The Anglican Communion is a Church not only of the Scriptures, but of the Scriptures expressed through prayer. The following was written by The Rev. Brian Barry from Christ the Redeemer, Danvers, on the importance of the prayer book and the lectionary, which helps inform our readings. On Pentecost, our churches adopted the new ACNA lectionary, restoring much that had been lost, and as we adapt ourselves both on Sundays and in the Daily Office to this new piece of liturgy, we are grateful to all those in the province who have made this possible and continue to do so; this includes our very own Canons, The Rev. Susan Skillen and The Rev. Andrea Mueller, who are both on ACNA prayerbook committees. We would also like to thank Fr. Brian for this excellent piece of writing and the rector of CTR, Fr. Tim Clayton, for his continued work for the church in Danvers.
The Anglican Church in North America is in the process of writing its own Book of Common Prayer. This process involves a few steps. First, the creation of a “working form” for all the various texts needed; this work is nearly done and will hopefully be completed this year. Second, those texts are to be used in the Church and feedback is gathered. Third, that feedback is used to create a final form that can be approved and published, hopefully by 2019.
The first Book of Common Prayer was published in 1549. If you were to read its preface explaining the rationale behind this work, you might be surprised to see what is and is not emphasized. It gives brief mention to the removal of “vain and superstitious” remnants of medieval worship, and to worship in the English language, but it dwells heavily upon two main themes: first, the Book of Common Prayer was designed to be easy to navigate; there are some rules to be learned for how to do it, but they are designed to be simple. Second, and preeminently, they emphasize the lectionary.
A lectionary is a schedule of readings throughout the Church Year. We have two main types of lectionaries: first, the Daily Office Lectionary is a one-year cycle of readings for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. If you follow it, you will pray through the entire book of Psalms every month and read through the great bulk of the Scriptures every year. I think of this as a nutrient-rich daily diet of the Word of God, the use of which the Church offers to all of its members and particularly expects of those appointed as ministers of the Word.
The “Sunday and Red Letter Day Lectionary” provides readings from the Old Testament, Psalms, Epistles, and Gospels for every Sunday of the Church Year and for major Holy Days (called Red Letter Days . . . that’s a long story; suffice to say that historically only the more important days got the expensive red ink). Sunday readings are arranged in a three-year cycle, and these are the readings you hear each week at Sunday worship.
As of Pentecost, Sunday (May 15), at the request of our Archbishop and Bishop, CTR is now using the new working form of the lectionaries that have been developed by the Anglican Church. If you use the Daily Office Lectionary it will be a big change for you; this lectionary is “meaty,” providing a more ambitious pace of reading than we have been used to. The Sunday lectionary, in form and content, is very similar to the “Revised Common Lectionary,” which we have been using since the founding of CTR; if I didn’t tell you, you might not notice the change.
That being said, here are a few things to notice:
(a) For those of you who have been here for awhile and been around the cycle of readings, you will hear readings selected that you have not heard before, particularly some of those from the Old Testament. This should make possible some new depth and variety to our preaching.
(b) In some cases, the RCL lectionary can be accused of avoiding certain difficult passages, those that contain doctrines that are hard for us to embrace; some of those difficult passages will be before us again, and this will give us an opportunity to struggle together through some of Scripture’s harder teachings.
(c) In most circumstances, the readings relate thematically either to the occasion being commemorated or, in absence of a particular occasion, to each other. It is helpful to pay attention during the readings and try to grasp the ways in which these passages illuminate each other, looking for connections between them.
(d) The rector is permitted, with the bishop’s approval, to occasionally alter these readings in order to offer a particular teaching series; we have done this a couple of times in recent years and this may be necessary in time to come.
This might seem like minor work; it is often forgotten, but the lectionary is a great gift; it offers us a well-planned and simple way to hear God’s Word together. If you are trying to begin praying Morning and Evening Prayer or otherwise using the lectionary, I recommend you contact me or one of our priests. While it is fairly simple, a little orientation is helpful.
If you would like more information or help on praying the Daily Office, feel free to email Fr. Brian Barry at email@example.com.