Sunday 24 March 2013

Whatever happened to the Gadarene Swine?

I know that I am almost unique in my criticism of the new Lectionary.  I have made some comments on it previously, but here I explore something else.

One of the aspects of the new Lectionary that is praised most frequently by (nearly) all and (completely) sundry is that we get all of the Gospels, and so much more of the Bible all together.

Of course we do get more scripture read at Mass, but I have long been intrigued by the 'all of the Gospels' claim, as I have noticed some gaps in the verses shown in my missal.

Having a spare hour or two, I thought that I would sit down and look at the gaps to see if a pattern emerges: is this just editing, (eg avoiding duplicating passages from across the Synoptic Gospels) or is something else going on?

Of course, it took hours to get anywhere (and but for this very helpful site, would have taken even longer.)

So I have only analysed the first half of St Matthew's Gospel so far, (and relevant parallel passages in St Mark's and St Luke's).  I have been looking at Sunday readings, as that is what the vast bulk of Catholics (who attend Mass at all) will hear.

Here are my findings so far: I list the verses of St Matthew's Gospel that are not read out in the cycle of Sunday readings; and then note whether they are covered by a passage read from one of the other synoptics, whether they are unique to St Matthew, or whether the parallel passages are also omitted from the other synoptics read on Sundays.

I have emboldened those passages that I think are cut without a parallel passage being read at another time, (or in a couple of places, where the passage from St Luke is much shorter than St Matthew's).  

I have also assumed that the longer versions of the passages are read, where there are optional shorter versions, though I realise that in practice, the reverse is normative in many parishes.

Missing from St Matthew...

2, 16-18 Massacre of the Innocents [nowhere else]

4, 24 - 25 Curing all the sick, large crowds followed him from various parts [St Luke’s account used]

5, 12b This is how they persecuted the prophets before you [nowhere else]

6, 1-23 Not parading good deeds, praying in private [nowhere else]; 

The Our Father [St Luke’s shorter version used]

If you do not forgive, you will not be forgiven [St Mark’s version of this also cut]

Fasting in secret [nowhere else]

Treasures,moths and thieves...eye as lamp of the body [St Luke’s account used]

7, 1- 22 Do not judge  [St Luke’s account used] 

Do not profane sacred things [nowhere else]

Effective prayer [St Luke’s account used]

Golden Rule [St Luke’s account used] 

The Narrow gate [St Luke’s shorter version used]

False prophets [nowhere else]

Know a tree by its fruits  [St Luke’s account used] 

7,28 He taught with authority [St Mark’s account used]

Chapter 8 omitted:


Cure of a leper [St Mark’s account used]

Centurion’s servant [St Luke’s account used] 

Peter’s mother-in-law [St Mark’s account used]

Many others [St Mark’s account used]

Foxes have holes... and leave the dead to bury their dead, [St Luke’s account used]

Calming the storm [St Mark’s account used], 

Gadarene swine [cut from all three!]

9, 1-8 Cure of a paralytic [St Mark’s account used]

9, 14 - 35 Disciples not fasting, cure of woman with issue of blood, official’s daughter raised to life. [St Mark’s account used] 

10, 9 - 25 Disciples to go out, shake the dust [St Mark’s account used]

 Persecution [St Luke’s account used] 

10, 34-36 Not peace but the sword [St Luke’s account used]

11:1  'When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns. [nowhere else]

11, 12 - 24 Kingdom of heaven stormed - corresponding passage from St Luke also cut; 

John the Elijah who was to return - corresponding passage from Matt ch 17 also cut.

Chapter 12 omitted:

Picking corn on the sabbath [St Mark’s account used] 

Cure of the man with a withered hand [St Mark’s account used] 

Pharisees plotting against him; Jesus as Servant of the Lord and quotation from Isaiah [nowhere else]

Miracles ‘by the power of Beelzebul’ [St Mark’s account used] 

A tree known by its fruit [St Luke’s account used] 

The Sign of Jonah (and the reference to Jonah in Ch 16 is also cut)

The return of the Unclean Spirit (and the corresponding passage from St Luke is also cut) 

Our Lord’s family [St Mark’s account used)

14, 1-12 Herod hears of Our Lord and thinks he is St John the Baptist; St John the Baptist beheaded (cut from all three)

14, 34 Cures at Gennesaret (also cut from St Mark)

I find this interesting, and think it important.  Firstly, because we have been told that the new Lectionary means we hear the whole Gospel (see for example the CTS booklet reviewed here), and that is not the case.

Secondly, it seems that someone, somewhere has decided that there are parts of the Gospel which should not be read out on Sundays in our Churches.  I can understand not reading out duplicate (or near duplicate) passages from the Synoptics.  But what is wrong with the Gadarene Swine?  Why is St John the Baptist's execution airbrushed out? Or the Sign of Jonah?  Or the Return of the Unclean Spirit? I am genuinely curious!  Who decided?  And on what grounds?

I will continue with this analysis, if anyone is interested; firstly completing the Gospels, and then looking at the Epistles (time and God willing).  Eventually I will endeavour to see if there is a pattern to what has been omitted: and I will be very interested in any insights others may have into this.


john-of-hayling said...

Interesting point - have pigs become unclean somehow?

Ttony said...

Please do carry on - evidence is always useful. The "why", though, is quite straightforward: a seven letter word beginning with B: Bugnini!

I don't know about "the whole Gospel being read across the year": I'd never heard that until recently and it strikes me as an obvious falsehood. But your statement "someone, somewhere has decided that there are parts of the Gospel which should not be read out on Sundays in our Churches" is answered squarely by Bugnini: a series of experts, faced with the one off chance of rewriting a Lectionary which had grown up over the preceding 1900 years, started off from the question of which readings would be worth including at Mass. The sifting process was completely deliberate.

The chapter on the reform of the Lectionary is frightening: the bugninifulness of the scheme is breathtaking in its assumption that driving out the old, and inventing something new which will allow the Catholic Church to be one Church among many, other, Protestant, Churches, is a good thing.

I don't think "The Reform of the Liturgy" makes for good Lenten reading!

Dorothy B said...

Thank you; this is well worth doing.

Ben Trovato said...


I keep thinking I should get Bugnini's book, but at over $100 second hand, I keep hesitating. Mrs T would have a fit!

Patricius said...

Thanks for a very interesting post. It would be even more interesting to know what criteria were actually applied when the new lectionary was assembled. Sacrosanctum Concilium makes some reference to a richer diet of scripture but that is about it. I say this as one who actually appreciates the ordinary weekday cycle of readings. The Sunday three-year cycle has long struck me as rather more promising in theory than in practice.

Ben Trovato said...


According to Ttony (see comment above), Bugnini's book gives an account of this. A mere $100+ on Amazon (second hand...)

Patricius said...

I can't afford it... but... good news! The Gadarene swine have been recovered - Monday of the fourth week in ordinary time!

Unknown said...

Peter S. Williamson, at

makes the point that "The Church is not failing us by selecting only some texts to read at Mass – she just never intended that our Scripture reading be confined to Mass!"

He goes on,
"As a seminary professor I have seen the consequence of seminarians who during their undergraduate philosophy studies only read the lectionary selections. Because they read or hear everything out of context, they are not familiar with the biblical books themselves or where anything can be found. In order to understand the Bible we need to read through, what is traditionally called lectio continua."

Joseph Shaw said...

Very interesting, thank you.

I have Bugnini's book, and (as often) it has more to say about how the changes were made than exactly why. They just set to work and this is what they came up with. The reasoning is likely to have something to do with his general policy of avoiding 'negative' theology, anything which could offend ecumenical relations, anything problematic from the point of view of 'modern scholarship', and anything 'unpastoral': long, difficult to understand, or challenging in any other way.

There is a very interesting discussion of the pastoral failure of the multi-year cycle in Fr Jonathan Robinson 'The Mass and Modernity'. He makes the point that in the old lectionary passages were chosen for *liturgical* reasons. It is a lectionary, after all - not a programme of lectio divina (p332-3).