is taken from one of the four Gospels. The Lectionary, which is the liturgical book containing all the Scripture readings for every Mass celebrated throughout the year, has three yearly cycles. Year A is based on the gospel of Matthew, Year B on the gospel of Mark and Year C follows the gospel of Luke. We hear from the gospel of John at various times of the year, including Christmas, Lent, Easter and on a number of other specific days.

In addition to the gospel at Sunday Mass, the first reading is usually from the Old Testament (except during the Easter season when we always hear from the Acts of the Apostles) and the second reading is usually a passage from one of the letters of Paul or other apostles (e.g. Peter, James, John). In between those first two readings, we pray/sing the responsorial psalm, from the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament, which always relates in some way to the first reading and the Gospel.

The Lectionary is derived from the Bible, but does not contain it in entirety. In fact, over a three year period, if you participate at Mass every Sunday and major feast of the Church year, you will hear a little less than 60% of the NT gospels, 25% of the NT epistles and less than 4% of the Old Testament (which is understandable given that the OT is so long). The entire lectionary (including all daily Masses, funerals, weddings and other special occasions) includes about 90% of the Gospels, 55% of the rest of the NT and slightly over 13% of the OT.

Hopefully, our attentive listening to the Scripture readings on Sundays and feastdays will encourage us to spend more time reading and praying with the word of God in our bibles at home.

See Part 2: What is our role as participants at Mass during the Liturgy of the Word?