What is the Lectionary?

A lectionary is simply a table of readings. The word itself comes from the Latin legere that means “to read.” With origins in synagogue worship, lectionaries were developed as early as the 4th century. As the church year began to take shape in the early centuries of Christianity, appropriate readings became fixed for the major celebrations with the remainder of the year filled in with continuous readings from the various books of the Bible. Some of these readings were quite long – often 2 or 3 chapters in length. The Revised Common Lectionary was introduced in 1992 and is used by most Protestant churches.

The Sunday lectionary consists of a three-year cycle of readings that are appointed for public worship on Sunday and other major feast days. The lectionary cycles are designated as years A, B, and C with a new lectionary year beginning the first Sunday of Advent. During the three-year cycle, a major portion of the New Testament is read with the Gospel passages for Year A focusing on Matthew, Year B on Mark, and Year C on Luke. The Gospel of John is used on major feast days and during Lent, Holy Week and Easter throughout all three years.

Four readings are appointed for each Sunday: a passage from the Hebrew Scriptures, a Psalm, an Epistle and a Gospel lesson. The theme of the lesson from the Hebrew Bible may relate to the Gospel or to the liturgical season. The Psalm is a response or meditation on the Hebrew Bible passage. The Epistle usually does not relate to the other readings except on major feast days. During the Easter season, readings from the book of Acts are read in place of the passage from the Hebrew Bible. Hearing the story of the first century church helps us understand the mission of the church today.

During the long season after the day of Pentecost or Ordinary Time, there are two tracks for the Hebrew Bible readings. One set of lessons relates the passage to the Gospel, or there is a choice of semi-continuous readings. Year A focuses on Genesis, the covenant with Moses and the establishment of Israel in the Promised Land. Year B includes the stories of David and Wisdom literature, and Year C explores the prophets with an emphasis on Jeremiah. The Epistles for this season offer semi-continuous readings including passages from Romans, Philippians and 1 Thessalonians in Year A; 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, James and Hebrews in Year B; and Galatians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy and 2 Thessalonians in Year C.

The lectionary cycle reflects the themes of the seasons of the Church Year and follows the major events of the Hebrew Bible as well as the life and ministry of Jesus. The lectionary not only enhances Sunday worship but also provides further opportunities to“read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” the words of Scripture.

The Vanderbilt Divinity Library maintains a lectionary calendar with the list of readings for the current week