An Introduction to the Second Edition
of the Lectionary for Mass
On the night before he died, Christ gathered with his disciples to celebrate the Last
Supper. There, he took bread and wine and gave it to them as the everlasting sign of
the new covenant in his blood (Lk 22:20). From that night onward, "the Church has
never ceased to celebrate his paschal mystery by coming together to read what
referred to him in all the Scriptures (Lk 24:27), and to carry out the work of
salvation through the celebration of the memorial of the Lord and through the
sacraments," (Lectionary for Mass [LFM], 10).
In the earliest days of the Church, the apostles gathered weekly for "the breaking of
the bread and to the prayers" (Acts 2:42). St. Luke reminds us that the first of Jesus'
followers still observed the cycle of Scripture readings in synagogues as a regular
part of their worship (Acts 13:14ff). As well, when Christians gathered within the
homes of the apostles, the Scriptures were read and preached about at length (Acts
20:9). Whether Greek or Jew, Christians read widely from the Pentateuch, the Law
and the Prophets and paired these with the Gospels and the letters of the apostles as
a regular preparation for the celebration of the Eucharist (Justin Martyr, 1 Apol.67).
Second Vatican Council
In line with this same ancient tradition, The Second Vatican Council recognized that
"Sacred Scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. For it
is from it that lessons are read and explained in the homily, and psalms are sung. It is
from the Scriptures that the prayers, collects and hymns draw their inspiration and
their force, and that actions and signs derive their meaning" (Constitution on the
Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium [SC] 24). Further, the Council declared that the
reform of the liturgy should promote an appreciation for the Scriptures by providing
the faithful with "more ample, more varied and more suitable" readings at every Mass
(SC 35). This was to be done by opening up treasures of the bible "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 part of the Sacred Scriptures will be read to the people
in the course of a prescribed number of years" (SC 51).
In response to the Council's directives, a revised Lectionary was prepared by the
Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy under
the title Ordo Lectionum Missae, approved by Pope Paul VI in the Apostolic
Constitution Missale Romanum (April 3, 1969) and published by a letter from
Benno Cardinal Gut, prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship on
Pentecost Sunday (May 25, 1969). The letter of publication directed episcopal
conferences to prepare vernacular editions of the Ordo Lectionum Missae in
accordance with the Consilium's 1969 instruction on vernacular translations.
The National Conference of Catholic Bishops published such an edition and decreed
its mandatory use in the dioceses of the United States of America beginning with the
first Sunday of Advent, November 29, 1971. The biblical text used for this edition
was that of the New American Bible, a translation first commissioned by the
Bishops' Committee for the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine in 1944. For the next
two decades, some fifty scholars of the Catholic Biblical Association labored to
produce a translation of the Bible from its original languages and the oldest extant
texts. Over the first two decades of its use in the liturgy and in private devotion the
1970 edition of the New American Bible has provided immeasurable spiritual
Second Edition of the Ordo Lectionum Missae
In 1981, the Holy See issued a second typical edition of the Ordo Lectionum
Missae (editio typica altera). This edition was approved by Pope John Paul II and
published by a decree from James Cardinal Knox, Prefect of the Sacred
Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship on January 21, 1981.
Second Edition of the
Lectionary for Mass for use
in the Dioceses of the United States of America
The second edition of the Lectionary for Mass for use in the Dioceses of the
United States of America was approved by the NCCB on June 20, 1992 and
confirmed by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the
Sacraments on October 6, 1997. Details concerning the final revisions of the
Lectionary for Mass are contained in the June-July 1997 issue of the BCL
As with its first edition, the revised Lectionary for Mass was based on the 1970
New American Bible. The sixteen years of private and liturgical use of this
translation, as well as subsequent advances in biblical scholarship, led to the revision
of its translation of the New Testament in 1986. The revised Lectionary for Mass
therefore employs the 1986 edition of the Revised New Testament and the 1970
edition of the Old Testament, including the Psalms.
Certain changes to the base text were made both for increased precision and in the
interest of accurately conveying a horizontally inclusive scriptural term as well as for
greater ease in proclamation. In the first category may be included the following
kinds of examples:
their holocausts was changed to their burnt offerings in LFM 118
a smoking brazier was changed to a smoking fire pot in LFM 27
seahs of flour was changed to measures of flour in LFM 108C
A detailed description of the inclusive language issues may be found in the June-July
1997 issue of the BCL Newsletter.
Also of concern to the editors of the revised Lectionary for Mass was the
development of a common scriptural vocabulary. By the preferential use of NAB
vocabulary and phrases in the translation of titles (tituli) found above readings and in
the first lines (incipits) of all readings, the editors attempted to develop consistent
New Features of the
Second Edition of the Ordo Lectionum Missae
The Introduction to the second edition of the Lectionary for Mass has been
considerably expanded and opens with an extended theological reflection, based on
conciliar and postconciliar teachings, on the significance of the Word of God in
liturgical celebration. Following the example of Christ, who himself read and
proclaimed the Scriptures, the liturgy is both founded on the Word of God and
sustained by it. Through a variety of liturgical celebrations and other gatherings, the
Word of God enriches the Church through the "unfolding mystery of Christ" in the
liturgical year, while the liturgy itself enriches the word with new meaning and power.
In this process Christ's faithful respond together and as individuals through the liturgy
to the Holy Spirit working within them.
Any reflection on the Word of God, as well as on the liturgy, must begin with Christ.
It is he who "speaks by his own mouth to the people" and about whom Saint
Augustine proclaims, "The Gospel is the mouth of Christ." Christ is present in his
Word, joined with the Blessed Trinity, "living and effective."(LFM 4). In this way,
the Sacred Scripture achieves " its fullest expression in the Liturgy"(LFM 4). Both
the Old and New Testaments proclaim the same mystery of Christ, as the "New
Testament lies hidden in the Old; the Old Testament comes fully to light in the
The Introduction envisions the liturgy as a dialogue between God and his people.
God speaks his word and "expects a response."(LFM 6) The response he seeks is
one "of listening and adoring...in Spirit and in truth" (John 4:23), expressed by
actions, gestures, and words. What gives these ritual expressions their power? While
it is true that actions-such as processions, posture, or gestures-and words-such as
"Thanks be to God," or "Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ"-derive some of their
meaning from social experience, the Introduction notes that these rites "derive their
full meaning" from the word they proclaim and from the economy of salvation to
which they refer. Thus, participation is fostered primarily by an internal factor: the
conversion of heart which each Christian experiences when listening to the word and
striving to commit to Christ Jesus. The Introduction thus describes a spiral pattern
through which all may ascend in holiness.
Such a journey begins by listening to God's Word. Its goal is then made clear: to
conform our lives to what we celebrate and, in turn, to bring to the liturgy all that we
do in life. In the hearing of God's word the Church is built up. In the signs of the
liturgical celebration, God's wonderful, past works in the history of salvation are
presented anew as mysterious realities. God in response makes use of the faithful to
proclaim his word and to glorify his name among the nations. Whenever, therefore,
the Church, gathered by the Holy Spirit for liturgical celebration, announces and
proclaims the word of God, she is aware of being a new people in whom the
covenant made in the past is perfected and fulfilled. Baptism and confirmation in the
Spirit have made all Christ's faithful into messengers of God's word because of the
grace of hearing they have received. All must therefore be the bearers of the same
word in the Church and in the world, at least by the witness of their lives. The word
of God proclaimed in the celebration of the sacred mysteries does not only address
present conditions but looks back to the meaning of past events and forward to what
is yet to come. Thus God's word shows us what we should hope for with such a
longing that in this changing world our hearts will be set on the place where our true
joys are found (LFM 19).
The Introduction points out the "different duties and responsibilities with respect to
the word of God" which are shared amongst the members of the assembly. All hear
the word but only the ordained or those entrusted with such a ministry may expound
on its meaning through preaching (LFM 8). By these different roles, the "Church
keeps alive and passes on to every generation all that she is, all that she believes"
(LFM 8). Good preaching relies on the working of the Holy Spirit, "if the word of
God is to make what we hear outwardly, have its effect inwardly" (LFM 9). By the
inspiration of this same Spirit, the entire liturgy becomes the voice of the Church at
prayer and the rule and suppport of all Christian life (LFM 9).
Recalling that "the preaching of the word is necessary for the ministry of the
sacraments, for these are sacraments of faith, which is born and nourished from the
word," the Introduction describes a twofold table of God's word and of the
Eucharist. "From the one it grows in wisdom and from the other in holiness" (LFM
10). In their unity is formed a single act of divine worship.
The Liturgy of the Word at Mass
The Introduction teaches that because it is through the Scriptures that God speaks to
his people, the biblical readings for Mass with their accompanying chants from the
Sacred Scriptures may not be omitted, shortened, or, worse still, replaced by
nonbiblical readings. In Masses with the people," the readings are always to be
proclaimed at the ambo" (LFM 16).
The first means of effectively communicating the word of God is to assure that the
readings are proclaimed in an audible, clear, and understandable voice. Thus, even
the singing of a reading " must serve to bring out the sense of the words, not to
obscure them." When introductory comments are given before the readings, they
must be " simple, faithful to the text, brief, well prepared, and properly varied to suit
the text they introduce" (LFM 16).
The reading of the Gospel is the highpoint of the Liturgy of the Word. The
Evangeliary or Book of Gospels is carried in by the deacon or reader and "it is most
fitting that the deacon or a priest, when there is no deacon, take the book from the
altar and carry it to the ambo" (LFM 17). Such a procession is meant to solemnize
the entry of Jesus as the Word of God into the assembly. The Introduction then
summarizes the ritual details for proclamation of the Gospel.
The responsorial psalm (LFM 21), also called the gradual, is an "integral part of the
liturgy of the word." The Introduction repeats the Council's call that pastors diligently
communicate the importance of the Psalms in the life of the Church and her liturgy.
The Introduction summarizes the ways in which the responsorial psalm may be
proclaimed, noting that "the singing of the psalm, or even of the response alone, is a
great help toward understanding and meditating on the psalm's spiritual meaning."
Such singing should be fostered by "every means available in each individual culture."
The responsorial psalm is to be sung or recited by the psalmist.
The Introduction sees the Creed (LFM 29) as a response to the Word of God.
"Before beginning to celebrate in the Eucharist the mystery of faith," the Creed calls
to mind "the rule of faith in a formulary approved by the Church" (LFM 30). The
prayer of the Faithful or Universal Prayer is likewise, in a certain sense, a response
to the Word of God, interceding "for the needs of the universal Church and the local
community, for the salvation of the world and those oppressed by any burden, and
for special categories of people." The Introduction notes that "For the prayer of the
faithful the celebrant presides at the chair and the intentions are announced at the
At every Mass with the People, the Word of God is proclaimed from an ambo
"somewhat elevated, fixed, and of a suitable design and nobility....of harmonious and
close relationship.... with the altar" (LFM 32). The ambo "must...truly help the
people's listening and attention during the Liturgy of the Word"(LFM 34). It should
be of sufficient size, sound, light and have amplification equipment. The ambo is
reserved for the readings, the responsorial psalm, and the Easter Proclamation (the
Exsultet) (LFM 33). While it may be also used for the homily and the prayer of the
faithful, "it is better for the commentator, cantor, or director of singing, for example,
not to use the ambo."
The books from which the Word of God is proclaimed must be "worthy, dignified
and beautiful" (LFM 35). This is particularly true of the Book of Gospels, which
holds a certain preeminence among the liturgical books (LFM 36). Neither the
Lectionary nor the Book of Gospels may be replaced by pastoral aides or other
leaflets (LFM 37).
Roles at the Liturgy of the Word
The priest, while counted among the listeners to the Word of God, holds the duty of
proclaiming the word which has been entrusted above all to him. "He then as a rule
reserves to himself the tasks of composing comments to help the people listen more
attentively and of preaching a homily that fosters in them a richer understanding of the
Word of God" (LFM 38). Thus he must have a thorough knowledge of the structure
and interrelatedness of the readings at Mass (LFM 39). With pastoral sensitivity he
chooses among the various options for readings, after listening to the opinions of the
faithful and nourishes them through the homily. He leads the Prayer of the Faithful,
and when appropriate, provides introductory comments for each of the readings
"Christ's word gathers the people of God as one and increases and sustains them"
(LFM 44). The people of God have "a spiritual right" to hear this word. They are to
chrish it with " an inward and outward reverence that will bring them continuous
growth in the spiritual life and draw them more deeply into the mystery which is
celebrated" (LFM 45). The Sacred Scriptures are the source of life and strength,
"the food of Christian life and the source of the prayer of the whole Church." Thus
the faithful should be present for the entire Mass and should remain open to the word
"not only during Mass but in their entire Christian life as well" (LFM 48).
The Introduction suggests an order of precedence by recalling that the biblical
readings are proclaimed by readers and the deacon. "But when there is no deacon or
no other priest present, the priest celebrant is to read the Gospel and when there is
no reader present, all the readings" (LFM 49).
The Introduction also addresses the difference between instituted and non-instituted
readers, recalling that "whenever there is more than one reading, it is better to assign
the readings to different readers, if available" Psalmists or cantors of the psalms
should be drawn from those "with the ability to sing and read with correct diction"
(LFM 56). Commentators may also provide "relevant explanations and comments
that are clear, of marked sobriety, meticulously prepared, and as a rule written out
and approved beforehand by the celebrant" (LFM 57).
Structure of the Order of Readings
The second section of the Introduction describes the structure of the Order of
Readings. Noting that the order has been chosen for pastoral effectiveness inspired
by the Second Vatican Council, the Lectionary seeks to provide "the faithful with a
knowledge of the whole of God's word, in a pattern suited to the purpose.
Throughout the liturgical year, but above all during the seasons of Easter, Lent, and
Advent, the choice and sequence of readings are aimed at giving Christ's faithful an
ever-deepening perception of the faith they profess and of the history of salvation"
While not simply instructional, the Liturgy does serve "as a pedagogical resource
aiding catechesis" (LFM 61). The fixed order of readings provides the whole Church
with the opportunity of hearing the same readings on any given day, even in the
absence of a priest (LFM 62). As well, the Lectionary offers a certain flexibility in
the choices provided to pastors in response to the concerns of their own parishes
The remainder of the Introduction summarizes the Principles applied in the
Composition of the Order of Readings for Mass together with a detailed description
of the Order of Readings. The final chapter lists the principles to be followed in the
development of vernacular typical editions for the adaptation, translation and
formatting of the Order of Readings.
Role of the Neo-Vulgate
Also post-dating the publication of the first edition of the Lectionary for Mass was
the Apostolic Constitution Scripturarum thesaurus (25 April 1979), which adopted
the Neo-Vulgate as the typical edition for Latin liturgical use.
Readings from the Roman Ritual and other Rites
Because the first edition of the Lectionary for Mass was issued at an early stage in
the reform of the liturgical books, the revision of the greater portion of the Roman
Ritual and other rites had not yet been completed. Lectionaries developed for those
rites and which could be celebrated within Mass were not, therefore, incorporated
into the first edition of the Lectionary for Mass. However, such lectionaries were
incorporated into the new edition of the Lectionary for Mass.
Readings from Masses for Various Needs and Occasions
The 1975 edito typica altera of the Missale Romanum contained several additional
prayer sets for Masses for Various Needs and Occasions. Additional readings were
provided in the revised Lectionary of Mass, including the following: for the conferral
of all sacraments of initiation; for the admission of candidates to the diaconate and
the priesthood; for the institution of lectors and acolytes; for the anointing of the sick
and dying; for the dedication or blessing of a church or an altar; for the unity of
Christians; for the evangelization of peoples; for those in captivity or those who hold
others captive. A number of new Masses, such as a votive Mass for the angels, have
also been added.
Additional Cycles of Readings
Several major celebrations in the Church year were provided with only a single set of
readings in the 1970 Lectionary. In order that " a more lavish table of the word of
God be spread before the faithful" (SC, 51), A, B and C cycles were provided for
celebrations of the Holy Family, the Baptism of the Lord, the Ascension and
The effort to produce a translation of the revised Lectionary for Mass has been a
nearly ten year project, involving the combined talents of scholars, bishops, expert
consultors and staff members of both the NCCB Secretariat for the Liturgy and the
Congregation for Divine Worship. The greatly expanded choices for celebrating the
Word of God which can now be realized in the daily life of the Church are the result
of this important collaborative work. With the publication of the revised Lectionary
for Mass, a major liturgical book envisioned by the Council will now be fully
available to support the Church at prayer in the modern world.
The New Lectionary for Mass
A Reader's Perspective
1.What is the Lectionary for Mass?
After the Second Vatican Council ended in 1965, all books used for the
liturgy were revised. The Lectionary (book of readings) for the Mass was
first published in 1970. This Lectionary included a wide range of readings
from the Bible, with several cycles of readings for Sundays and weekdays,
and was revised by the Holy See in 1981.
2.How many volumes are there to the Lectionary for Mass?
The Lectionary has been prepared in two volumes: the first volume contains
readings for Sunday and Solemnities. Volume II, which will be discussed by
the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in June 1998 contains readings
for weekdays and other Masses. These volumes will be further divided by
some publishers into Sunday volumes A, B, C and other similar arrangements.
3.What's new in this Lectionary?
Additional cycles of readings for some solemnities and additional options for
Masses for Various Needs and Occasions have been introduced. An
extensive introduction provides theological and practical background on the
Lectionary along with the lectionaries for all the ritual books which have been
published in the past thirty years.
4.What about inclusive language?
The new Lectionary strives for maximum possible fidelity to the biblical text.
When that text is not gender specific, the new Lectionary is not gender
specific. When the text is gender specific, the new Lectionary is gender
specific. While certain tools are appropriate to achieve such inclusivity (for
example, whoever, the one, anyone, etc...), other tools (for example,
change of person and number) change the meaning of the biblical text. The
new Lectionary never changes the biblical text in order to make it more
5.May a reader change the text in proclamation?
No. Just as the Church is obliged to faithfully proclaim the Bible as it has been
passed on, the reader is obliged to faithfully proclaim the biblical text exactly
as it appears in the Lectionary for Mass. The homily is the proper place to
explain biblical texts which are unclear or appear to be inconsistent with
contemporary sensitivities. We can never change the Bible because it is the
Word of God.
6.Why are the readings laid out differently?
All readings in the revised Lectionary have been presented in sense lines with
indentations. Experts in the art of proclamation were consulted in order to
present the text in a way that would encourage effective and easy
proclamation by readers of the word of God.
7.Is this the same Lectionary used throughout the English speaking
While various translations of the Bible in English and other languages may be
employed in each country's Lectionary, the choice of the readings is the same
throughout the world. This Lectionary is the typical edition of the Latin
Ordo Lectionum Missae authorized for use in the United States.
8.Who chose this Lectionary?
This Lectionary was approved by the National Conference of Catholic
Bishops (with more than a two thirds majority vote) and confirmed by
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on
behalf of the Holy See. Once the second volume of this Lectionary has been
published, it will become the only Lectionary text which may be used in the
© 1998, United States Catholic Conference. All rights reserved.
Permission is granted for free duplication of this issue of the BCL Newsletter for
educational purposes, provided no fee is charged.
Living and Active
Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum (DV), number 21: The
Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of
the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to
the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God's word and of Christ's body.
She has always maintained them, and continues to do so, together with sacred
tradition, as the supreme rule of faith, since, as inspired by God and committed once
and for all to writing, they impart the word of God Himself without change, and
make the voice of the Holy Spirit resound in the words of the prophets and
Apostles. Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church
must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture. For in the sacred books, the
Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them;
and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support
and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the
pure and everlasting source of spiritual life. Consequently these words are perfectly
applicable to Sacred Scripture: "For the word of God is living and active" (Heb.
4:12) and "it has power to build you up and give you your heritage among all those
who are sanctified" (Acts 20:32; see 1 Thess. 2:13).
That Warm and Living Love for Scripture
SC 24: Sacred scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy.
For it is from scripture that lessons are read and explained in the homily, and psalms
are sung; the prayers, collects, and liturgical songs are scriptural in their inspiration
and their force, and it is from the scriptures that actions and signs derive their
meaning. Thus to achieve the restoration, progress, and adaptation of the sacred
liturgy, it is essential to promote that warm and living love for scripture to which the
venerable tradition of both eastern and western rites gives testimony (Constitution on
the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, number 7)
The Treasures are to be Opened More Lavishly
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.(Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum
Concilium, number 51)
An Inner Attitude
...It must not be forgotten that complete renewal makes yet other demands...These
demands, which spring from a new responsibility for the Word of God in the liturgy,
go yet deeper and concern the inner attitude with which the ministers of the Word
perform their function in the liturgical assembly. (Pope John Paul II, Letter,
Dominicae Cenae, 24 February 1980, number 10)
Only the Word of God
...It must always be remembered that only the Word of God can be used for Mass
readings. The reading of Scripture cannot be replaced by the reading of other texts,
however much they may be endowed with undoubted religious and moral values. On
the other hand such texts can be used very profitably in the homily.... (Pope John
Paul II, Letter, Dominicae Cenae, 24 February 1980, number 10)
© 1998, United States Catholic Conference. All rights reserved.
Permission is granted for free duplication of this issue of the BCL Newsletter for educational
purposes, provided no fee is charged.