For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious

Saturday, 21 January 2017

A Theory of Common Origin

The basic skeleton of the traditional Matins lectionary is as follows, with differences between the Roman and Sarum scheme noted:


(where at variance)
- preparation for the coming of Christ (first and second coming)

After Epiphany
the Epistles of Paul

Septuagesima and Lent
Genesis and the early chapters of Exodus
- from Creation to the Election of Israel and Redemption

Passiontide and Paschal Triduum
Jeremiah and Lamentations
- the rejection and abandonment of Christ

- the power of the risen Christ in his Church, anticipating Pentecost

Revelation (from 3rd Sunday)
- Christ's glory and triumph

General Epistles (from 4th Sunday until Pentecost)

Revelation only is read until the Fourth Sunday, then the General Epistles, and Acts is reserved for the period from Ascension until Whitsunday.
After Trinity
History of the Kings

Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom & Ecclesiasticus

Ecclesiasticus only
Job, Tobit & Judith

History of the Maccabees

Twelve Minor Prophets

Ezekiel only

My guess is that the divergence between the Roman and Sarum lectionary can be explained by a common origin in a much more extensive lectio continua at Matins. As the calendar silted up with more and more feasts (less days to say ferial Matins), and as the Matins lessons were cut short (blame the Franciscans and their influence via the papal liturgy), the Roman Breviary opted for keeping all the books of the original scheme, achieved by specifying a series of excerpts for each week of the liturgical year. Sarum on the other hand kept a series of continuous lessons for use at Matins, but because the length of the lessons were curtailed, and there were fewer and fewer ferias, the proportion of the original scheme actually read through was drastically reduced.

[As an aside, it is notable that the long "green" period between Trinity and Advent is broken into liturgical months from August to November... might this be a remnant of the period when the ecclesiastical calendar still followed a lunar month? Following Easter and Pentecost - determined by the moon - the liturgical year was then structured flexibly to accommodate the varying lengths of the months. There is some evidence in the ancient sacramentaries that the Sundays for this period were originally grouped into fours and fives, with saints' festivals being observed at fixed points relative to the Sundays in the period... might the August to November Matins arrangement be a survival of this primitive structure?]

One of the aims of a revised lectionary might be to restore the original scheme, using some guesswork. One could lengthen the lessons, but the revision would have to be undertaken with a reduction in the number of feasts.

If one looks at the typical Sarum calendar of the mid-sixteenth century, one notices how few double feasts there are: if one limited the obstruction of the normal cycle of Matins lessons to these feasts only, one has a continuous lectionary broken only every two weeks or so.

The question then arises as to what to do with all the lessons from the simple feasts of iii and ix lessons. Several solutions occur to me (1) downgrade feasts of iii lessons to commemorations only, and read the iii lessons as a single lesson either after Prime or in place of a homily - they are predominantly legends of the saints - and (2) for feasts of ix lessons, have a "double" Matins i.e. have one ferial Nocturn without an invitatory or Hymn, with ferial lessons and responses (one could use the three festal Psalms of the Nocturn with their Antiphons), followed by two Nocturns of the feast, the second Nocturn beginning with Invitatory and Hymn, and containing in three compressed lessons the first six lessons of the festal Matins. In Sarum one could easily compress the first six festal lessons into three, because in general the first six contain, in series, the legend of the saint.

By such an arrangement one wouldn't lose any liturgical "material", and the reduction in festal days although significant would not be too monotonous... well, that is my opinion of course.

There are details of divergence here: for example in Eastertide all Sarum feasts are of iii lessons, so one could alter the rules so that feasts of iii lessons with rulers of the choir should not be downgraded to become mere commemorations; but the festal calendar is relatively spare in April and May, so it would not cause much of a problem for lectio continua.

So much for speculations about origins, and for clearing the ground. I hope to write about the actual arrangement of a "restored" lectionary for Advent in the next post.

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