How are the readings selected?

By | October 13, 2010

Timothy gives us many reasons to read, study and know the Scriptures and he gives a mandate to proclaim and teach them as well.

The Hebrew Scripture (which we formerly called the “Old Testament”) was the Bible of the early church. One of the first things the apostles and preachers did was to show the relationship between the Jewish Scriptures and the teachings of Jesus. In fact, the sections of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) are based on the early Christian preaching.

While we are encouraged to read the entire Bible, specific passages are chosen to be read at Mass. The collection of the Scriptures that we read each week, arranged in a particular order, is found in the Lectionary. The name for the book comes from the Latin word lectio which means “reading.”

An individual passage of Scripture is called a pericope. The term is derived from the Greek word for the act of cutting something.

We don’t know when the actual collection of regular or assigned readings came into use, but there is no evidence of a Lectionary before the fourth century. Our earliest western Lectionary dates to the fifth century.

Throughout our history, there have been different ways of selecting and arranging the readings for Mass and devotions

Lectio selecta is a manner of choosing the readings according to themes. Lectio continua is a reading of the Scriptures in a continuous sequence. Today, our Lectionary uses both thematic and semi-continuous reading. There are common themes for the readings during Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. During ordinary time the reading is continuous.

Since the Second Vatican Council, we have three cycles of readings for Sundays, and two cycles for weekdays. Each cycle has a focus from one of the Synoptic writers. In our current year “C,” we read primarily from the Gospel of Luke.

The church year begins in Advent, so on Nov. 27 we will begin year “A” which draws heavily from Matthew’s account.

On weekdays, we read from the Gospel of Mark during the first nine weeks of the year; from Matthew during weeks 10-21; and Luke for weeks 22-34. In addition, we have the two major cycles of Christmas and Easter, each preceded by a preparatory season (Advent and Lent). During those times, we hear the readings that celebrate the incarnation and the Resurrection and our salvation. Over the course of three years we read all the central themes and key passages in Scripture.

Over the next few weeks you will notice a change in the tone of the readings as our year begins to draw to a close. We will continue to hear about prayer but the readings will eventually start to focus on eschatological themes, questions about the next life and the coming of the day of the Lord.


Sr. Rehrauer is the diocesan director of Evangelization and Worship.

Related Posts

Scroll to Top