Tuesday 8 September 2015

Pinpointing the Origins of the Multi-Year Lectionary: (1) Heinz Schürmann

Note: This is the first post in an occasional series, which will look at proposals and suggestions made about the lections of the Roman Missal from before the Second Vatican Council, and ultimately attempt to pinpoint the origins of the idea of a lectionary with cycles for multiple years.

It is well-known that, with regard to the reform of the lectionary, Sacrosanctum Concilium 51 stated that a "more representative portion of the holy scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years [intra praestitutum annorum spatium]". The Fathers thus did not specify exactly how this desire was to be practically implemented; like most of the other reforms, this was ultimately left in the hands of the Consilium. In the case of the lectionary, Group 11 of the Consilium1 was responsible for producing what is used today in the forma ordinaria of the Roman Rite: a lectionary with a three-year Sunday cycle, and a two-year weekday cycle.2

Where did this desire for a multi-year cycle of readings for Mass come from? After all, it was not particularly controversial or much discussed at the Council itself.3 For the vast majority of the Council Fathers, it apparently seemed obvious that there should be more scripture read at Mass, and having it over more than one year was a sensible way of achieving this. Still, ideas like this do not just come from nowhere without having been previously discussed (even if only privately) by bishops, priests and liturgical scholars.

Our quest to find out more about the origins of this idea starts a decade before the Council. In 1952, the new (at that time) liturgical journal Liturgisches Jahrbuch published an article entitled "Eine Dreijährige Perikopenordnung für Sonn- und Festtage" by Fr Heinz Schürmann - who would, incidentally, later be a member of Group 11 of the Consilium. In this article, what he says about the order of readings in the Roman Missal is that it is Nachteil, a disadvantage, and suggests his own, three-year cycle.4 Below are download links to the German-language article, and my English translation of it.

Interestingly, Schürmann's proposed readings do not particularly exhibit the lectio semi-continua we see in the post-conciliar reforms, and neither is there the approach whereby each year is organised around one of the synoptic Gospels. Instead, his approach utilises Gospel pericopes with roughly similar meaning and content for each Sunday ("die Evangelienperikopen durch solche ungefähr gleichen Sinngehaltes zu ersetzen"), so there is an attempt at thematic consistency throughout each year of the cycle. The Epistle readings are, however, thematically linked to the Gospel, much like the Old Testament reading is linked to the Gospel in the Ordinary Form lectionary.

As we shall see, a number of suggestions were made about lectionary reform (and liturgical reform generally) in the 1950s. We shall look at some of these in the next post in this series, and afterwards go a little further back in time to trace the history of this particular reform.


1 The personnel of Coetus XI were as follows (cf. A. Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975 [Liturgical Press, 1990], p. 409 fn. 12.): relator: G. Diekmann (until June 1965), C. Vagaggini (after June 1965); secretary: G. Fontaine; members: H. Schürmann, P. Jounel, P. Massi, E. Lanne, H. Kahlefeld, and J. Féder (from Nov. 1965). There were also some members added to the group, presumably in 1966 when the work really got going: A. Rose, A. Nocent, A.-M. Roguet, K. Tilmann, H. Oster, J. Gaillard, H. Marot, and L. Deiss.

2 In reality, it is a little more complicated than that (e.g. the Gospel reading on weekdays is the same in Years I and II), but this brief description will do for now!

3 For the Latin texts of the interventions of the Fathers dealing with SC 51, 24 and 35, see my resource Lectionary Reform at the Second Vatican Council (which can also be found in this blog's sidebar).

4 Interestingly, as a member of Coetus XI, Schürmann (along with Heinrich Kahlefeld) would later go further by championing the idea of a four-year Sunday cycle of readings: cf. Bugnini, Reform, p. 417.

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