January 28, 2018

One of the great gifts of the Second Vatican Council was the opening up of the scriptures for Catholics. Prior to the Council there was not widespread use of the sacred scriptures in the life of the Church. In fact, in some circles, a focus on the scriptures was seen as a more Protestant idea.

During the late nineteenth, and into the twentieth century, this started to change as many Catholic scholars began to make Biblical studies their focus. Their work bore fruit at the Second Vatican Council.

Nowhere is the impact of this opening up of the scriptures felt more than at Mass. Prior to the Council, we would read the same readings each year. So, the scriptures for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time last year would have been the same scriptures we would read this year, and the next, and the year after that.

In the pre-Vatican II liturgy, there would be two readings each Sunday. It was rare, except on feast days, to read from the Old Testament. The readings, therefore, were called the Epistle and the Gospel. After the Council our exposure to the scriptures expanded greatly.

Now we read the scriptures on a three-year cycle based on one of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). In Year A we read primarily from Matthew’s Gospel; in Year B (the year we are in now), we read primarily from Mark’s Gospel; in Year C we read primarily from Luke’s Gospel. In all three years, John’s Gospel is read during particular feasts and seasons.

We now also have three readings proclaimed at Sunday Mass. Most of the time, the first reading is taken from one of the books of the Old Testament (except during the Easter Season when we read from the Acts of the Apostles). The second reading is usually taken from a letter (an epistle) from one of the leaders of the early Church (e.g., St. Paul, St. John, St. Peter).

The scriptures that are assigned for each Sunday are not random either. The first reading and the Gospel each week have been chosen because of a common theme that unites them. During Ordinary Time, the second reading is a continuous reading from one of the Epistles, and is not, therefore, connected thematically to the Gospel or the first reading. During the special seasons of the year (Lent/Easter and Advent/ Christmas) the second reading does fit thematically with the other two readings. Because of this expanded use of the scriptures in the post-Vatican II Mass, over the course of three years, we hear a very large portion of the Bible proclaimed on Sundays.

The new liturgical year, which began on the First Sunday of Advent, began Year B in the liturgical cycle of readings. This means that we are reading primarily from St. Mark’s Gospel over the course of Ordinary Time this year. During this year we will explore St. Mark’s unique portrait of Jesus, and will be invited to allow some of those unique elements that St. Mark describes to shape our understanding of who Jesus was, and who he is for us today.

The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of all the gospels. It can be read in one sitting. I encourage you to take some time to do that, maybe several times, over the course of this year. It would be a marvelous way to prepare to hear the Sunday scriptures proclaimed, as well as to continue to unpack the richness of our scriptural tradition.

God Bless,
Fr. Gary Lazzeroni