If you had told me ten years ago that I would be using the one year lectionary today, I would have said that you were crazy. I had experienced the one year lectionary as a boy. However, in 1982 my home congregation purchased Lutheran Worship and began using the three year lectionary that came out with the new hymnal. I was twelve years old, and from that moment all the way through my training at the seminary I was in congregations that used the three year lectionary. From the age when I was old enough to know anything about the existence of a lectionary, the three year lectionary was the only one I experienced.
When I was ordained ten years ago I began to become aware that there were pastors who not only used the one year lectionary, but who also strongly preferred it. This was often couched in language about “the historic lectionary.” I did not have strong feelings about the matter. I thought it was fine, if somewhat quaint, that some pastors wanted to use the one year lectionary. For my own part, I was convinced that the three year lectionary was a better choice and was entirely satisfied with using it instead of the one year.
I found it rather amusing that these pastors wanted to emphasize the term “historic lectionary,” because self-evidently, it was not. The lectionary they were using was not because it included an Old Testament reading. The available evidence indicates that the lectionary in Rome included an Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel reading until the sixth century. Around that time, the Old Testament lesson was dropped and from then on the Roman lectionary included only an Epistle and a Gospel reading. Gallican usage had three readings until the seventh and eighth centuries when the custom of two readings was adopted because of the influence of the Roman rite. The official promotion of Roman liturgical practice by Charlemagne guaranteed that this became the custom in Gaul, and so it passed on to almost all of western Europe. It was therefore the liturgical practice inherited by Martin Luther and this continued on among Lutherans from the sixteenth until the twentieth century.
Yet even if we leave aside this point, the question still remained: “Historic” in what way? Although there were common features, the readings used in western Europe varied from area to area before the Roman Missal of 1570 established a single lectionary that was used by most of the Roman Catholic church (some exceptions were allowed for churches that could demonstrate a long history of their liturgical tradition). In addition, the Lutherans themselves made changes to the lectionary they received, such as moving the account of the Transfiguration to the end of Epiphanytide. Therefore one cannot claim that the “historic” lectionary is the one that has been used back into the medieval period of the Church. The most that can be claimed is that it is the lectionary used by many Lutherans since the sixteenth century and that it reflects a great deal of what was common in medieval practice. This is not insignificant (as I will note later). Yet since the same pastors wanted to emphasize the catholic character of Lutheran practice which stretched back before the Reformation, the term “historic” gave the impression of a significance that it really can’t bear. It is only true if carefully qualified in a number of ways.
As a pastor whose post-M.Div. graduate training had focused on New Testament exegesis, the thing that appealed to me so much about the three year lectionary was that it was geared toward preaching each Gospel on its own terms. The bulk of the readings in any given year came from one of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and whenever possible they were read in the order they occurred in the Gospel. This presented the marvelous opportunity to preach a slightly different message each year, simply by listening to the unique emphasis of each Gospel. Fired up by this vision of preaching that was provided to me by Dr. Jeff Gibbs, I zealously engaged in doing this during my first years in the parish. It was indeed a great experience. At the end of the day when I compared the two lectionaries, I always returned to the fact that more Bible – more individual texts provided by the three year lectionary – was inherently a better approach. After all, how could one argue for hearing less of Scripture?
As the years went by, I continued to learn about the liturgy. In this process I also learned more about the forces and setting that had created the three year lectionary. I learned that the Liturgical Movement had prepared the way for Vatican Council II (1962-1965) to issue The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium). This pronouncement directed that:
The treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly so that a richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word. In this way the more significant part of the sacred scripture will be read to the people over a fixed number of years (51).
The three year lectionary itself appeared in 1969. Although it retained some of the older readings (especially for feasts), it was for the most part a completely new creation. In one dramatic move the Roman Catholic church had done away with most of the continuity that existed with 1500 years of Church practice. Carried along by the Liturgical Movement and the sheer ecclesiastical weight of the Roman Catholic church, the LCMS had joined other groups in adopting a version of the three year lectionary in 1982. The further revision of a three year lectionary appeared in 2006 with the publication of Lutheran Service Book.
As I reflected on this, I found it disconcerting to realize that this was an action that was so typical of the radical 1960’s – a time that I don’t exactly consider to be the zenith of western culture. Further study revealed that while this action was carried out by proponents of the Liturgical Movement, it actually betrayed the movement’s own original principles.
In his excellent book The Organic Development of the Liturgy, Alcuin Reid makes a very convincing argument that the liturgical changes produced by Vatican II did not reflect the founding goals of the Liturgical Movement. Surveying the evidence he writes:
The Liturgical Movement was not originally focused on changing the liturgy. It was “a movement that sought to return liturgical piety to its rightful place in the life of the Church. Only later, and secondarily, would questions of appropriate reform arise.” However, by the middle of the twentieth century three new developments had taken place. First, some liturgists in the Liturgical Movement began to advocate a “pastoral” approach which said that “wherever necessary the Liturgy is to be adapted in order to accommodate the perceived needs of the people.” In fact “as early as 1949, reconstruction and innovation according to the perceived needs of modern man, conceived as clearly distinct from the development of objective liturgical Tradition, were part of, if not the very basis of, the agenda of some (key) liturgists” such as the immensely important Annibale Bugnini.This is but another example of the emergence, by the end of the nineteenth century, of a principle of liturgical reform that we may call the principle of liturgical piety. It seeks to reform not the liturgical rites and prayers, but the spiritual dispositions and practices of the Catholic faithful. A correct understanding of this principle, and of its origins, is essential for any evaluation of twentieth-century liturgical reform.
Second, the attitude developed that scholarly findings generated by historical critical work on the liturgy should take precedence in decisions about reform rather than past liturgical tradition and practice. Reid observes:
Again we see that “historic-critical bases” emerge. They are regarded as the criteria by which liturgical traditions to be retained are to be verified. While it would be wrong to exclude advances in historic-critical studies from consideration in liturgical reform, to elevate what (at least in Catholic circles) was in 1948 a relatively new discipline to the status of being the decisive criterion was a radical step indeed.
Finally, Josef Jungmann (who in 1948 published his The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development) emphasized that antiquity was a key factor to genuine reform. Liturgical changes after the Peace of Constantine, especially those from the medieval and baroque periods, had corrupted the true nature of the liturgy. These “secondary” developments needed to be removed in order to pursue “pastoral Liturgy,” namely, “Liturgy that is fashioned to meet the needs of contemporary man.” These three factors provided the justification to wrench abruptly the liturgy into a shape that the met the needs of modern man.
Despite the presence of these trends in the 1940’s and 1950’s, Reid judges that no one except people like Bugnini and Jungmann could have foreseen the radical results that emerged from Vatican II. He concludes:
However, in the light of the only moderate calls for liturgical reform made in response to the antepreparatory consultation of the worldwide episcopate in 1959, and in the light of the scope and importance of the liturgical books published up to 1962, it is fair to say that on the eve of the Council neither John XXIII, the dicasteries of the Holy See, the Pian commission, the worldwide episcopate, nor the publishers of liturgical books envisaged that a root and branch liturgical reform was imminent.
I found all of this to be troubling for two reasons. First, I realized that the radical break with past liturgical tradition does not reflect what the Lutheran Confessions say about this subject. The dominant attitude of the confessors is that wherever possible they seek to retain the liturgical traditions they have inherited. They do this for two reasons: 1) For the sake of good order, harmony and avoiding offense; and 2) Because the traditions teach the faith.
1) Good order, harmony and avoiding offense
Concerning church regulations made by human beings, it is taught to keep those that may be kept without sin and that serve to maintain peace and good order in the church, such as specific celebrations, festivals, etc. However, people are also instructed not to burden consciences with them as if such things were necessary for salvation. Moreover, it is taught that all rules and traditions made by human beings for the purpose of appeasing God and of earning grace are contrary to the gospel and the teaching concerning faith in Christ (AC XV.1-2).
We gladly keep the old traditions set up in the church because they are useful and promote tranquility, and we interpret them in an evangelical way, excluding the opinion which holds that they justify. Our enemies falsely accuse us of abolishing good ordinances and church discipline. We can truthfully claim that in our churches the public liturgy is more decent than theirs, and if you look at it correctly we are more faithful to the canons than our opponents are (Apology XV.38).
Nevertheless, we teach that liberty in these matters should be exercised moderately, so that the inexperienced may not take offense and, on account of an abuse of liberty, become more hostile to the true teaching of the gospel. Nothing in the customary rites may be changed without good reason. Instead, in order to foster harmony, those ancient customs should be observed that can be observed without sin or without proving to be a great burden. (Apology XV.51).
This is a simple rule for interpreting traditions. We should know that they are not required acts of worship, and yet we should observe them in their place and without superstition in order to avoid offense. This is the way many great and learned men in the church have felt about it (Apology XXVIII. 17-18).
2) Teaching the faith
But as the different length of day and night doe s not harm the unity of the church, so we believe that the true unity of the church is not harmed by differences in rites instituted by men, although we like it when universal rites are observed for the sake of tranquility. So in our churches we willingly observe the order of the Mass, the Lord’s day, and the other more important feast days. With a very thankful spirit we cherish the useful and ancient ordinances, especially when they contain a discipline that serves to educate and instruct the people and the inexperienced (Apology VII/VIII.33-34).
For after all, all ceremonies should serve the purpose of teaching the people what they need to know about Christ. (AC XXIV.3).
Ceremonies should be observed both so that people may learn the Scriptures and so that, admonished by the Word, they might experience faith and fear and finally even pray. For these are the purposes of the ceremonies. (Apology XXIV.3).And so when the confessors describe their own practice they say:
Among us the Mass is celebrated every Lord’s day and on other festivals, when the sacrament is made available to those who wish to partake of it, after they have been examined and absolved. We also keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of readings, prayers, vestments, and other similar things. (Apology XXIV.1)
Moreover, no noticeable changes have been made in the public celebration of the Mass, except that in certain places German hymns are sung alongside the Latin responses for the instruction and exercise of the people. (AC XXIV.3)Second, I recognized that the idea that the liturgy should be changed according to the perceived needs of modern man was a driving force behind these changes. However, this approach is one that I strongly oppose in the recent discussions about worship. I began to realize that the creation of the three year lectionary contradicted fundamental intellectual commitments that I hold as a Lutheran.
At the same time this was happening, I continued to preach in the Lutheran Worship and then the Lutheran Service Book versions of the three year lectionary. This experience began to reveal four unexpected shortcomings. First, the three year lectionary was established on a lectio continua model in which Scripture is read in a continuous fashion. It is not possible to do this in a completely thoroughgoing manner in order to keep pericopes at a reasonable length for modern hearers. But while there are portions of the Gospels that are skipped, the readings of the Gospel for the year follow the order of the Gospel and with great frequency one text does take up where the previous Sunday left off. In doing so, this approach also emphasized an exegetical model in which texts are read in relation to what proceeds and follows.
The use of a lectio continua model is often supported by the assertion that this reflects the practice of the early Church prior to development of the lectionary system. While this is possible, it is based more on assumptions about early Church practice than on actual evidence. Cyrille Vogel observes:
Probably from the earliest times and certainly from the II century on, the annual recurrence of special feasts and seasons suggested the use of proper readings in harmony with the meaning of the feast or season in question. This was especially true of Easter and Pentecost and, a little later, Christmas and Ascension, but it was also true of the weeks preparing for Easter and for the great Fifty Days which followed. Churches also maintained the festivals of their own special martyrs, e.g., Peter and Paul at Rome, Polycarp at Smyrna, Cyprian at Carthage, etc. and would select their readings accordingly … The progressive organization of the liturgical year rendered any lectio continua less and less probable; the books of the Bible are organized along lines quite different than those of liturgical commemorations.Beyond this, what we do know about the Church prior to the end of the fifth century indicates that bishops had a great degree of liturgical freedom (even in the wording of the liturgical prayers). Vogel goes on to note, “Moreover, while improvisation was still the rule, i.e., precisely during the time when lectio continua was supposed to have prevailed, it was the bishop who determined both the choice and the length of what was read at mass. There is no evidence that bishops were obliged to adhere to the order of the Bible in any systematic or wholesale manner.”
If we grant the possibility of lectio continua, then the assumption must be that the readings were often quite lengthy. Justin Martyr suggests this in one of the earliest descriptions of Christian worship after the New Testament: “On the day which is called Sunday, all who live in the cities or in the country gather together in one place and the memoirs of the apostles and/or the writings of the prophets are read as long as time permits” (First Apology 67). The ancient world (like most people prior to the second half of the twentieth century) was used to listening for extended periods of time. We see an illustration of this in Paul’s letters that were intended to be read in church (Col 4:16). Yet how many congregations today would find it easy to sit through a reading of one of Paul’s shorter letters such as Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, Philippians or Colossians?
This is where a problem with the three year lectionary arises. It often follows a lectio continua model, yet does this for hearers who need short texts. The result is that sections of Scripture dealing with the same basic theme become the Gospel lesson for several Sundays in a row. For example in Series C, Propers 13-14 (Lk 12:13-21; 12:22-34) deal with possessions and how Christians relate to them. In Series B Propers 13-15 (Jn 6:22-35; 6:35-51; 6;51-69) focus on Jesus the bread of life for three weeks. And in Series A Propers 21-26 (Mt 21:23-27; 21:33-46; 22:1-14; 22:15-22; 22:34-46; 23:1-12) focus on Jesus conflict with the religious leaders during Holy Week for six weeks. This becomes wearing for both preacher and congregation.
The second problem is that while the three year lectionary has been constructed with exegetical considerations in mind it yields a serious misreading of at least one Gospel. Mt 4:17 announces the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and opens the second major section of the Gospel (4:17-16:20) with the words, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven stands near.” This is followed by a statement that summarizes Jesus’ ministry:
And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. (Matthew 4:23-25 ESV)Then later, this summary statement is echoed in 9:35 by words that form an inclusio with 4:23-25: “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.” These summaries tell us that Jesus’ ministry consisted of word and miraculous deed. When we examine the material within the inclusio we find that it perfectly reflects this: Chapters 5-7 word (Sermon on the Mount); chapters 8-9 deed (ten miraculous actions). This structure is then found in Jesus’ sending of the twelve apostles in 10:5-8.
Matthew wants us to see the miracles of Jesus as being an integral part of his ministry in which the reign of God has come upon the world (cf. Mt 12:28). The miracles do not simply prove Jesus’ divinity. The miracles are the arrival of the reign of God in the person of Jesus Christ as God begins to turn back the forces of the devil and the impact of sin on the world. They are the presence of God’s eschatological action.
However, ignoring the obvious structure of Matthew, Series A does not include a single miracle from chapters 8-9. In fact, in all of Series A, the only references to Jesus’ miracles are the summary statement of 4:23-25 (Epiphany 3; 4:12-25); Jesus’ summary of his ministry in answering John the Baptist’s question (Advent 3; 11:2-15); Jesus’ feeing of the five thousand (Proper 13; 14:13-21); Jesus walks on water (Proper 14; 14:22-33); and Jesus casts out a demon from the Canaanite woman’s daughter (Proper 15:21-28). The lectionary does not convey the dynamic character of the kingdom of God presented by Matthew.
Third, the publication of Lutheran Service Book made me realize that not only was the lectionary being lost, but so were the propers. In many cases the introit, gradual and Collect of the Day had been changed. This meant the loss of texts that had shaped faith in the Church for some fifteen hundred years on that day (especially among the collects where so many have come from the Gelasian and Gregorian sacramentaries).
Finally, I came to recognize that the abandonment of the one year lectionary greatly negated the resource of Lutheran sermons by Luther, Walther and others. Not only was I no longer using the same texts on a given Sunday that five hundred years of Lutherans before me had used, but in many cases I no longer had their preaching available on a text for study and reflection.
At the same time that these observations were arising, another realization was dawning upon me as a pastor which called into question whether “more Bible” was in fact a good thing. As I served in the parish I saw the massive biblical illiteracy present among so many congregation members today. In such a setting, the presentation of more individual texts was not necessarily a good thing. The writing of David Petersen convinced me that instead, in such a setting what was needed was a smaller fixed set of texts that people could actually get to know. The one year lectionary presented exactly this in a way that covered all the essentials and in a form that had deep roots in some fifteen hundred years of the Church teaching the faith. This fixed set of texts also met an important need as I introduced the Catechumenate model to my current parish (see Catechumenate at a Lutheran Parish). All of this coincided with the fact that in 2006 the publication of Lutheran Service Book had provided a fully supported one year lectionary.
It is a historical fact that the liturgy does experience change over time. It always has, and it is a denial of the entire history of the liturgy to say that it cannot change in the future. The question is not whether change will occur, but how this change will take place.
In his book, Alcuin Reid argues that the history of the liturgy, such as the changes that occurred in Gaul at the time of Charlemagne, provides the principle of organic development of the liturgy. He maintains:
This is the principle of the organic development of the Liturgy in operation. It combines profound respect for the received liturgical Tradition with an openness to necessary development. Continuity and harmony with Tradition are primary concerns. Liturgical orthopraxy and orthodoxy are thus ensured, without precluding necessary and natural developments.
While Reid as a Roman Catholic means more than a Lutheran when he refers to “liturgical Tradition,” his statement fits very nicely what has been cited above from the Book of Concord about tradition and liturgy. It also corresponds to the changes that Lutherans made in the liturgy and lectionary at the time of the Reformation. The Lutherans retained massive amounts of the liturgical tradition, while making changes where it was necessary so that the liturgy did not contradict Scripture. They made small and sensible changes to the lectionary such as moving the Transfiguration and adding eschatological texts to the end of the church year.
I would argue that the one year lectionary in Lutheran Service Book provides a good example of organic development of the liturgy. It has retained the one year lectionary that has been present during the entire history of Lutheranism, and which has a firm continuity with catholic practice. The addition of Old Testament lessons is new, but as we have seen, it is actually a return to older practice and is necessary for any church that does not want functionally to be Marcionite. The Baptism of Our Lord is a new addition, yet it addresses an obvious oversight from both an exegetical perspective and also the role this event has had in theological reflection of the Church.
I would not contend that the one year lectionary is “perfect.” I would prefer to see a text other than that of the unjust steward (Lk 16:1-9) on Trinity 9, and would prefer not to have the jumbled order of Jubilate (Easter 4; Jn 16:16-22), Cantate (Easter 5; Jn 16:5-15) and Rogate (Easter 6; Jn 16:23-30). These are the kinds of things that could be addressed in an approach that is consistent with the notion of organic development. However, I would rather live with these minor issues than see the entire lectionary “blown up” and a new one created, for all of the reasons I have presented here.
I have found preaching to be easier and more enjoyable since moving to the one year lectionary on the First Sunday in Advent, 2010. The shift to the one year lectionary has not changed the fact that I preach on a text within the flow of that particular Gospel. It has made preaching easier because I don’t feel constrained by what will still be coming up in the lectionary. I am free to bring in these features of the Gospel and don’t worry about “giving things away” before I actually have to preach on a text as I was in the three year lectionary.
I find that in preaching on texts that I know very well, I am able to give more thought to how to proclaim them to the congregation. The fixed body of texts has worked very well for the Catechumenate and has been beneficial in teaching a core of key texts to the congregation. And in addition to these factors, because of what I confess as a Lutheran about tradition and ceremonies, I find it beneficial to know that on a given Sunday I am preaching on the same Gospel lesson that Luther and Walther used; that my grandfathers, and three generations of pastors before them used; and that very often a host of pastors and priests in western Europe have used for more than fifteen hundred years.
 Joseph A. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite: It’s Origins and Development Vol. 1 (tr. Francis A. Brunner; Westminster, MD: Christian Classics, 1986), 393-394; Lechner Eisenhofer, The Litugy of the Roman Rite (tr. A.J. and E.F. Peeler; ed. H.E. Winstone; New York : Herder and Herder, 1961), 283.
 Eric Palazzo, A History of Liturgical Books from the Beginning to the Thirteenth Century (tr. Madeleine Beaumont; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998), 85.
 Philip H. Pfatteicher, Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship: Lutheran Liturgy in Its Ecumenical Context (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1990), 132. Alcuin Reid cautions: “The appearance of printed missals in the fifteenth century thus accelerated the spread of the Roman rite. One of the earliest, if not the first, was published in 1474 and is thought to be precisely that following the use of the Roman Curia. That liturgical development in this period tended toward a unity if not uniformity of rite is true. But we ought not fall into the revisionist error of imagining a complete centralist ‘Roman whitewash’ of the Western Liturgy: diversity continued within the embrace of this unity. Another mendicant Order, the Dominicans, carried with them their own Liturgy. Other Orders also maintained distinctive rites. Local Churches (Milan, Lyons, Braga, Toledo, an so on , as well as the major English medieval centres: Salisbury, Hereford, York, Bangor and Lincoln) cherished their own liturgies, and even those dioceses tha adopted the Roman rite freely incorporated their own particular feasts and customs. In this the local bishop demonstrated his legitimate ‘independence in liturgical matters’, which stretched ‘right back to the early Church’. Yet each belonged to the Roman liturgical family” (Alcuin Reid, The Organic Development of the Liturgy: The Principles of Liturgical Reform and Their Relation to the Twentieth-Century Liturgical Movement Prior to the Second Vatican Council (2d ed.; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 29 (Reid quotes Theodor Klauser’s Short History of the Western Liturgy).
 Luther D. Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy: A Study of the Common Liturgy of the Lutheran Church in America (rev. ed.; Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1947), 290.
 Vatican II Constitutions, Decrees, Declarations (ed. Austin Flannery; Northport, NY: Costello, 1996), 136
 Reid, Organic Development, 67.
 Reid, Organic Development, 73.
 Reid, Organic Development, 146-147.
 Reid, Organic Development, 149.
 Reid, Organic Development, 156 (emphasis original).
 Reid, Organic Development, 166.
 Reid, Organic Development, 170-171.
 Reid, Organic Development, 298.
 Cyrille Vogel, Medieval Liturgy: An Introduction to the Sources (Tr. and rev. William Storey and Niels Rasmussen; Washington, D.C.: Pastoral Press, 1986), 300.
 See Allan Bouley, From Freedom to Formula: The Evolution of the Eucharistic Prayer from Oral Improvisation to Written Texts (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1981).
 Vogel, Medieval Liturgy, 300. See Vogel’s extensive citation of evidence on this topic in 299-303, and footnotes 35-66 on pages 374-381.
 Reid, Organic Development, 26.
 See Killian McDonnell, The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan: The Trinitarian and Cosmic Order of Savlation (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1996).
 Horn comments, “How the gospels for the Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays of Easter got scrambled is a mystery” (Edward T. Horn, The Christian Year, [Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1957], 145).
 Reid writes, “Expanding the lectionary and perhaps substituting more apposite passages in some instances would be legitimate paths to follow in the development of the rite in response to pastoral concerns. However, sidelining the traditional lectionary (by rendering it an option for one year out of three or four) or discarding it and constructing a new lectionary radically contravene the principle of organic development and the continuity that is at the same time open to development, which is of the essence of this principle” (Organic Development, 191).