The Daily Office Lectionary (DoL) went through several layers of development during the five years of its existence in trial form. The final form as it appears in the Book of Common Prayer (2019) will look quite different to those who are accustomed to the 1979 DoL.
Cranmer’s Preface to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer
The differences in these particulars will make more sense if they can be seen in light of a great guiding light of Daily Office Lectionary revision, Thomas Cranmer’s preface to the Book of Common Prayer of 1549.
It is most noteworthy that in his preface to the whole prayer book, Cranmer concentrates chiefly on the Daily Office, and of his own revision of it, which had one singular aim, to restore the centrality of the plain listening to Scripture to the center of public prayer.
The whole preface is worth reading, but here are the key extracts.
The Fathers of the Early Church gave shape to the Daily Office so that it would be the most useful for godliness and the knowledge of God:
For they so ordered the matter, that all the whole Bible (or the greatest part thereof) should be read over once in the year
But these many years passed, this godly and decent order of the ancient fathers has been so altered, broken, and neglected…that commonlywhen any book of the Bible was begun, before three or four Chapters were read out, all the rest were unread.
And Just trying to locate the right readings was a chore:
to turn the Book only, was so hard and intricate a matter, that many times, there was more business to find out what should be read, than to read it when it was found out.
To remedy these errors, in Cranmer’s DoL:
the reading of Holy Scripture is so set forth, that all things shall be done in order, without breaking one piece thereof from another…
Structural Features of the ACNA Daily Office Lectionary
There are a number of “architectural” features that give meaning to the lectionary’s content that, though discernible to the careful student over time, might benefit from being highlighted on the front end.
So, if I may play the tour-guide to the new DoL, here are some of its structural features.
The Calendar Year
In keeping with the DoL drafted by Cranmer, continued in the 1662 BCP, and only altered in the 1870s, it is structured according to the Calendar year (Jan-Dec) rather than the Church year (Advent-The Season after Pentecost).
The reason for this profound re-ordering was grounded on three notions:
- It is in keeping with the Liturgy Task Force’s principle of allowing 1662 to be the norm.
- It created a much more accessible DoL for the new user and new Anglican, for whom phrases like “The Tuesday of the Week that begins with the Sunday that falls between June 6 and Jun 11” prove quite intimidating.
- The most immediate prompt was the elimination of “subduction zones” around moving liturgical seasons that clip and truncate continuous reading of Scripture.
This third point was Cranmer’s chief concern — How many points there are in the Church year that would mutate continuous reading of Scripture:
- how many days there are between epiphany and the first Sunday of Epiphany,
- how many weeks of epiphany there are before Lent,
- how many days there are in the fourth week of advent before Christmas,
- how many weeks there are in the season after pentecost,
- how many Sundays there are between Christmas and Epiphany.
It is impossible to facilitate continuous reading of scripture while following the church year.
The Church Year
Nevertheless, the new DoL still maps onto the Church year. While there is a little something that is lost by not re-enforcing the names and shape of the Church year, the mapping of biblical content onto the Church year still exists.
For instance, Isaiah still fills Advent, by being in November-December. Exodus, with its 40 days on Sinai, and 40 years in the wilderness, falls through Lent.
Genesis begins the year, which captures the spirit of its placement in the older church-year lectionaries. Cranmer said that Genesis began with Septuagesima, but in the 16thcentury this was nearly coincident with the Calendar New Year, which began on March 1st.
The dual nature of Advent—referring as it does to both Christ’s first coming and his yet-to-be second coming is highlighted by the fact that Revelation is read as well as Isaiah. And crowning the year is the Song of Songs, which is read in parallel with the final chapters of Revelation, thus suggesting a typological reading of the Song that connects the Bridegroom with our Lord.
A system of special readings for “Red-Letter Days” has been kept, modifying the letter but keeping the spirit.
Cranmer inherited an elaborate system of feast-ranks: singles, doubles, doubles of the first class, doubles of the second class, etc. He distilled this to incorporate proper readings for Holy Days, of different numbers according to their Rank.
Thus, Christmas Day, as being one of the five feasts that celebrate the Incarnation of the Lord, had all four of its readings break from the usual continuous readings, and instead fit the theme of the feast. But the feast of St. Matthias, being of a lower rank, only got 2 proper readings. Other feasts had 3.
The principle of this system was maintained and further extended, wanting to interrupt the continuous readings as little as possible.
Therefore, the traditional “highest” ranking fixed-date feasts get two proper lessons. And all other “red-letter” Holy Days get only 1 proper lesson. The days of the Triduum have their own proper lessons which displace the fixed-date lessons on which they fall.
In addition, if in a particular setting there is a desire to celebrate a particular Holy Day with greater emphasis, the directions at the front of the DoL indicate that lessons from the Sunday and Holy Day Lectionary may also be used as DoL readings on that day, if not already being used at a Eucharist on that day.
Chapters and Pericopes
Old Testament Lessons are always divided at the chapter-division, making day-to-day continuous reading very easy. This was Cranmer’s idea.
New Testament and Gospel pericopes follow the divisions that were created for the 1962 Canadian Book of Common Prayer.
This means that OT readings are 2-3 times as long as the 1979 DoL, but NT readings are only fractionally longer.
In Cranmer’s Lectionary the NT was read three times per year. In the new DoL it is read through twice, as it was in the 1962 Canadian BCP.
The Order of the Gospels
The Gospels are arranged in the sequence in which they are found in one of our oldest Bible codices: Codex Sinaiticus. We begin with John and then proceed with the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) in their traditional order.
Among other things, this allows for the inter-textuality between Gen 1 and John 1 to be caught on Jan 1.
One-Year vs. Two-Year
It is a one-year cycle of readings rather than a two year, although, it CAN be adapted as a two-year cycle if desired. This is why the OT readings are not connected between MP and EP (as they were in 1662).
One set of two readings can be chosen for the day: 1 reading could be read in MP and the other in EP, or both lessons could be split in half and divided between the two offices.
For those for whom time is tight, the 2019 DoL also provides optional abbreviations for the longer OT chapters: Abbreviations that do not alter the core communication of the chapter, but excise additional details that can be spared for narrative comprehension.
Almost the Entire Bible
It covers almost the entire Bible. The Historical books of the OT are read in their chronological order, and so the over-arching “story of the bible” is spotlighted.
Passages that are omitted are either duplicate (e.g. Chronicles) or extremely sparse when it comes to edification in the context of public reading (e.g. the land allotments in Joshua).
It contains a smaller portion of the Apocrypha than 1662 (by about half), while still retaining a “best of” selection that gives readers a chance to listen to the Apocryphal writings without being inundated with the peculiarities of that corpus.
In addition, for those who would prefer not to read the Apocrypha, the option is given in Nov-December to replace the reading with the OT reading from the other office.
Paul’s letters are arranged not according to their canonical order (which, by the way, is the result of sequencing the letters by length, nothing else) but according to the date that they were written.
While there is some academic contest as to one or two details of the dating, there is a general consensus for most of the corpus.
This produces two advantages to the reader:
- It begins the year with Galatians and the clear and foundational message of justification by faith. The 1662 DoL began the year with Romans.
- It allows the reader to see the developing pastoral situation of the Apostolic Age: How the conflicts shift from Jew-Gentile relations, to new heresies. How the language shifts from pastoral exigency (as in Galatians) to cosmic, systematic theology (as in Ephesians), as the Gospel spreads and takes root in all lands.
The Length of the Readings
Lastly, a note on the length of the readings. When most new users encounter the DoL of the BCP 2019, one of the first reactions is, “this is SO long!”
Compared to the 1979 DoL, it is. But in terms of actual minutes added, workshopping the new DoL makes an office only about 5 minutes longer than when the lections were shorter, which is not so great a burden.
But more than this—the nearly universal experience of the Liturgy Task Force (and many others who tested the ‘beta’ of the DoL) was that the longer lections actually had a great advantage: They invite the listener into a story.
The readings are long enough that it is possible now to really get comfy and enter into the lesson with one’s mind and heart. And the continuous nature of the lections allow for each office’s reading to be a fresh installment of the story, creating a much more immersive and formative bible-listening experience.
Moreover, the length of these readings facilitates the ability to locate where passages are in a book, and in reference to related stories, more easily.
It is the sincere hope of the Liturgy Task Force that others will, after a couple months of getting used to them, likewise come to relish these longer lections (And, if not, there’s always the many options that allow for abbreviation and adaptation). And not just for their own sake, but, in the words of Thomas Cranmer’s 1549 Preface:
that the people (by daily hearing of Holy Scripture read in the Church) should continually profit more and more in the knowledge of God, and be the more inflamed with the love of his true religion.
Ben Jefferies is the rector of The Good Shepherd Anglican Church, Opelika, Alabama. He served on the Task Force that produced the Book of Common Prayer 2019. He is married with three daughters.