Our Friend the Lectionary

How good a friend to us is the Lectionary? It’s the best. [Spanish]

Maybe you wonder: What does he mean by Lectionary?

Let’s start by saying that the Holy Bible offers our souls medicine that gives us faith and hope for heaven. But to get sustained benefit from the medicine, you have to take it in regular doses.

Book of the Holy Gospels

The Lectionary gives us those regular doses. The Sunday lectionary gives us readings from Scripture for the Lord’s day and the biggest feasts of the year. The weekday lectionary gives us a daily dose Monday through Saturday.

Our ancestors in the Christian faith apportioned and organized the doses. The Lectionary doles out the medicine according to a schedule that respects the seasons of winter, spring, summer, and fall. It also takes into account the relative importance of the different books of the Bible.

How to read this medicinal Lectionary? You can read it out of a book called a “Missal” or a disposable “Missalette.” (Back before the plague, we used to have the books or booklets in the pews. Good Lord willing, we will have them there again someday soon.) You can also read the daily readings from the Lectionary on your computer or smart phone with a Catholic devotional app.

You could resolve to spend a few moments reading the Lectionary readings at least every Sunday. Or even try to build the habit of reading the Lectionary every day. The best way of all to read the Lectionary, of course, is to present oneself for Holy Mass. The Lectionary contains the readings we read at Mass.

When the Lectionary becomes a weekly or even daily companion, the Holy Scriptures begin to enter our minds and take up residence there. Over the years, the decades, the quarter centuries, the Word of God can become the fundamental organizing principle of our thoughts. No training regimen could produce a better outcome.


When the Archangel Gabriel came to the Blessed Virgin, he found a young woman who had the Holy Scriptures as her closest friends. The angel spoke to a Scripture-trained mind completely attuned to the reality of the Holy One of Israel.

The angel found Mary alert, ready to inquire about mysterious matters. How can I conceive a son and remain a virgin? –You will conceive the Christ by believing in Him. Put your faith in the Savior, and the Holy Spirit will make Him flesh in your womb. Mary had an inquiring mind, but she also stood ready to believe. Yes, she thought. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Creator of heaven and earth—He can do this. I believe.

This lectionary passage–which we will read at Mass on Sunday–we call it the… Annunciation. Gabriel came to the Blessed Mother to announce a heavenly message. She asked her question, then put her faith in the announcement. The Annunciation.

This is how good a friend the Lectionary is to us:

What will the date be, on Sunday? Correct. December 20.

I mentioned that the Lectionary has two “volumes,” so to speak, Sunday and weekday. For most of the year, there is no “competition” between the two volumes. One covers the Sundays and big feasts, the other covers ordinary Mondays through Saturdays.

advent wreathBut when Christmas gets close, the daily lectionary covers not just six, but the full seven days. The seven days before Jesus’ birthday. The Lectionary keeps sacred all seven dates before Jesus’ birth date.

So the Fourth Sunday of Advent has some competition from the daily Lectionary. The Fourth Sunday of Advent always falls within those seven sacred days before Christmas. It’s a Sunday, with Sunday readings. So there’s a little competition there, for which readings to use. The Sunday readings win.

This year, however, that could have caused a Lectionary disaster. Because December 20 is the day for reading the Annunciation passage. What if Christmas came and went, and we never read that gospel passage? What kind of devoted students of Scripture would we be then?

The Lectionary, however, is a better friend than that. Turns out, in this year, 2020—a year when disaster seemed to loom everywhere, and, to top it all off, we might even miss the December 20 gospel reading of the Annunciation—on this difficult year, the Sunday lectionary has an important passage assigned to the Fourth Sunday of Advent. The Annunciation.

It’s as if we were riding a bike for the first time, and we were getting up to speed, but then we lost nerve, and panicked, and we started to wobble, and oh no we’re going down… But there’s our father’s strong hand on the back of the bike holding it up. No crash. No problem. He’s got it.

That‘s how good a friend the Lectionary is. You can be a fifty-year-old priest, and it can still surprise you. It holds you up in the life of faith, even when you fear you will fall.

Seven Years, Season of John

No French cuffs. But an unforgettable moment nonetheless. Ad multos annos, Holiness.

…Everyone knows that we read from the Bible according to a three-year cycle at Sunday Mass? Year A, Year B, Year C. And, for the most part, the gospel readings come from either Matthew, or Mark, or Luke—depending on which year of the cycle we are in.

Great system. We thoroughly read all three gospels. All three—Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Wait. What? Of course. The gospel of the eagle.

St. John’s gospel gets its props every year during Lent and Easter.

This is the week of John 3. We were here back on the fourth Sunday of Lent also. During Lent we had weeks for John 5 and John 8. Next week is John 6. Then we roll into John 14, 15, 16, 17—which recount all the amazing things the Lord Jesus said at the Last Supper.

…One way or another, everyone who has ever walked the face of the earth has known God. Everyone has had a relationship with God—a relationship of some kind. God gives existence to all existing things. So: to exist is to have a relationship with Him, and to know about existing is to know God.

So we all know God. Except we don’t. God gives existence. But the way that God Himself exists? His infinite being? Totally beyond us.

Totally beyond all of us. Except one. One man knows God from the inside, knows Him like a fish knows water. Jesus.

All the gospels present this fact to us—the fact that the mind of Jesus truly knows God, that Jesus’ knowledge of God is utterly unique among all those ever born of a woman. All the gospels teach us this fact.

But we have St. John to thank for recording all the intimate and sublime ways in which the Lord Himself explained it. And we have the Easter season to luxuriate in reading it all.

Revealing All Takes Time

When Christ came to the fullness of age and began the decisive work of His pilgrim life, He faced an enormously complex challenge.

He bore in His human hands the power of God. His Sacred Heart beat with divine love for every soul He encountered. He struck fear into the demons, and He dealt them crushing blows.

It pertained to His mission as a man to reveal His divine identity by His words and works. But His particular challenge, as He started out in His ministry, was that for God to reveal Himself to us is more easily said than done.

It is not that God has trouble expressing Himself. It is that we have trouble understanding Him.

It’s not that He is inarticulate. It is that we are obtuse. We are too quick to grasp and hold on for dear life to little things when He has much bigger things to give.

God bestows every benefit we receive. But the greatest benefit of all is God Himself.

So the Lord Jesus healed and exorcised. He benefitted His beloved people with health and psychological peace.

But He could not allow them to think that this was “it.” He did not come to earth to cure people’s colds, miserable as a cold can make a person. Aching sneezing stuffy head fever can’t rest—a bummer, to be sure. But God did not come to the world to do the work of NyQuil. He came to cure people’s tendency towards sin and death.

So, as we read: He unfolded some of His divine power to manifest His identity and His zealous love. But He had to keep moving, keep pushing, keep lifting everyone around Him to the higher levels of spiritual vigor and communion that lead to the transcendent goal.

Yes, I will heal your diseases. Yes, I will feed your hunger. Yes, I will expel the demons who afflict you. Of course I will do these things. I am your Creator Who made you for health and happiness, and I love you and came to help you.

But no, I will not rest here. No, I will not hang up a shingle as your local wonder-worker and settle down in a little house of my own where you can bring your cripples and your lepers for treatment during the office hours I advertise.

No, I have to march on. My main duty is to the truth.

…This week we begin another year of reading our way through the gospels and the other scriptures of our lectionary. Time marches on.

The Lord has the same challenges with us as He did with the residents of Capernaum. We know Him. We know His word. We know His divine identity. But He has more to reveal. We have not grasped it all. He has added another year to our lives for one reason: to teach us some more.

Cause of the Earthquake

Listen: sorry. I was perusing the Evangeliary for the Sunday to come, and I came upon the following “English:”

For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.

Um, what? He will repay all according to his conduct? Uh, whose conduct? Will Christ the Almighty judge repay me according to His conduct, instead of my conduct?

The Revised Standard Version reads as follows (this is Matthew 16:27 we are talking about here, by the way):

For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.

Rage appertaining to the discovery of the grammatical error in our liturgical book–obviously the result of incompetent gender-neutralizing, unidiomatic translatorial argle bargle–caused the earthquake. Please accept my apologies.

91st Street Subway Station of Easter

When you ride the Seventh Avenue-Broadway IRT on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, you roll through the ghost of the 91st Street Station. The train doesn’t stop, because the station has been closed since 1959.

Book of the Holy Gospels
When you pray your way through the Easter season according to the Roman Missal–in most ecclesiastical provinces–you roll through the Seventh Sunday of Easter like a ghost station.

Because now this Sunday is the perpetual home of the Solemnity of the Ascension, transferred from Thursday. The liturgy train doesn’t stop on the pages of the Lectionary marked “Seventh Sunday of Easter” anymore.

The gospel reading for the Seventh Sunday of Easter is the priestly prayer of Jesus.

I certainly am not competent to judge great things, like how to make decisions about when people have to go to Mass.

But this situation is rather ironic.

According to the Second Vatican Council:

The treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word. In this way a more representative portion of the holy scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years.

And yet, because going to Mass on a Thursday is too inconvient for people, we solemnly read the Prayer of the Hour of Jesus–by any estimation, one of the most important texts of Scripture, upon which the entire spiritual life of the Church is based–we read it in church…never.

(Well, only at daily Mass.)


Perhaps you will say, ‘Father, we actually hear the priestly prayer of Jesus at EVERY Mass, because the Eucharistic Prayer is the Church’s humble echo of Her Founder’s prayer.’

You would have a fine point. I would grant your penetrating pertinacity. Praise God. You cheered me up.

But, nonetheless, it would be edifying, don’t you think, to hear the original version of the Eucharistic Prayer read from the holy book, at least every once in a while.