The Sunday Lectionary: Ritual Word, Paschal Shape by Normand Bonneau

I grew up in Lutheran congregations, and most every Sunday I would listen and read along as the pastor or a lector read one or more selected verses from the Bible. I learned that oftentimes these readings were pre-selected, and not by the pastor or lector. Rather, they were part of a larger cycle of Scripture readings selected especially for use in Sunday morning worship. This collection of pre-selected readings is known as the lectionary.

I felt like I was pretty smart, knowing that much about the readings that were being shared on Sunday morning. And I felt pretty cocky knowing that the readings were related to the liturgical season, so that the particular readings on any given Sunday morning related to the larger progression of the church year, the particular liturgical season we happened to be in (Advent, Lent, etc.), and to greater or lesser degrees, to the other readings that particular morning. I always thought it was pretty cool, knowing that as I heard or read these verses, there were hundreds of other congregations and thousands of other Christians who were hearing the exact same verses being read. It was meaningful to me and a tangible expression of my place, and my congregation’s place, in the larger body of Christ.

That’s a lot of thought that has gone into the selection of Scripture verses, and if you’re interested in some additional background on that process, then Normand Bonneau’s book is a great place to start. This is a brief (under 200 pages) and accessible history of the practice of integrating Scripture into public worship. He begins (briefly) with the use of Scripture in Judaism before Christianity, spends a little more time on the use of Scripture from the early church to the Council of Trent in 1570, and then spends a majority of time fleshing out the contributions of Vatican II and the creation of a redesigned three-year lectionary cycle that has formed the basis for the three-year lectionary used in many congregations in the LCMS.

Bonneau is a Catholic academic and this book is limited to the Catholic contributions to the lectionary. However, this is foundational information that is useful and valuable in better understanding the various permutations that have evolved, all based primarily on the Catholic Ordo Lectionum Missae, including the Revised Common Lectionary that is the basis of Scripture selection for the LCMS.

If you’re ever called upon to preach or direct studies based on the Sunday reading selections and your congregation utilizes the three-year lectionary cycle, this is a fantastic resource. If you’ve ever wanted to better understand some of the guiding principles for how those particular verses are selected, this is a great resource. If you’re part of a worship team charged with integrating the musical and visual and Scriptural elements of the service into a cohesive whole, this is a great resource. And this could be a great resource for a young adult study aimed at helping them understand that worship is not accidental or incidental, but a carefully thought out experience whereby we receive the blessings of our loving Father.

Worship is a contentious arena in Lutheran circles as we argue about what we can and can’t, should or shouldn’t do. Yet one of the constants of worship is the Word of God. Understanding better how that Word is selected and utilized hopefully gives us a greater appreciation for worship in all of its many styles and permutations. Hopefully this book helps demonstrate how the universal church seeks to bear witness –albeit imperfectly – to this universality in the selection of Scriptural passages in the worship context.