Sunday, 10 January 2016

Today's (un)Readings

Today was spectacular, in terms of the readings at Mass. I pass lightly over our local rendition, which was almost incomprehensible due to the ineptitude of the reader (inter alia, we got: 'He sacrificed himself for us in order to set him free from all wickedness' and 'it was for no reason except our own compassion that he saved us'...)

No, what I am referring to is the fact that all three readings in the new lectionary had holes in the middle of them.

So in this post, I will look at what was excised.

The first reading, from Isaiah, omitted:
A voice commands: "Cry!" and I answered: "What shall I cry?" - "All flesh is grass and its beauty like the wild flower's. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on them. (The grass is without doubt the people.) The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of God remains for ever."
The second reading, from St Paul's Letter to Titus omitted:
Now this is what you are to say, whether you are giving instruction or correcting errors; you can do so with full authority, and no one is to question it. Remind them that it is their duty to be obedient to the officials and representatives of the government; to be ready to do good at every opportunity; not to go slandering other people or picking quarrels, but to be courteous and always polite to all kinds of people. Remember there was a time when we too were ignorant, disobedient and misled, and enslaved by different passions and luxuries; we lived then in wickedness and ill-will, hating each other and hateful ourselves. But
The Gospel, from St Luke, omitted:
'His winnowing-fan is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out. ' As well as this, there were many other things he said to exhort the people and to announce the Good News to them.
But Herod the tetrarch, whom he criticised for his relations with his brother's wife Herodias and for all the other crimes Herod had committed, added a further crime to all the rest, by shutting John up in prison.
Is it me, or is there a theme here? Could it be that anything that has any suggestion of judgment has been excised? 

'All flesh is grass' is a wonderful, poignant note in the middle of Isaiah's great proclamation. One would have to have a tin ear to cut that (not to mention other deficiencies).

Oddly, I am particularly irritated by the omission of 'But,' which is the first word of Titus 3:4. It was clearly omitted as it would have made no sense. But it would have made no sense, because the whole thrust of St Paul's argument depended on what had preceded it. A shameful cut! But we can't go talking about authority or wickedness...

Cutting the winnowing-fan and fire that will never go out is entirely reprehensible, if predictable.  One might think there is a case for cutting the imprisonment of John the Baptist, as it seems a parenthesis - indeed, at the wrong place in the story, as it precedes his baptising Christ. But I choose to believe that St Luke was more inspired than the compilers of the Lectionary. I think part of the message here is that just as the powers of this World (and the Flesh and the Devil) were putting John out of the way, God's plan was unfolding with greater power still, with the early epiphany of the Blessed Trinity, and the Son being commissioned by the Father and the Holy Ghost. But we lose all that.

Moreover, they have not only cut it on this occasion, but from the two other passages in the synoptic Gospels when it should be read.

Attentive readers will remember that I examined all the Sunday Gospels for the three year cycle some time ago, noting what had been cut and seeing if there was a pattern. St John's imprisonment, for example, is omitted from all the Sunday Gospels through the three year cycle. I posted my conclusions of that analysis here. Today, the shortening (I had almost said censoring) of all three readings seems to support my hypothesis.


Archdruid Eileen said...

We had the winnowing and the fire. But then we're liberal progressives.

Though we had John the Baptist winnowing before Xmas as well.

Ben Trovato said...

You liberal progressives, you!

Patricius said...

You make a seemingly plausible case, however, I'd be very interested to know if there is any record of official criteria being given at the time the selection of texts for the lectionary was made. I certainly remember the dismay I felt at the news that an extra reading was to be added on Sundays! SOME censoring seems positively desirable!

The three year cycle strikes me as bizarre. It seems to place an emphasis upon texts over the mysteries commemorated.

Ben Trovato said...


Yes, I have dealt at some length with the official criteria a while back: see the post here:

Though to be honest, the words don't shed as much light as one might hope on why some passages were excised.