A Two Year Patristic Lectionary for the Divine Office
The History of the Patristic Lectionary
A 'patristic lectionary' is a series of readings from the fathers (in Latin patres) of the Church. Scripture has always been read in the Church in the context of tradition. With the development of the Divine Office (services of prayer celebrated at different times of each day) the daily cycle of Scripture reading came to be accompanied by commentaries from the fathers of the Church, as St Benedict wrote in the middle of the sixth century, 'Let the inspired books of both the Old and the New Testaments be read at Vigils, as also commentaries on them by the most eminent orthodox and catholic fathers' (Rule of Benedict, IX). The main surviving early Latin collections of readings from the fathers, or patristic lectionaries, are those of Alan of Farfa and Paul the Deacon from the eighth century. These formed the basis of the patristic lectionary used in the Roman Breviary and many other Latin Breviaries. Over time the readings from the fathers were cut back in length with no thought to their meaning. Attempts were made to improve the patristic lectionary by Cardinal Quiñonez in the sixteenth century, the monks of Cluny in the seventeenth century and Archbishop Vintimille of Paris in the eighteenth, but the inadequate patristic lectionary of the Breviarium Romanum (1568) and Breviarium Monasticum (1612) continued in use until the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).
The Twentieth Century Reform
After the Second Vatican Council the Holy See produced two Lectionaries of Scripture readings for use with the Liturgy of the Hours, a one year cycle and a two year cycle. The one year cycle of Scripture with an accompanying patristic reading for use each day at the Office of Readings was published in the editio typica of the Liturgia Horarumand translated into the various vernaculars, including the three volume English ‘Divine Office’. This is the version used by most priests, religious and laity today. Some find the one year cycle of Scripture and the choice of patristic readings unhelpful after many years repetition; it is certainly not suitable for monastic communities.
The two-year cycle of Scripture readings was published in Notitiae, the Journal of the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW), with the intention of publishing it as a supplement to the Liturgia Horarum. Work was also done on a two year cycle of patristic texts to accompany this lectionary. Changes at the CDW, however, resulted in the suspension of the work but religious in various language groups produced their own versions of the two year cycle which have been approved by the competent authorities. Volumes of this two year cycle of Scripture and patristic readings for the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours) have been published in Italian, French and German which are used by the secular clergy and laity as well as by religious communities. A good example is the Italian L’ora dell’ascolto. Lezionario biblico-patristico (1989) which uses the two year patristic lectionary developed by the CDW.
The English Two-Year Patristic Lectionary
In the English-speaking world there was an attempt to produce a two-year patristic lectionary led by Henry Ashworth which became the eight volume series of books 'A Word in Season', most recently published by Augustinian Press. The later volumes in this series, however, departed from the strict concept of a 'patristic' lectionary and took the majority of readings from later periods of Church history. Given the special place of the fathers in the history and theology of the Church and the fact that they are part of the patrimony of all Christians, some felt it would be better to have a two-year lectionary which drew most of its readings from the early Church. On this basis Abbot Hugh Gilbert OSB of Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland asked me to create a two-year cycle of patristic readings for use at the Abbey. We did not wish to use the cycle developed by the CDW and utilised in the Italian volume because many of its patristic readings were insufficiently connected to their Scripture readings and because certain patristic books were read in sequence over a number of days (lectio continua), a practice that is impractical because it would be interrupted by the readings for Saint's days.
The aim of the Two Year Patristic Lectionary is thus:
- To have each patristic reading either related to the Scripture reading or to the season of the Church's year.
- To have a reading for every day of the Temporal cycle (i.e. including days such as Christmas, Ascension, Sacred Heart).
- To have the vast majority of the 'patristic' readings from the Fathers of the Church, although following medieval precedent writers such as Origen have been included. This gives it ecumenical value.
- To use readings from the one year cycle in the Divine Office and the two year cycle of Word in Season whenever possible.
- To include the texts of a complete two-year Scripture cycle, as approved by the Holy See, for use with the patristic readings.
The lectionary is composed of 772 units, each consisting of a Scripture reading with accompanying reading from the Fathers, and it is arranged in files for the seasons of the Church's year. The 1544 readings are each formatted to fit a page of A4 in 13 point (some of the Scripture readings are too long for this and so are edited to fit one page) and, as each is roughly 500 words long, the total lectionary consists of about three quarters of a million words. All the files are edited, formatted and ready for use. As a commentary by the Fathers of the Church on almost the whole of Scripture this should be a great resource for homilies and catechetics, as well as a text for the liturgy.
The lectionary is in use in monasteries in Scotland, England, the USA, Ghana and South Africa. We hope that its inclusion as a free resource on the website of the Durham University Centre for Catholic Studies will enable it to be of use to the wider Church beyond the monasteries of the Benedictine Confederation.