How it came about

2007 marks twenty five years since the Consultation on Common Texts (CCT) began the major task of producing the REVISED COMMON LECTIONARY following the publication of the Roman Ordo Lectionum(1969). The Common Lectionary was published in 1983, and the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) in 1992. Since then RCL has flourished and taken root within the Christian tradition in many different ways. What it has become for people and what it has achieved ecumenically will only be fully appreciated retrospectively. Here we attempt to simply offer insights and avenues for reflection from the present moment. Its historical value lies in an evaluation that will come with future generations.

The Second Vatican Council radically renewed the rather limited lectionary in use in the Roman Catholic Church, requiring that

“The treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly so that a richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s Word. In this way a more representative part of the sacred scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years.”

Sacrosanctum Concilium n.51 (4 December 1963)

This led to the three year Sunday cycle, Ordo Lectionum of 1969, the Latin text of the Lectionary itself emerging between 1970-2. Vernacular translations appeared earlier based on the 1969 Ordo directly. How and when a revision of the Roman Lectionary will be achieved is still unsure.

(Currently the English speaking Catholic Church is working through a Commission (ICPEL) to review the English translation of the Roman Lectionary. This will not involve any change to the Ordo Lectionum, except for provision for new feasts and new masses. The current Jerusalem Bible translation may change to NRSV, and the psalter to the new Grail text.)

The Joint Liturgical Group (GB) moved in a similar direction with its two year cycle The Calendar and the Lectionary (OUP 1967). This was developed and revised after the publication of the Common Lectionary in A Four Year Lectionary JLG 2 (1990).

Where we have reached

The RCL has received widespread acceptance in many English speaking countries. Differerent approachs have been taken with some churches modifying and adapting the table of lections for various reasons. These variations have been made to shape RCL to a church’s particular calendar or dominical arrangement, and also to respond to a perceived need to broaden the scope of texts included. Where churches celebrate in two or more languages then RCL has become accepted outside the English speaking world. This is true, for instance of Hispanic congregations in North America. Other language groups in Europe and Asia have taken over RCL readily.

As we move through the twenty first century all of these Lectionary developments are remarkable for several significant points

- in different ways churches that proclaimed scripture in a limited or selective way have developed the wider use of scripture in liturgy
- both lectionary and nonlectionary churches worked with these developments and collaborated in new approaches
- while there has been some adapatation and variation to RCL by various churches there is a high level of agreement
- even these differences of text and approach provide opportunities for ecumenical dialogue
- the hope for a future enhanced agreement of a common lectionary is still held out as an ideal, especially in our current context where the agreement on common translations of liturgical prayer texts has been considerably diluted.

The Joint Liturgical Group (GB) moved in a similar direction with its two year cycle The Calendar and the Lectionary (OUP 1967). This was developed and revised after the publication of the Common Lectionary in A Four Year Lectionary JLG 2 (1990).

What has RCL achieved?

It may well be many years into the future when a true evaluation of the pioneering effect of RCL can be made. It has enabled Christians to share the inspired Word of God when they celebrate liturgy whether together or apart, whether in the same tradition or across the denominations. How this has built up the bonds of faith and charity between Christians will need a retrospective judgement. At present we need to be very aware of the power of God’s Spirit at work as the Christian people hear the same gospel passage week by week and share the same Word of the Lord from prophet or apostle. Our hope is that more communities will adopt RCL in coming years.

RCL is, therefore, more than a list of lections. It has affected the life of the Christian community in many ways :

- liturgically
- pastorally
- spiritually
- politically
- ecumenically
- cross culturally

This is not something that only RCL has achieved in liturgical and ecumenical development. Yet its place in such progress is unique and invaluable. How it can be further progressed is our task now. As future generations reflect on the proclamation of the scriptures in liturgy we hope that the RCL principle of a common lectionary will be integral and foundational to the work.

The scholarship and dedication that resulted in RCL and all similar endeavours highlights the essential contribution of liturgical scholars to the life of the churches. To build on this confidently is the future direction we must take. This confidence simply acknowledges that RCL has deepened the faith life of the people of God in so many ways and these are the building blocks for our future.


Copyright 2018 by English Language Liturgical Consultation - Maintained by Churchweb Support