The Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields is an Episcopal parish in the Diocese of Pennsylvania that is centered on the worship of God, the ministry of all baptized persons, and the call to be agents of Christ’s love in the world.
Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields
8000 St. Martin’s Lane
Philadelphia, PA 19118

The Rev. Louis H. Temme

The Revised Common Lectionary

Rubrics Expanded is making a rare summer appearance to say a few words regarding the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), which St Martinís began using a couple weeks ago.

A lectionary is a table of readings from Scripture appointed to be read in public worship. The services of the early church, in addition to the celebration of the eucharist, consisted of the reading and exposition of the Scriptures. For this they drew on the lectionaries of Jewish synagogues and soon added readings from Christian writers. By the fourth century, as the church year took shape, lectionaries were developed by various regions of the church.

Prior to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the eucharistic rites of earlier prayer books provided only two lections: a reading from the epistles followed by a reading from the gospels (although prior to 1892, Morning Prayer was required before the Eucharist, thus significantly increasing the amount of Scripture heard in church). The lectionary of the 1979 Prayer Book (BCP pg. 887-931), which restored readings from the Hebrew Scriptures, was a revision of the three-year lectionary adopted by the Roman Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council.

Out of an ecumenical concern for the unity of the Church and a desire for a common experience of Scripture, several American and Canadian denominations developed The Common Lectionary, where it was in trial usage in the Episcopal Church since its publication in 1983. The Revised Common Lectionary was published in 1992 and approved for trial usage in the Episcopal Church in 1997. The churchís General Convention in 2006 directed that the RCL be adopted as Ďthe Lectionary of this Church, amending the Lectionary on pp. 889-921 of The Book of Common Prayer, effective the First Sunday of Advent, 2007í, with provision for churches to continue using the 1979 Lectionary until the first Sunday of Advent, 2010.

At first glance, you might not notice any difference between the RCL and the 1979 Lectionary: both are a three-year cycle of readings, both contain lections from the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, and both have as their foundation the readings of the Synoptic Gospels in course (Year A is Matthew, Year B is Mark, Year C is Luke), with material from John read in Lent and Easter and on other occasions. In fact, the RCL preserves approximately 90% of the Gospel readings of the 1979 Lectionary as well as most of the OT and epistle readings.

So whatís different? Perhaps its most notable change is the option of in course or semi-continuous reading of the great Old Testament narratives on the Sundays after Pentecost. It also contains the option, which we are using at St Martinís, of lections in thematic harmony with the gospel readings for the Sundays after Pentecost. This second option follows the pattern of the 1979 Lectionary in which the OT and epistle are chosen in relation to the gospel reading.

The RCL has also included more biblical texts that focus on the inclusion of women and their role in salvation history, thus offering texts about women that have never before been heard on Sunday. In addition, the RCL has improved the choices of lections for major feast days and other special occasions. All these changes provide new opportunities for preaching, teaching, and study.

In making the transition to the RCL, St Martinís in now not only compliant with the directive of General Convention but also in the company of much of the Anglican Communion and main line North American Protestant denominations in its use of the RCL.