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A Lament for the Lectionary

by ToddPeperkorn ~ November 25th, 2008

I love the historic lectionary. The rhythm of the readings, the Psalms and Introits, the use of traditional hymnody that speaks references it directly, it flows in a way that is beautiful, reverent and stirring. It stirs up the faith, just as the historic collects remind us as we prepare for Adventtide.

That is why I am so utterly mystified by confessional Lutheranism today.

As Rev. McCain pointed out to us in a recent survey his offered in connection with Cyberbrethren, there is little uniformity amongst practitioners of the historic lectionary. This is no surprise. Since no major publishing house has really supported it in a couple generations, those of us who use it are left to our own devices to come up with translations and practices that fit our given parishes. I can understand that, but it doesn’t make me happy.

But that’s not the real problem. The real problem as I see it is this:

1. While it is in the hymnal, it isn’t really supported or “resourced” by Concordia Publishing House, beyond the production of the lectionary book for LSB.

2. It isn’t taught or supported in any meaningful way to my knowledge at either seminary. I am very happy to be proven wrong on this.

3. It’s been dropped from the Thrivent Calendar, and I don’t believe it is in the more recent CPH pastor’s calendar either.

4. It is not only not taught or “resourced”, I hear pretty consistent anecdotal evidence that it is specifically disdained by liturgical scholars throughout the synod.

Please don’t get me wrong here. I’m not pointing fingers, trying to start a fight, incite liturgical or lectionary rebellion, or in any other way be difficult. It’s really this simple:


Why? Is it marketing? Is it money? Is it ecumenism with other churches today? Why is there not only a lack of interest, but a near irrational hostility to this lectionary? What is the deal?

Please. Help me out here. This is truly a mystery to me.


(originally posted on Lutheran Logomaniac)

5 Responses to A Lament for the Lectionary

  1. Alan

    So what can we do to resource it ourselves?

    Can we put together a Bible study on the readings and propers for 1-year lectionary? I do something like that at the congregations I fill in for down here, but I’d like some better Greek scholars than me to be in on the project. I’d lvoe to be in on a project like that.

    What else can we do?

  2. Rev. Paul T. McCain

    I’ve been musing on this myself for a number of days. I was disappointed to hear from a friend that one of the brothers had delivered himself of the opinion that the only reason I did the survey was so I could turn around and try to shove the three-year lectionary down everyone’s throat. That seems to be a popular phrase, these days. We are so cynical and suspicious of one another that nothing can ever be taken at face value. Everyone, unless they know the club’s secret handshake, is the subject of doubt, suspicion and base accusations. It is depressing. It is a plague among us, on both left and right.

    I attribute the lack of unity/uniformity, even when it comes to the one-year lectionary, to the fact that beneath all our interests and commitments as Lutherans, we are American Lutherans. We don’t even recognize, or can’t recognize, how thoroughly our culture has trained us to think of “me first” and what “me, myself and I” want or consider best. Hence, among the very group where you would think there might be the greatest chance for unity in externals, you find a diversity in such matters greater than exists among the three-year lectionary crowd [when it comes to the lectionary], so even the suggestion that perhaps it would be good to agree on a single Bible translation is met with strong resistance, and a variety of options are suggested instead, each one defended to the death by their proponents. So, I think there is a good bit of this running here.

    And then, there is merely/simply the reality that the three-year lectionary has been widely used, by the majority of our pastors, now for nearly forty years. Pastors who left the seminary using the three-year lectionary, are getting fairly close to retirement age and we had multiple classes since who have been trained and schooled to use the three-year lectionary.

    Simply put, people are content with the three-year lectionary, like to use it, and have been doing so now for several decades. It has been used widely in our circles, specifically, since 1982, and before that, was beginning to be adopted already in 1973.

    I honestly don’t think the issue is much more complicated than that. That’s been the only thought that I can come up with.

  3. Mark Schlamann

    Vatican II was one of the worst things to happen to the Church liturgically. I’m still at a loss to fully comprehend why Lutheranism thought it had to follow the lead of the denomination it broke from in the first place. Because we didn’t have the fortitude to reject Rome’s tinkering with the Liturgy, we have been stuck with the three-year lectionary for 35 years.

    As far as available resources for the historic lectionary are concerned, there are still some gems available: Lindemann’s _Sermon and the Propers_, Luther’s Postils, Luther Reed’s works, CPH’s two-volume set of sermons on the Epistles, the Sunday sermons of the Church Fathers, and I’m sure the Ft. Wayne seminary bookstore still has some printshop books pertaining to the one-year lectionary.

    Regarding pastor’s planners, I know that Faith-Life, Canada’s equivalent to Thrivent, has been publishing a pastor’s planner (similar to Thrivent’s) that also includes the one-year lectionary on its Sunday pages. You might be able to acquire one (for a little bit of money) through the St. Catharines’ seminary.

  4. Rev Thomas Wm Winter

    Pr. Peperkorn,

    I am a 2007 graduate of the Fort Wayne seminary, and I learned about the riches of the one-year lectionary from Prof. John T. Pless. I think it is safe to say that he would agree with Mark Schlamann on the effects of Vatican II on our lectionary and practice. I also knew a number of seminarians coming from the ELS: they were all firmly rooted in the historic lectionary. I would venture to guess that at least 20% of the recent graduates of that institution prefer the historic lectionary. (This would make an interesting survey). Not all of them have the chance to use their preference right away,though.

    This is one reason why I called and emailed CPH, asking them to consider providing these resources. The survey tells the story in 2008, but 2011 may be different. I believe the pendulum is swinging back. The conventional wisdom that prevailed in the post-Woodstock era that “all change is good” (yes, we ARE affected by our culture) is being weighed in the balance. We could also talk about abandoning the Common Service for something new as well. I believe that Rev, McCain is being honest. CPH would, as custodian of these things, provide them for the church, perhaps even at a moderate loss. But when a survey tell him that nobody will use a single lectionary (say, LSB one-year with ESV), then prudence demands that he put his effort elsewhere.

    Alan’s idea of working on these resources “on the side” makes sense. This website is a lifeline for me, and I steer others to it. Building upon this, using the internet and a Creative Commons license, could help unify the many varieties of the one-year lectionary into a single unit. Though I am the least of my brethren, I would help on such a project.

    As to “liturgical scholars” in our synod: the few that I know use the historic lectionary.

    BTW, Concordia Theological Seminary’s calendar supports both one and three year LSB lectionaries. I am sure they will send you one if you request it.

  5. Sean Esterline

    I am a 2000 graduate of the Fort Wayne Seminary, and I also learned to appreciate both the Three-Year and the Historic One-Year lectionaries. I am currently serving in Evansville, IN, and we use *both* lectionaries each week.

    We have two services on Sunday morning (8 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) that use the Three-Year series–the CPH bulletins have the texts printed on the back. We also have a mid-week Wednesday Night service that utilizes the Historic One-Year lectionary with an emphasis on any of the minor feasts and festivals that may take place during that week. (For example, September 21st our readings will be based on the festival of St. Matthew the Apostle, and on September 28th we’ll be remembering St. Michael and All Angels.) This service has simply a single sheet of paper for the bulletin, nothing fancy.

    I realize that CPH doesn’t (to my knowledge) provide a lot of resources for the Historic One-Year lectionary, but the readings are at least printed in the front of the hymnals so they’re easy to find. After that, I guess it’s up to me whether or not I make use of the information at hand….

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