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Why the Switch?

by pastorjuhl ~ June 30th, 2008

This blog is somewhat considered a continuation of the old “Historic Preaching” list once active in the CAT 41 e-mail list family.  From the archives of that list comes a response by John Fenton (now a priest in the Western-Rite Antiochian Orthodox Church) about why The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod switch nearly en masse to a 3-year lectionary rather than retain the Historic Lectionary.  The respsonse was written nearly seven years ago when Lutheran Service Book was still in the infancy stages of planning.


The Historic Lectionary has many selections that can be traced as far back as the 6th century. But like anything else it is not static, and so–for many different reasons–has undergone various slight revisions over the centuries. The version listed in The Lutheran Hymnal predates the Reformation and no doubt was what the reformers knew and had in mind when they confessed that “we also keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of readings…” (1531 Apology of the Augsburg Confession). This pre-reformation lectionary was revised yet again by the Church or Rome in the 1570 Tridentine Missal (the Roman Missal that appeared after the Council of Trent). It is significant to note that Evangelical-Lutheran churches never went along with these Tridentine changes, nor its subsequent revisions during the next 400 years.

The Three Year Lectionary was devised by the Church of Rome as a direct result of the liturgical changes mandated by Vatican II in the mid 1960s. This lectionary was fully in place in 1969 with Rome’s current Missal. American Lutheran churches, together with numerous American Protestant churches, almost immediately began using Rome’s three year lectionary. In the LCMS, this use was “officially” encouraged by the field-test materials (which included the three-year lectionary) put out in anticipation of what became Lutheran Book of Worship. In 1982, the LCMS officially adopted a revised form of the three year lectionary when it approved Lutheran Worship. By then, however, it was a fate accompli since a great number of LCMS
churches were already using some form of a three year lectionary. (As an aside, it should be noted that many European Lutheran churches have not, or have slowly, adopted a three year lectionary.)

Currently, the LCMS (through the Lutheran Hymnal Project) is considering a revision of the three year lectionary. In doing so, they appear to be moving further away from the current three year lectionary used by the Church of Rome.The most common reasons given for adopting the three year lectionary are two: (a) the three year lectionary allows the public reading/hearing of alarger portion of Scripture during the Sunday worship; and (b) through imitation of the lectionary used by the Church of Rome and many other protestant branches, the three year lectionary brings the LCMS in line with a greater number of churches. (This latter ecumenical argument, however, is undercut by a version of the three year lectionary increasingly unique to the LCMS.) Other minor factors may also be in play, but these appear to bethe two primary reasons why the LCMS switched to the three year lectionary.

1 Response to Why the Switch?

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    […] Juhl also reproduces an ultra-brief history of how Lutherans came to adopt a Roman Catholic lectionary from the […]

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