Book Review: The Sunday Lectionary

Book Review:  The Sunday Lectionary: Ritual Word, Paschal Shape by Normand Bonneau

I grew up in LCMS congregations, and most every Sunday I
would listen and read along as the pastor or a lector read one or more selected
verses from the Bible.  In time, I
learned that oftentimes these readings were pre-selected, and not by the pastor
or lector.  Rather, they were part of a
larger cycle of Scripture readings selected especially for use in Sunday
morning worship.  This collection of
pre-selected readings is known as the lectionary. 

I felt like I was pretty smart, knowing that much about the
readings that were being shared on Sunday morning.  And I felt pretty cocky knowing that the
readings were related to the liturgical season, so that the particular readings
on any given Sunday morning related to the larger progression of the church year,
the particular liturgical season we happened to be in (Advent, Lent, etc.), and
to greater or lesser degrees, to the other readings that particular morning.  I always thought it was pretty cool, knowing
that as I heard or read these verses, there were hundreds of other
congregations and thousands of other Christians who were hearing the exact same
verses being read.  It was meaningful to
me and a tangible expression of my place, and my congregation’s place, in the
larger body of Christ.

That’s a lot of thought that has gone into the selection of
Scripture verses, and if you’re interested in some additional background on
that process, then Normand Bonneau’s book is a great place to start.  This is a brief (under 200 pages) and
accessible history of the practice of integrating Scripture into public
worship.  He begins (briefly) with the
use of Scripture in Judaism before Christianity, spends a little more time on
the use of Scripture from the early church to the Council of Trent in 1570, and
then spends a majority of time fleshing out the contributions of Vatican II and
the creation of a redesigned three-year lectionary cycle that has formed the
basis for the three-year lectionary used in many congregations in the
LCMS. 

Bonneau is a Catholic academic and this book is limited to
the Catholic contributions to the lectionary. 
However, this is foundational information that is useful and valuable in
better understanding the various permutations that have evolved, all based primarily
on the Catholic Ordo Lectionum Missae,
including the Revised Common Lectionary that is the basis of Scripture
selection for the LCMS. 

If you’re ever called upon to preach or direct studies based
on the Sunday reading selections and your congregation utilizes the three-year
lectionary cycle, this is a fantastic resource. 
If you’ve ever wanted to better understand some of the guiding
principles for how those particular verses are selected, this is a great
resource.  If you’re part of a worship
team charged with integrating the musical and visual and Scriptural elements of
the service into a cohesive whole, this is a great resource.  And this could be a great resource for a
youth or young adult study aimed at helping them understand that worship is not
accidental or incidental, but a carefully thought out experience whereby we
receive the blessings of our loving Father. 
Some of the basic information in this book could be abbreviated and
conveyed during Confirmation and examinations of the elements of the Divine
Service.

Worship is a contentious arena in Lutheran circles as we
argue about what we can and can’t, should or shouldn’t do.  Yet one of the constants of worship is the
Word of God.  Understanding better how
that Word is selected and utilized hopefully gives us a greater appreciation
for worship in all of its many styles and permutations.  Hopefully this book helps demonstrate how the
universal church seeks to bear witness –albeit imperfectly – to this
universality in the selection of Scriptural passages in the worship
context.  

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