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Hear His Most Holy Word

 

The BAS Lectionary: the closing of the Bible? 

 

By the Rev'd David Curry

 

 

~ FIVE QUESTIONS ~

 

(1) WHAT IS THE BAS LECTIONARY?

 

(2) DOES THE BAS LECTIONARY PRESENT A GREATER AMOUNT OF SCRIPTURE?

 

(3) HOW ADEQUATE IS THE BAS' USE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT?

 

(4) HOW ADEQUATE IS THE BAS' USE OF THE NEW TESTAMENT?

 

(5) HOW ECUMENICAL IS THE BAS LECTIONARY?

 

   CONCLUSION ---------------------

 

 

BOOK OF ALTERNATIVE SERVICES

 

The weaknesses of the Book of Alternative Services (BAS) Lectionary appear in the claims made for it, in the programme of Scripture reading it presents, and in the principles upon which that programme depends.  These are practical and theoretical problems which also mark a significant departure from the principles of the Common Prayer tradition in the understanding and use of Scripture as embodied in the Book of Common Prayer (Canada, 1962).  A further problem is that the BAS not only departs from, but also misunderstands and misrepresents the nature and place of Scripture within that tradition. 

 

(1) WHAT IS THE BAS LECTIONARY?

 

The BAS Lectionary is an amended version of the Roman Catholic Ordo Lectionum Missae (OLM) 1969.  The ecumenical Consultation on Common Texts (CCT) issued their amended version of OLM in 1983 "for a three-year trial period ending 1 December 1986".  The Common Lectionary, the Church Hymnal Corporation, New York, NY, 10017, p.13) with the expectation of issuing a final ecumenical version in 1987.  The "Common Lectionary", as it appears in the BAS.  is actually an experimental version in the process towards an ecumenical lectionary. 

 

For CCT and our Canadian revisors ecumenical means identical practice in the reading of Holy Scripture.  The BAS preface on the "Propers of the Church Year" speaks of "a final revision around the end of the decade" (BAS p.263). 

 

The word lectionary refers to an ordered programme of Scripture readings for the public worship of the Church.  OTM and the "Common Lectionary" revision of OTM present a three-year cycle of three readings "for the principal acts of worship" on each Sunday of the year BAS.  p.263).  The Common Prayer tradition, on the other hand, understands the word lectionary in a broader, more comprehensive sense as embracing readings provided not only for the Holy Eucharist on Sundays and "all the week after" (BCP p.94) and Holy Days, but also for the Sunday and week day offices of Morning and Evening Prayer. 

 

The interrelation and interdependence of these programmes of readings and the comprehensive doctrinal unity which they form is the fruit of a four hundred-year development within the framework of Scripture understood as a doctrinal instrument of salvation.  Such a development, moreover, maintains a remarkable continuity with the eucharistic lectionaries of the Western Church from the Patristic period onwards.  It belongs to the whole tradition of a doctrinal understanding of Scripture. 

 

While the BAS provides various cycles of readings for the offices, daily Eucharists and other purposes, it regards these, not as integral, but "in addition to the lectionary" and calls them "other guides" BAS, p.264).  These "other guides" form independent cycles unrelated to each other and to the BAS lectionary to which they are simply an addition.  Thus, even in definition, the BAS lectionary stands apart from the lectionary tradition of the Book of Common Prayer. 

 

(2) DOES THE BAS LECTIONARY PRESENT A GREATER AMOUNT

    OF SCRIPTURE?

 

The BAS' claim to present a greater amount of Scripture than ever before needs serious qualification.  on the one hand, the three-year lectionary with three readings obviously provides more Scripture when simply compared to the one-year two lesson BCP eucharistic lectionary.  But, on the other hand, the comparison is improper.  It is like comparing apples and Oranges, or finding fault with apple barrels for not containing oranges. 

 

The BCP eucharistic lectionary is the centrepiece of a larger, more comprehensive system of Scripture reading, which in the course of a single year vixtially covers the entrre corpus of the Old Testament at least once and the complete body of the New Testament more than twice. 

 

A similar claim cannot be made for the BAS lectionary, even with its "other guides", for essentially two reasons: first, the cycle of readings "for use at daily offices provide shorter and fewer readings than their predecessors" BAS p.265); and second, the degree of liberty given in either omitting or allowing to be edited out certain passages of the Old and New Testaments both in the daily offices and at the Eucharist. 

 

The BCP, moreover, does not so much seek to provide a great quantity of Scripture at the eucharist as to present the fulness of saving doctrine.  Thus, the first half of the year from Advent to Pentecost follows what one may call the substantial or doctrinal moments of Christ's life.  We "run' as it were, through a great part of the Creed" (Bp.  Sparrow, 17th cent.), learning what Christ has done for us.  The essential mysteries of the Christian Religion are set before us. 

 

The second half of the year from Trinity to Advent seeks the practical application of Christ's saving work in us, the Creed runing through us, as it were.  It urges the life of holiness through the practice of Christian virtue. 

 

The doctrinal completeness in the one and the practical application in the other were the express concerns of the architects and commentators of the Prayer Book.  The Epiphany season and the Trinity season specifically were areas where they improved upon what they had received.  They saw that our incorporation into the life of Christ meant the interrelation of the principles of justification and sanctification. 

 

Any one of the three years of the BAS eucharistic lectionary compares unfavourably with the BCP on this criterion of the presentation of the fullness of saving doctrine.  The intentional and doctrinal integrity of one-half the year have been lost in the BAS by virtue of the adoption of the logic or Ordinary Time, which, as we shall see, has a necessarily accidental or arbitrary quality to it. 

 

The BAS lectionary's claim to be "spreading a much larger body of biblical material" hangs upon its three-year cycle and its inclusion of an Old Testament lesson.  But the shortness of the lessons at the eucharist significantly qualifies even the force of this rather obvious claim.  Their "much" may be more, but not much more.  More importantly, it may be doctrinally less full. 

 

(3) HOW ADEQUATE IS THE BAS' USE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT?

 

An important claim for the BAS lectionary is its provision of an Old Testament lesson at the eucharist While this has been popularly received, nonetheless the way in which it has been conceived makes this one of the major weaknesses of the BAS lectionary.  The problem is that it presupposes what it claims to provide.  It presupposes a far greater acquaintance with the Old Testament than it can possibly provide. 

 

As we shall see, one of the principal areas of ecumenical difference within the intended ecumenical scope of the Common Lectionary concerns the way in which the Old Testament is read.  The reason for these divergences points to a weakness in conception at the heart of all the modern lectionaries, including that of the BAS.  It is not that an Old Testament lesson has been included which constitutes the problem, but the principles upon which the reading of it has been ordered. 

 

The felt weakness of the Roman Catholic OLM was with its representative and overly typological use of the Old Testament OLM determines the appointment of the Old Testament reading according to the theme of the gospel lection which qualifies both the integrity of the Old Testament in itself and much of its narrative character (The Common Lectionary, p.19).  Thus CCT sought to amend these tendencies by extending OLM's principle of semi-continuous reading for the New Testament lesson and the Gospel in Ordinary Time to the Old Testament in Ordinary Time. 

 

Certain consequences necessarily follow from this CCT amendment.  First, it means that for one-half the year all three lessons are in principle unrelated since all three follow their own independent, semi-continuous course.  Second, the semi-continuous course of reading the old testament is so semi as to be just as unrepresentative of the Old Testament as OLM's more typological or thematic selection. 

 

This means that the progress through any given book of the Old Testament in Ordinary Time is extremely sketchy.  In Year A, for example, 9 verses of Genesis 12 are read, 18 verses Genesis 22, 15 verses of Genesis 25, 7 verses of Genesis 28 and 10 verses of Genesis 32.  This really amounts to little more than a chapter of a book that has fifty chapters and yet this completes the treatment of Genesis in Ordinary time for Year A according to this semi-continuous plan intended to do justice to the integrity of Old Testament books in their own character. 

 

The treatment of Genesis in Year A is hardly well supplemented by the Ordinary Time selections in Year B and Year C which only provide four additional short lessons from Genesis 1,2,3 and Genesis 45 respectively.  From the reading of Genesis in Year A, the lectionary moves on to read on 13 Sundays parts of 11 chapters of Exodus, three of Ruth one of Amos Zephaniah and Ezekiel. 

 

A major prophetic book such as Ezekiel gets remarkably short shrift in the entire three-year cyde of the lectionary.  In three years there are only seven lections appointed from Ezekiel and one of them is twice repeated, but as an option: In Year A, Lent V has Ezekiel 37, 1-14 to be read; the same lesson is allowed as a Pentecost Year B option and as an option at the Easter Vigil. 

 

By such a programme the CCT lectionary as found in the BAS endeavours to overcome "the too highly stressed typology" The Common Lectionary p.21) in OLM's scheme in order to accommodate the non-liturgical Protestant denominations, especially Black American Churches.  The irony is that these churches have neither lectionary traditions nor the legacy of the daily offices.  Most Anglicans defer where they have rnost to offer? The CCT amended version, moreover, claims to be more representative of the Old Testament, but such a programme neither does Justice to the Old Testament itself nor to the principle of semi-continuous reading. 

 

There is, moreover, a practical problem of great significance that appears most dramatically in the appointment of Old Testament lessons both at the eucharist and in the offices.  The degree of leaping around within the Old Testament texts appointed to be read makes it very difficult to read from the Bible directly.  The BAS points to the need for lectionary texts which effectively close the Bible to the people. 

 

For example for Year C, Proper 24, the Sunday between 11 and 17 September,the eucharistic lectionary appoints Hosea 4.1-3; 5.15-6.6; For Year B, proper 19, the Sunday between 7 and 13 August it appoints 2 Samuel 18.1, 5, 9-15.  At the Easter Vigil Genesis 7.1-5; 11-18; 8.18; 9.8-13 is appointed as a single lesson. 

 

In these instances the problem is not necessarily the actual content of what has been omitted so much as the practical difficulty of reading such selections from the Bible itself.  The solution which the BAS clearly presupposes is the publication of lectionary texts and/or leaflet inserts which have the serious consequence of both obscuring the actual character of the biblical texts in their integrity and effectively taking the Bible out of the hands of the people. 

 

This problem also presents itself to a remarkable degree in the Sunday and Daily Office lectionaries.  The difficulty of determining what is to be read and when is compounded by the difficulty of actually reading the lessons themselves. 

 

A few examples suffice to illustrate this problem.  On the Sunday of Proper 23, the Sunday between 4 and 10 September, Job 25.1-6; 27.1-6 is appointed to be read as the Old Testament lesson in Year Two.  On Palm Sunday Zechariah 12.9-11; 13.1,7-9 is ordered to be read.  On the Sunday of Proper 21, the Sunday between 21 and 27 August provides that in Year One 2 Samuel 24.1-2; 10-25 be read.  On the Thursday of the Week of Sunday between 28 August and 3 September, Proper 22, Job 16.16-22; 17.1, 13-16 is appointed to be read in Year Two.  On the Wednesday of the Week of the Sunday between 4 and 10 September, Proper 23, in Year Two Job 29.1; 30.1-2, 16-31 is appointed.  2 Chronicles 29.1-3; 30.1(2-9) 10-27 is appointed in Year One on the Tuesday of the Week of Sunday between 25 September and 1 October, Proper 26!

 

These are but a few examples of the many that the BAS Daily Office Lectionary presents.  The difficulty is not Simply that upon occasion a lesson is provided edited from the biblical text per se, but the remarkable degree of frequency with which this is done in the BAS. 

 

The degree of leaping about is at least four times greater in the BAS than the BCP, (where some allowances are made in the daily offices and Sunday offices, usually for the reading of the Old Testament as, for example, on the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, Year two, at Morning Prayer the first lesson is Ezekiel 18.14, 19-end).  The far greater extent of this in the BAS makes saying the offices practically difficult, awkward and frustrating.  It makes public reading from the Bible difficult and discouraging. 

 

In some respects, however, the BAS should be commended for avoiding the more glaring errors of omission found in the OLM eucharistic lectionary and in the version used by the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A.  For example, the core and conclusion of the parable of the talents, Matthew 25.14-30, omitted by these churches, have been rightly restored in the BAS. 

 

Also by comparison to those lectionaries, the amended version in the BAS allows for considerably less leaping around within biblical texts, though their less is still too much.  Yet they all share substantially the same premises and present similar practical difficulties.  They all compare unfavourably in practice and in principle with the doctrinal character of the Prayer Book eucharistic lectionary, as discussed above. 

 

The inclusion of an Old Testament lesson at the eucharist is, no doubt, a response to a pastoral need.  But how adequate a response is it? For many, the mere provision of the Old Testament lesson at the eucharist argues for the new lectionary over the oh What is being questioned here, however, is not the idea of an Old Testament lesson at the eucharist, but the principle of the selection of Old Testament texts and the subsequent claims being made for that provision.  It simply cannot do what it claims to do. 

 

The BAS is disingenuous in as seeing the superiority of this new lectionary over the old on the basis of such a provision.  The attraction of the Old Testament eucharistic lesson actually arises from the general neglect of the Sunday and Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer by clergy and laity alike. 

 

The Sunday office lectionary in the Common Prayer tradition does provide what the BAS claims but falls to provide in the way of a real acquaintance with the major and substantial portions of the Old Testament.  But apart from simply reading the Old Testament, the daily offices of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer really provide the only regular means of gaining a proper knowledge of the Old Testament. 

 

The problem that the BAS faces is simply the impossibility of providing at the eucharist what can only be properly provided through the offices What seems to be overlooked is the sheer size of the Old Testament - it is about four or five times the length of the New Testament~ Moreover, to relegate the necessary programme of scriptural reading in the offices simply to the status of "other guides" undermines the coherence and interrelation of the Prayer Book programme of Scripture reading and departs from the scriptural heart of the Common Prayer tradition. 

 

The provision of an Old Testament lesson at the Eucharist does not logically demand the jettisoning of the Prayer Book eucharistic lectionary.  The Prayer Book idea of Scripture as a doctrinal instrument of salvation, embodied centrally in the eucharistic lectionary, can easily accommodate the addition of an Old Testament lesson appointed in accord with the logic of that lectionary itself. 

 

Not only has this been done by the Church of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon in 1960 and also specifically for Canada by the Rev.  Michael Averyt, but it must further be emphasized that inso doing the scriptural basis of the Prayer Book tradition is not traduced but enhanced.  Such a provision does not admit what the BAS irresponsibly calls "the shortcomings of the eucharistic readings".  Rather such a provision could mean a responsible answer to a pastoral problem from within the Common Prayer tradition but without devaluing the ideal of the offices in their right relation to the eucharist. 

 

(4) HOW ADEQUATE IS THE BAS' USE OF THE NEW TESTAMENT?

 

The dominance of modern biblical criticism appears most clearly and most questionably in the appointment of New Testament readings in the BAS eucharistic lectionary as well as in the "other guides".  Scripture is ordered to be read less according to the doctrine of Scripture and more according to the hypotheses of modern biblical criticism. 

 

The three-year cycle itself assumes the priority of the synoptic gospels and designates each year to a synoptic gospel: Year A - Matthew Year B - Mark Year C - Luke This three-year cycle is based upon what is called the synoptic problem and assumes as fact the scholarly hypothesis of "Q" - Quelle, source, namely, that a pre-gospel narrative source underlies and predates the actual gospel texts.  "Q" is the premise upon which some scholars would re-order the form of the gospel and / or dispute the authenticity and authority of major portions of the gospels. 

 

It must be emphasized that no-one has ever seen "Q".  It has been posited hypothetically by some biblical scholars as a means of explaining parallels between the three gospels.  It has been the single most dogmatic point of contemporary biblical scholarship.  But dogmatic insistence upon "Q" cannot prove its existence. 

 

Nor, as we shall see, is its necessity assumed by all scholars.  Yet, surely, it is a matter of real concern that the Church's ordered reading of the Gospel be based upon a non-doctrinal but dogmatic hypothesis about text transmission over and against the doctrinal interest in content and teaching that informs the traditional eucharistic lectionaries of the Western Church. 

 

this dogmatic assertion of "Q" directly affects the programme of gospel reading in the BAS' three-year cycle.  It shows itself most decisively in Year B - the year of Luke.  St.  Mark's gospel is the shortest gospel.  The criterion of selection for gospel readings during Ordinary Time is not thematic but semi-continuous.  There are thirty-four Sundays in Ordinary Time. 

 

Thus, one might reasonably suppose that reading progressively Sunday by Sunday, chapter by chapter, all sixteen chapters of St.  Mark's gospel would easily be completed with Sundays left over.  But it is not so. 

 

In the BAS, following OLM the semi-continuous reading of St.  Mark's gospel is interrupted from the 17th to the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time by a series of readings from the sixth chapter of St.  John's gospel - the so called "bread of life" discourse.  This incursion of an eucharistical theme into the midst of the semi-continuous course of Mark is justified by Rome (OLM) on the assumption that this is where John's gospel naturally matches the order of events in the synoptic gospels. 

 

The American commentary "Preaching the New Common Lectionary" observes that "at this point we have a tradition that had already forged three stories into one narrative prior to the work of the Four Evangelists" (emphasis added).  Such is pure hypothesis and, however interesting it may be, it remains unprovable. 

 

And exactly how is it useful in the sense of serving the purposes of doctrinal instruction and moral edification? Both the integrity of the gospel texts and their doctrinal unity as Revelation are undermined by the dominance of this hypothesis in the ordering of the Church's lectionary. 

 

Further support for this insertion of John 6 into the course of Mark is provided by those biblical scholars who question the place of the bread of life discourses (Ch.  6) in St.  John's gospels (i.e.  Bultmann, Wikenhauser, Schnackenburg, etc.).  Removing it altogether from its gospel context avoids any such difficulty for them as to whether Chapter V should or should not be Chapter VI by placing the discourse instead within the hypothetical order of the hypothetical gospel of "Q". 

 

No manuscript tradition supports this hypothetical reconstruction.  At the very least, then, there are problems about the use of the hypothetical "Q" in the Church's ordered reading of the Gospel.  There is a flirther irony.  We are urged to adopt a lectionary based upon this hypothesis at a point when biblical scholarship is more critical of its dominance. 

 

In a recent review of the first four volumes of the 'Understanding Jesus Today' series, Prof.  J.  Leslie Houlden of King's College, London criticizes their total and exclusive assumption of "Q".  "While this so-called Q source is believed in by most scholars of the Gospels, it remains hypothetical (in the sense that it has never turned up), and other views about the relationship of the first three Gospels, eliminating the need for Q are widely held.  None of this is even hinted at" TLS May 10, 1991).  Nor is it even questioned, it seems, in the ordering of the new lectionaries. 

 

While such questions may belong to the activity of modern biblical criticism, the assumptions inherent in the form of that scholarship remain inimical to the use of Scripture as a 'doctrinal instrument of salvation'.  The phrase derives from Cranmer and Hooker and describes the principle underlying the Prayer Book tradition of reading the Scriptures.  It means that Scripture has a content, that it is thinkable and that its intelligible content is doctrine. 

 

The hypothesis of "Q" and the hypothetical re-ordering of the Gospel material assume that the teaching of Scripture must be other than the actual texts themselves.  Such hypotheses run counter to our Anglican standpoint that "Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation" (Art VI), that nothing is to be ordained "that is contrary to God's Word written" (emphasis added), and that "one place of Scripture" is not to be so ex-pounded "that it be repugnant to another" (Art XX). 

 

Insofar as these hypotheses undermine the doctrinal character and content of Scripture, they have no place in the programme of the Church's reading of the Revealed Word of God.  They show that the Church which formerly placed herself under the rule and authority of Scripture has come to arrogate unto herself the role of judge and arbiter of Scripture.  The reed of human experience has supplanted the rod of Revelation. 

 

The consequence is the omission of those parts of Holy Writ deemed unacceptable to contemporary sensitivities and modern assumptions.  This appears most clearly in the treatment of the New Testament presented in the Daily Office lectionary.  The Canadian BCP provides that the New Testament be read through at least twice every year, excepting the Book of Revelation which is read through once. 

 

The BAS departs considerably from the BCP in not appointing the New Testament to be read through in its entirety even once in a year.  That the BAS should even allow for omissions from the New Testament marks a substantial departure from the developed Prayer Book tradition present in our Canadian BCP.  The passages that are omitted or allowed to be omitted also reveal much about the contemporary spirit of today's church. 

 

The following passages of the New Testament are omitted altogether from the Daily Office lectionary of the BAS:

 

Mark 11.26: Romans 1.26,27; 1 Corinthians 11.  9-11; 1 Corinthians 11.3-16; 1 Corinthians 14.33-36; Philippians 4.21-23; Colossians 4.7-18; 1 Timothy 2.9-15; 1 Timothy 5.1-16; 1 Timothy 6.1-5; 1 Peter 3.1-12;

 

The following passages are allowed to be omitted if so desired: Luke 16.18; 2 Corinthians 6.14-7.1; 1 Timothy 5.23-25 and 1 John 5.21. 

 

More than just suggesting the dominance of modern biblical criticism and the ascendancy of sexual, feminist and political liberationist ideologies within the church, they really signal the intellectual poverty of the contemporary church which is so unable to think these passages that it must pretend that they don't exist. 

 

The omissions also show up in the eucharistic lectionary.  For example, the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C, appoints Rev.  22.12-14, 16-17, 20 to be read.  The verses omitted concern the exclusion of the wicked from the heavenly city; and - ironically - a warning against those who add to or subtract from the text of Scripture!

 

One of the most obvious features of difference between the BAS and the BCP is that, apart from the Psalter, Scripture itself is absent from the BAS.  The scriptural centrepiece of the Prayer Book - the Epistles and Gospels together with their appropriate Collects - are not printed and indeed, are significant. 

 

The removal of the Bible from the people equally results in the separation of prayer from Scripture.  The Collects now free-float in liturgical space, removed from any direct connection to particular passages of Scripture from which prayer properly finds it voice. 

 

It suggests that the liturgy itself stands apart from the Scriptures, no longer under its rule, no longer subject to the primacy of its content, no longer the vehicle and expression of its truth.  The very principles ordering the reading of God's Word written are external to the teaching and character of Scripture itself.  They do not derive from Scripture but are imposed upon it from without. 

 

(5) HOW ECUMENICAL IS THE BAS LECTIONARY?

 

One of the claims made for the "Common Lectionary" in the BAS is that it is an ecumenical lectionary.  This claim expresses more a wish than a fact This lectionary has not been commonly received either ecumenically between various Christian churches or even within the Anglican Communion.  In England, for example, there are currently three different lectionaries in use: the Book of Common Prayer lectionary, a two year cycle lectionary and the BAS' three-year cycle.  In North America, the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A.  uses its own version of the OLM while in Canada, the BAS presents the CCT amended version of OLM, with a few alterations of its own. 

 

This means, for example, with respect to the Old Testament readings in Ordinary Time (Epiphany season and Trinity or Pentecost season) that in Year A there are only three, in Year B, six and in Year C, five Sundays in which the same Old Testament lesson is read by BAS users in the Anglican Church of Canada, by the Roman Catholic Church and by the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A.  respectively. 

 

Nor is it the case that the same Old Testament lessons are read but simply on different Sundays.  For the greater part of Ordinary Time, approximately one-half of the year, the Old Testament lessons are completely different between two churches of the same communion on the same continent. 

 

The choice of Old Testament lessons shows differences in principle about the use of the Old Testament in relation to the New Testament.  Such differences will not be easily resolved.  In point of fact, our adoption of the "Common Lectionary" renders us uncommon with Rome - with whom it was wished to be in common - and with other parts of the Anglican Communion. 

 

A further complication are the different Systems for numbering the Sundays in Ordinary Time and the numbering of the Propers (i.e., the designated readings) for those Sundays.  For example, what in the BAS is designated as the "Ninth Sunday after Epiphany or between 29 May and 4 June" for which Proper 9 is appointed, is called "Proper 4 The Sunday closest to June 1st" in the 1979 American prayer book, and the "Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time" in OLM. 

 

These differences in numbering reflect different sensibilities about the ordering of the Calendar of the Church Year for those parts of the year which may vary in length.  OLM swallows up the Epiphany season and Trinity or Pentecost season into what it calls Ordinary Time and numbers those Sundays accordingly.  It begins with the Feast of Our Lord's Baptism on the First Sunday after Epiphany which it calls the First Sunday in Ordinary Time, proceeds until Lent and then resumes after Pentecost. 

 

The Episcopal Church in the U.S.A.  has wanted to retain at least in name the idea of an Epiphany season and so follows a system of numbered proper for the greatest possible number of Sundays after Pentecost But because the number of such Sundays may vary each year the "proper number" will not always coincide with the number of the Sunday after Pentecost. 

 

For example, in 1991, the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost uses Proper Six, but in 1992 Proper Nine.  Thus, the naming of Sundays after Pentecost becomes irrelevant for determining what propers are to be used.  Instead, it only confuses. 

 

BOOK OF ALTERNATIVE SERVICES

 

The BAS creates a third system by attempting to combine the Roman system and the American.  It keeps the names of Sundays after Epiphany, Sundays after Pentecost and it adopts the numbering system of Propers, only it begins to number with the Baptism of Our Lord (First Sunday after Epiphany) - Proper 1.  As with OLM and the Episcopal Church's lectionary, so too with the BAS there is no integral connection between the season, the Sundays within the season and the propers of the day for those Sundays after Epiphany and those after Pentecost. 

 

A further ecumenical difference appears in the appointment of the gospel accounts of Our Lord's Transfiguration which the Episcopal Church sets for the Last Sunday after Epiphany but Rome places on the Second Sunday in Lent.  The Consultation on Common Texts both acknowledges this as "the place of widest divergence", and admits that at issue in part is the integrity and character of these seasons versus Ordinary Time (The Common Lectionary, p.13).  The BAS does not determine a fixed "Last Sunday after Epiphany" and so does not end "Epiphany season" with the accounts of the Transfiguration, but allows them as options for the Second Sunday in Lent. 

 

All these differences in the numbering and the naming of these Sundays add to the general confusion and point to different outlooks which cannot be easily brought within the compass of one ecumenical system.  At present there is not even common agreement about what to call the Sundays for about half the year or how to determine what is to be read on these Sundays. 

 

A further practical difficulty emerges.  The BAS with its many, many options for liturgy presupposes the regular production of a service bulletin to provide direction in following the service, together with either several volumes of pew lectionaries or weekly printed lectionary leaflets. 

 

The possibility of securing a library of lectionary texts for church pews and for printing a weekly service bulletin with a lectionary insert lies beyond the scope financially and practically of many parishes in the Canadian Church.  The BAS does not accommodate itself conveniently to the reality of multi point rural parishes. 

 

The BAS commits us to an ecumenical lectionary which has yet to be accepted and for which there are serious obstacles to the possibility of its acceptance, either ecumenically without or within the Anglican Communion.  One of the practical consequences of OLM and the "Common Lectionary" is the production of lectionary texts and/or Sunday bulletin leaflets. 

 

Both for the Roman Catholic Church, with the liturgy now in a multitude of vernacular languages, and for the Episcopal Church this has meant a considerable expense and a commitment to what has been printed and presented.  Embracing the "Common Lectionary" would mean jettisoning volumes of lectionary texts, and pages of lectionary inserts in favour of printing altogether new ones.  How likely is this when there is not even common agreement about the "Common Lectionary"?

 

Our Canadian situation reflects this ecumenical confusion.  The BAS preface records with approval a decision of the 1980 General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada requesting that "every diocese and parish, including those which in other respects substantially follow the Book of Common Prayer give thoughtful consideration to the possibility of using this lectionary as a symbol and expression of unity in our Church and with many other Christians" (BAS p.  264). 

 

What is there referred to as "this lectionary" is not in fact the BAS lectionary but another BAS-based lectionary published and authorized for experimental use in Canada in 1980.  It shares closer similarities with the Episcopal Churches' lectionary as found in their 1979 Prayer Book. 

 

While the BAS would like to claim the 1980 General Synod's resolution for its lectionary, the motion actually refers to and authorizes the use of the 1980 Lectionary.  The differences between the BAS lectionary and the 1980 experimental lectionary are, again, substantially the same as exist between the BAS and the 1979 American BCP.  This motion and its inclusion in the BAS are important in two other respects.  They raise the question whether the BAS truly is a Book of Alternative Services and not an intended replacement of the Book of Common Prayer since the BAS here promotes dropping the programme of Scripture reading which is basic and central to the character of the BCP. 

 

The BAS' preface "The Proper of the Church Year" (p.264) contradicts the Introduction to the BAS itself (p.8), which commits the Church to the coexistence of two liturgies, even though they are founded upon radically different attitudes towards Scripture.  Secondly, it shows the degree of confusion about the lectionary which the BAS promotes and presents. 

 

That there are differences in the appointment of Old Testament lessons; that there are differences about the relation and the integrity of the seasons of Epiphany and Lent to Ordinary Time; that there are differences about the numbering and naming for half the Sundays of the year; and that there are difficulties in the practical provisions for scripture reading in services of worship, show the extent of the ecumenical confusion. 

 

Consequently, the BAS lectionary is not "a symbol and expression of unity in our Church" either in Canada, or within the Anglican Communion, or "with many other Christians".  While the BAS lectionary may wish to be ecumenical, it is not in fact. 

 

CONCLUSION

 

That the Scriptures are not allowed to be read in their integrity; that the New Testament Scriptures are not allowed to be read in their entirety; that the system of reading the Scriptures is so awkward and unwieldy, so complicated and confused; that the Scriptures have been relegated to the status of "the repository of the Church's symbols of life and faith" ~AS p.9); that the interrelation and interdependence of the eucharistic and daily office lectionaries have been ignored; that the principles ordering the reading of Scripture do not emerge from the content of Scripture, all these together represent the closing of the Bible to the people. 

 

In practical terms, The Book of Alternative Services represents a return to the medieval breviary tradition with its many alternatives and usages, its many texts and tables, its complexity and clutter. 

 

Cranmer and the Common Prayer tradition sought to deliver the Church from such confusion by restoring to the Church the full force and vigour of the living Word of God so that by it our lives might be made scriptural, not conformed to the world but transformed by the renewing of our minds. 

 

For the Scripture of God is the heavenly meat of our souls; the hearing and keeping of it maketh us blessed, sanctifieth us, and maketh us holy; it turneth our souls; it is a light lantern unto our feet.  It is a sure, steadfast and everlasting instrument of salvation. 

 

(Cranmer, The First Book of Homilies, A Fruitful Exhortation to the Reading of Scripture')

 

The closing of the Anglican Mind to our Anglican scriptural foundations means the closing of the Bible. 

 

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David P.  Curry, 1996.