How do we choose the Scripture readings for our church services?

bcp-CoverOur readings are drawn from the Lectionary found in the Book of Common Prayer. A Lectionary is a listing containing a collection of scripture readings appointed for Christian worship on a given day or occasion. In our case, it includes the lessons and psalms to be used at each service of Morning and Evening Prayer (also called the Daily Offices), and a lesson from the Epistles of the Apostles and a lesson from one of the four Gospels to be used at services of Holy Communion; the Communion lessons are called Propers. There are Daily Office readings appointed for every day of the Christian Year and also a set of Propers for each Sunday, as well as a set for each major and minor Feast day.

The spirit of the Reformation—and the vision behind our prayer book—is that the authority of Holy Scripture is supreme in the life of the Church. Before the prayer book revisions in 1979, most Anglican and Episcopal parishes had Morning Prayer as the principal Sunday service. Accordingly, one will find two options for readings in the Sunday morning daily office (starting on page x of your 1928 BCP) from Advent to Trinity Sunday and three different options for readings during the Trinity season.

Extract from the Prayer Book Lectionary

Extract from the Prayer Book Lectionary

For the Holy Communion Propers, you will find only one set of readings. This is because the 1928 Prayer Book assumes Holy Communion is celebrated once per month.

Since Holy Communion is our main service every Sunday except 2nd and 5th Sundays, we follow the spirit of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer in our choice of readings:

  • We use the Holy Communion Propers on the 1st Sunday of the month and on High Feast Days such as Christmas and Easter. We use the Old Testament reading and the Psalm from the Daily Office to round out our readings.
  • For the rest of the Sundays of the month, we use the readings from the Daily Office. These are a mixture of Morning and Evening Prayer readings for the appointed Sunday. Page viii of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer gives us the latitude to do this.
  • On Lesser Feast Days such as St. Thomas’ Day or The Conversion of St. Paul we use the Propers.

Why do we do this?

  • By returning to the old St. Thomas’ tradition of including the Old Testament readings at Holy Communion and by using the Daily Office readings, we dramatically increase exposure to God’s Word.
  • When we repeat the same readings every Sunday (save the Morning Prayer Sundays), year after year, we ignore vast portions of Holy Scripture that are made available to us by our prayer book.
  • By engaging with more Scripture, we see more clearly and understand more deeply the revelation that God has given us.
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer

As always, Mr. Fenlon and I want to be the best shepherds we can be. We believe opening up our worship to more of the Bible goes a long way toward achieving that end. I leave you with the words of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, the great English Reformer of the 16th Century and principal author of our prayer book:

And there is nothing that so much establisheth our faith and trust in God, that so much conserveth innocency and pureness of the heart, and also of outward godly life and conversation, as continual reading and meditation of God’s Word. For that thing which by perpetual use of reading of Holy Scripture and diligent searching of the same is deeply printed and engraven in the heart at length turneth almost into nature.