If you’ve been exposed to the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer, whether through our Daily Office Booklets or otherwise, you’ve probably noticed that there are different readings of Scripture each time – usually one from the Psalms, one from the Old Testament, and one from the New Testament.
I don’t know about you, but the first time(s) I attended Morning or Evening Prayer, I wondered how you were supposed to figure out which Scripture passages to read on any given day.
The answer, as you might guess from the title of this post, is: you use the Daily Office Lectionary!
Lectionary? What’s a Lectionary?
When you hear “lectionary,” don’t get intimidated. It’s just a Bible reading plan.
A lectionary simply tells you which passages of Scripture to read on a certain day.
The Sunday/Eucharistic Lectionary vs. The Daily Office Lectionary
The main difference between these two lectionaries has to do with what kind of service they are used for. As you might expect:
- The Sunday/Eucharistic Lectionary is used for Sunday services of Holy Communion, as well as for Holy Communion on other special days throughout the Church Year.
- The Daily Office Lectionary is used for the Daily Office services of Morning and Evening Prayer.
(If you want to know more about Holy Communion, read my Rookie Anglican guide to Holy Communion here.
If you want to learn more about the Church Year, read my Rookie Anglican guide to the Christian Calendar here.)
How did we get to this point of using two different lectionaries simultaneously?
Excellent question. I did some digging, and here’s what Colin Buchanan has to say (in his Historical Dictionary of Anglicanism, 2nd ed. [affiliate link]):
On behalf of the Church of England, Thomas Cranmer was determined that the church read through whole books of the Bible in sequence, and from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer onward, he provided at Morning and Evening Prayer for this to be done on a daily basis through the calendar year, without distinction of Sundays (pp. 374-75).
So much for the Daily Office Lectionary. What about the Sunday/Eucharistic one?
For communion, he [Cranmer] retained the somewhat arbitrary and excerptive pre-Reformation pattern of unconnected Epistle and Gospel readings. In the 20th century, lectionaries were produced that distinguished between Sunday courses of readings and midweek ones and, by relating to the church year rather than the civil year, enabled high seasons to be properly celebrated (p. 375).
There you go. So, we’ve got one lectionary (the Daily Office Lectionary) to use throughout the week at Morning and Evening prayer, as well as another lectionary (the Sunday/Eucharist Lectionary) to use during celebrations of Holy Communion.
For now, I’m going to focus on the Daily Office Lectionary. It has enough complexities of its own, and we’ll cover the Sunday Lectionary in another post.
What’s the difference between the Revised Common Lectionary, the Daily Office Lectionary in the 1979 BCP, and the ACNA Daily Office Lectionary?
In a nutshell:
the Revised Common Lectionary is primarily a Sunday/Eucharist Lectionary, now used in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer for Sunday/Eucharist readings.
- The RCL is a three-year cycle of Sunday readings, Years A, B, and C.
- It is based on the liturgical year, not the civil calendar year.
- The Gospel readings are divided up: Mathew is primarily read during Year A, Mark during Year B, and Luke during Year C. Parts of John’s Gospel are read throughout all three years.
- You can access and learn more about the RCL here.
However, the Daily Office Lectionary in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer is its own thing. It is different than the Revised Common Lectionary’s “Daily Readings.”
- The 1979 BCP Daily Office Lectionary is a two-year cycle of readings, Year One and Year Two.
- It is based on the liturgical year, not the civil calendar year.
- Although it sometimes works its way through books of the Bible sequentially, it also thematically follows the church calendar.
- You can access the 1979 BCP Daily Office Lectionary here.
The Anglican Church in North America’s Daily Office Lectionary (now found in the 2019 BCP) is an attempt to return to Cranmer’s original vision of going through the books of the Bible in sequence in one calendar year.
- The ACNA Daily Office Lectionary is a one-year cycle of readings, but it can be adapted for use as a two-year lectionary.
- It is based on the civil calendar year, not the liturgical year. (Although certain traditions, such as reading the book of Revelation during Advent, have been kept.)
- Books of the Bible are read sequentially. (You read your way through a book of the Bible, before moving on to the next one, instead of skipping around thematically.)
- You can access the ACNA’s Daily Office Lectionary along with the rest of the ACNA’s 2019 Book of Common Prayer here.
Here’s some more historical detail:
Time for another brief history lesson.
- Both the Revised Common Lectionary and the 1979 Book of Common Prayer Lectionary trace their origin back to Vatican II’s liturgical reforms in the 1963 Constitution on Sacred Liturgy.
- Following Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church produced the three-year Lectionary for Mass in 1969.
- The Episcopal Church drew on this Roman Catholic lectionary in its 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
- The Consultation on Common Texts (CCT), an ecumenical body, made revisions to the 1969 Roman Catholic lectionary and published the Common Lectionary in 1983.
- The CCT collected feedback on the Common Lectionary and released the Revised Common Lectionary in 1992.
- The Episcopal Church officially adopted the RCL as its Sunday lectionary in 2006.
- The ACNA’s Daily Office Lectionary just underwent its latest and (hopefully) final revision in November 2018. It is scheduled to be published in the ACNA’s Prayer Book in 2019.
The history of various lectionaries in use by Anglicans is tied up with the history of the Book of Common Prayer. The history of the Book of Common Prayer, in all its editions throughout the Anglican Communion, is very complicated! Nevertheless, if you’d like to learn more about the history of the Book of Common Prayer, I suggest that you start with Alan Jacob’s excellent brief account in The “Book of Common Prayer”: A Biography (Lives of Great Religious Books) [affiliate link]. William Sydnor’s The Prayer Book Through the Ages [affiliate link] is also worth your time.
Which Daily Office Lectionary Should I Use?
That’s a tough question! First off, there are more Daily Office lectionaries out there than just the 1979 BCP and the ACNA’s
- 1662 Daily Office Lectionary
- 1928 Daily Office Lectionary
- Common Worship Lectionary (As you’ll see, it’s much easier to look up the readings via the Common Worship Daily Prayer “all-in-one” resources.)
There’s also the lectionary that’s in use by the good folks over at The Trinity Mission. Check it out if you haven’t heard of it!
However, for the sake of simplicity, let’s talk about just the 1979 BCP and the ACNA.
1979 BCP Daily Office Lectionary
The advantage of this lectionary is that it is widely accessible.
- I think the easiest way to find out the readings is to use the BCP: Daily Office Readings app (iOS; Android ).
- You can also look up the Scripture readings within the Mission St. Clare app (iOS; Android ). Just scroll down through the service until you reach the readings.
- If an app’s not your style, then try Satucket’s Lectionary Page. Scroll down to the “Daily Office and Daily Eucharistic Lectionary” or “Calendar View” sections.
- Or, you can access the 1979 BCP online for free.
- Or, you can get a physical copy of the 1979 BCP (affiliate link).
- You skip some significant portions of Scripture.
- You don’t make it through most of the Bible in a year.
ACNA Daily Office Lectionary
If you use the Anglican Pastor Daily Office Booklets, you’ll be using the ACNA’s Daily Office Lectionary.
As ACNA clergy, I’m a bit biased toward the ACNA lectionary. However, let me be upfront about its weaknesses at this point (December 2018).
- (UPDATE: It’s now very easy to access the ACNA’s Daily Office Lectionary in either the 2019 BCP or at dailyoffice2019.com!) It’s difficult to access, apart from the Rookie Anglican Daily Office Booklets. We’re still waiting for the printed Prayer Book in 2019, and there aren’t as many apps or online options out there as there are for the 1979 BCP (Although, you should check out LectServe and Legereme!)
- Its readings are quite long. This isn’t a bad thing, of course. More Scripture! However, lengthy readings can cause difficulties in certain settings. They work much better when doing the Daily Office on one’s own than when doing it with a large group.
- It follows the civil calendar, instead of the Church calendar. While this WILL make it easier to make into future Daily Office Booklets, it does lose something of the richness of following along with the themes of the liturgical year.
- It’s a return to Thomas Cranmer’s original vision for the Daily Office Lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer.
- It takes you through a ton of Scripture, almost the entire Bible, in a single year.
- It follows the contours of the biblical canon more closely than the 1979 BCP.
- You end up skipping fewer chunks of Scripture than you do in the 1979 BCP.
In the end, it’s better to pick a lectionary and use it than to wait around for the “perfect” lectionary.
So, dive in! Pick a lectionary and adopt the Christian habit of doing the Daily Office. Begin and end your day with Scripture reading and prayer, and see how God uses it to transform you more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
Have lectionary questions? Ask them in the comments below!
This post was updated on 2020-06-11.
As Managing Editor, Josh is in charge of the day-to-day operations at Anglican Pastor. He is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America, serving at Church of the Savior in Wheaton, IL (Diocese of C4SO). Josh is also a Ph.D. student in theology at Wheaton College. You can follow Josh on micro.blog, or learn more at joshuapsteele.com.