The Revised Common Lectionary: One Lectionary - Two Streams

The Revised Common Lectionary

What is a lectionary?

A lectionary is an ordered collection of readings from scripture that are arranged to provide a constant theme, and ensure that the biblical story is faithfully presented.
In ancient times there were fixed readings chosen for Jewish festivals and readings for ordinary Sabbaths. From its earliest days, the Christian church has also followed a lectionary in worship. Churches usually arranged the scripture readings according to a schedule which follows the calendar of the church’s year.
During Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Lectionary for Mass was revised, and this new Common Lectionary was embraced by many denominations and churches. The Revised Common Lectionary, developed in 1993, has found its way into worship books, hymnals, and church calendars throughout the English-speaking world.

Basic Structure of the Revised Common Lectionary

The Revised Common Lectionary is based on a three-year-cycle, with one of the synoptic gospels (synoptic is a word used to describe the first three gospels in the New Testament as they all tell the story of Jesus Christ’s life and ministry from a similar point of view and are similar in structure) as the focus of each year: Year A – Matthew, Year B – Mark, and Year C – Luke. The gospel of John is read each year, primarily in Christmas, Lent and Easter. 

The gospel readings recount the life of Christ, and encourage the Christian church to live the rhythm of Christ’s life. Advent, Christmas and Epiphany identify the significance of Christ born among us – God’s gift of love to the world. Lent, Easter and Pentecost readings focus on the saving work of God, and the empowering gift of God’s Spirit. Around these festival times, we live in what is often called “Ordinary Time.” On these Sundays, the scripture readings focus on themes of call, discipleship, God’s love, and God’s way. This systematic approach and intentional engagement with stories of God’s activity in the world forms us in faith, and helps us to grow as disciples of Christ.

Relationship of the gospel with the Hebrew Scriptures

From the first Sunday of Advent – the beginning of the church year – to Trinity Sunday (the Sunday following Pentecost Sunday), the readings from the Hebrew Scriptures are closely related to the gospel readings. From the first Sunday after Trinity Sunday to Reign of Christ/Christ the King Sunday – that is, during the Season after Pentecost – the Revised Common Lectionary has two sets of readings from the Hebrew Scriptures.

While many churches use the Revised Common Lectionary, many people may not realize that there are two different sets of readings from the Hebrew Scriptures during the Season after Pentecost. In this season, everyone has the same epistle and gospel reading each week, but two streams emerge for the Hebrew Scriptures:

  • Semi-continuous stream The texts for the first reading each week are chosen in a “semi-continuous” pattern, that is, the stories are told sequentially. The psalm is chosen in response to the first reading.
  • Paired readings stream The texts for the first reading each week are chosen to complement, or pair with, the gospel reading for the day. The psalm is chosen in response to the first reading.

For the Sundays between Pentecost Sunday and the first week of Advent, churches and denominations can choose the stream that best serves their needs. The compilers of the Revised Common Lectionary urge churches to choose one stream or the other, and follow it for the season, to maintain the integrity of the lectionary itself.

Seasons of the Spirit resources are based on the Semi-continuous stream of the lectionary.

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