How are the readings for each Sunday chosen?

Each Sunday the word of God is proclaimed in our church in the form of three scripture readings and a psalm. The first reading and the psalm always come from the first testament of the Bible (the “Old Testament”), except during the Easter season, when the first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles. The second reading is a selection from one of the non-gospel books of the second testament of the Bible (the “New Testament”). The third reading is always chosen from one of the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. It is clear from the title “liturgy of the word” that the scriptures are an integral part of Sunday eucharist.

This emphasis on a more thorough and varied use of the scriptures is a direct result of the renewal of the liturgy called for by the Second Vatican Council: “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.” To meet this need, a new lectionary (or book of readings for worship) was published in 1970. It included assigned texts for each Sunday based on a three-year cycle of readings. And, as noted above, each Sunday included three readings as well as a responsorial psalm.

This was a major change. Previously, only one set of Sunday readings was used year after year. Two readings and a psalm verse were appointed for each Sunday. And one of those readings, the gospel, was almost always from the Gospel of Matthew. The gospel readings in the 1970 lectionary include selections from all four evangelists: Matthew in what is called Year A, Mark in Year B and Luke in Year C. We hear the Gospel of John during the major liturgical seasons as well as during Year B (the year of Mark), perhaps because Mark’s gospel is the shortest of the four and wouldn’t otherwise fill out the whole year.

The gospels were assigned first. The first reading was chosen for its connection to the day’s gospel. The psalm that follows the first reading is related to it. The psalm is the assembly’s response to the word that has just been proclaimed. The second reading is not necessarily related to the other readings. Selections from the chosen book are simply read somewhat in order.

As people baptized to live not by bread alone but by the word of God as well, the liturgy of the word should not be the only time we hear the readings. One way to live with the lectionary is to do an attentive reading of the scriptures before the liturgy each Sunday—a fruitful and enriching way of entering more deeply into the prayer. Another approach is to hear the word proclaimed in the assembly first, and then spend the following week rereading and meditating on it. Whichever method you choose, several helpful resources have been published to aid you.

Copyright © 1997 Archdiocese of Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1900 North Hermitage Avenue, Chicago IL 60622-1101; 1-800-933-1800. Text by Kathy Luty. Art by Luba Lukova.