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How are the Sunday Scripture readings chosen?

In the first century the Church celebrated the Eucharist by obeying Christ’s directions and doing as He had done at the Last Supper the night before He died. Today, scripture is proclaimed on Sundays according to a schedule of passages called a lectionary. For Roman Catholics, it is The Lectionary for the Mass.

The earliest Christians simply read whatever scriptures were available in their community. The first “lectionaries” which appeared by the fifth or sixth centuries were actually just Bibles with notes in the margins telling the reader which passage to read on a particular Sunday. By the seventh century, Mass readings began to appear in books of their own. After the 16th century Council of Trent, all the readings and prayers for Mass were collected in a single book called the Roman Missal. Vatican ll Council (1962-63) restored the old practice of publishing the readings separately from the Mass prayers.

The current Roman Catholic lectionary was created in 1970 by acommission set up after Vatican II to implement the Council’s liturgical reforms and has been slightly revised twice.  

Our lectionary of scripture readings is organized on a three-year cycle: Year A is the year of the Gospel of Matthew, Year B is Mark, and Year C is Luke. The Gospel of John is used each year at Christmas, Lent and Easter, as well as to round out Year B, since Mark is short. Appropriate gospel passages are assigned by the Liturgical Season: Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. In the Season of Ordinary Time, the remainder of the gospel verses are  read more or less in order, skipping over the parts read in the special seasons.

The first reading is usually from one of the books of the Old Testament or during Eastertime from the Acts of the Apostles. Often there is a thematic relationship between the gospel and the first reading.

The second reading on Sundays is from a New Testament letter or, in Eastertime, from the Book of Revelation. During Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter, this reading is chosen for its particular content. Otherwise, a letter is begun on one Sunday, and the major portions are read in order over successive Sundays.

Overall, using our lectionary means that we hear most of the Bible proclaimed and preached as the three years unfold.  Catholics are truly a biblical community.

Thanks for asking a great question. I’ll be sharing more answers in the future. Anyone with a question about our faith, please call me at 573-378-9220. 

See you at Mass,
Deacon Paul Poulter