Hey there! Prayerful Reflections starts December 1st. Make sure to download a copy for your Kindle, print it, or continue to read along on the blog.
I know that people from many faith backgrounds read Prayerful Reflections, and some of you might not be familiar with liturgical calendars and lectionaries. Those terms might sound fancy or unfamiliar, but don't worry! I appreciate your patience as I explain a bit about these traditions. If you're interested in learning more about how Christians worldwide worship, I hope this quick tutorial will be helpful.
What is a Liturgical Calendar?
The liturgical calendar is the cycle of seasons in the global Church. The liturgical calendar follows the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Some branches of Christianity follow a liturgical calendar that observes more specific events and traditions than others. But here are key seasons that Christians in many Catholic and Protestant churches celebrate each year: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Ordinary Time.
Colors are also associated with each season in the liturgical calendar. Advent and Lent are associated with purple, symbolizing penance, sacrifice, and preparation. Christmas and Easter are associated with white and gold, suggesting purity, light, glory, and joy. Epiphany and Ordinary Time are green, symbolizing life, hope, and anticipation. Pentecost and Saint's days are associated with red, indicating God’s love, blood, fire, and celebrations of martyrs.
The liturgical year begins with Advent, a time of hopeful anticipation for the birth of Christ. 2023 Advent will fall on December 3, 10, 17, and 24, which is also Christmas Eve. The lectionary during Advent emphasizes passages that speak to the promise of a Messiah, God's faithfulness, the birth of Jesus, and the anticipation of his second coming. Currently, the lectionary is focused on the Gospel of Mark.
Christmas is more than one day!
In American culture, Christmas seems to stop on December 26th, but in the Church calendar, we celebrate Christmas for 12 days (just like the song "12 Days of Christmas"). As you can see on the chart below, churches celebrate Christmas with worship services at various times. The chart below includes the dates of Christmas in 2023 and the lectionary for each worship service. Christmas is concluded the day before Epiphany (or Three Kings Day).
Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost & Ordinary Time
To conclude a summary of the liturgical year, the season of Epiphany lasts six weeks, until Ash Wednesday, which starts the observation of Lent. Lent is observed over six Sundays, Easter is celebrated for seven Sundays, and then Christians celebrate the day of Pentecost and Trinity Sunday before heading into Ordinary time.
Read Prayerful Reflections during Advent & Christmas
In the Prayerful Reflections: Advent & Christmas Devotional for 2023, authors reflect on the daily lectionary from December 1st through January 5. We start observing Advent on Friday, December 1st, as a way to mark the "Advent Calendar" cultural practice of counting down to Christmas from Dec 1-24. We then celebrate Christmas for 12 days until Epiphany (December 25-January 5). In 2024, our Lent Devotional will go from Ash Wednesday on February 14th to Easter Sunday March 31st.
How does Prayerful Reflections select scripture?
In the Prayerful Reflections devotional, we use the Revised Common Lectionary as the guide for which scriptures to read each day. This is sourced from the digital Revised Common Lectionary, a service of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library. The authors of Prayerful Reflections then choose one of the RCL scriptures to meditate on using the practice of lectio divina (Read, Reflect, Respond, Rest).
So you may be asking:
What is the Revised Common Lectionary?
Did you know that the practice of using scheduled readings from the Holy Scripture dates back to before the formation of the early church? It actually developed from the practices of the second temple period, which was happening around the time of Jesus. In fact, the Jewish community already had a schedule of readings that covered the first five books of the Old Testament, as well as readings from the prophetic books and historical narratives. Since most early Christians had a Jewish background, they continued to read Old Testament scripture on the Sabbath, along with writings from the evangelists and apostles as they became available. Pretty cool, huh?
What books are covered in the Christian lectionaries?
For many centuries, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church had lectionaries with a one-year cycle highlighting key scriptures from the Gospels, coupled with a passage from the Old Testament or Epistles. Today, most Eastern churches still use a one-year lectionary, but most Western churches use either the Catholic or Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) versions, which are organized into three-year cycles of readings. The years are designated A, B, or C. Each yearly cycle begins on the first Sunday of Advent.
Year A: Gospel of Matthew (Advent 2022 through 2023)
Year B: Gospel of Mark (Advent 2023 through 2024)
Year C: Gospel of Luke (Advent 2024 through 2025)
The Gospel of John is read throughout Easter and is used for other liturgical seasons, including Advent, Christmas, and Lent, where appropriate. The Catholic and RCL lectionaries differ slightly, primarily on Catholic feast days not ordinarily celebrated in Protestant denominations.
Who created the Revised Common Lectionary?
In 1992, the Consultation of Common Texts created the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), which was based on the Common Lectionary of 1983 and the Ordo Lectionem Missae of 1969. The latter was a significant revision of the Roman Lectionary after Vatican II. The members of the Consultation of Common Texts consisted of various denominations, such as Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Reformed, UCC, Unitarian Universalist, and Disciples of Christ.
What's included in the Revised Common Lectionary?
The RCL designates four scriptures for Sunday worship, including an Old Testament or First Reading, a psalm (often sung), an epistle, and a Gospel message. Depending on the church, worshippers may read through all four passages, while others may only choose one or two. Furthermore, the RCL provides daily readings that consist of three passages: a Psalm, an Old Testament passage, and a New Testament passage.
Many Churches don't use a lectionary, so what are its benefits?
Each denomination puts a different emphasis on the lectionary, with some sticking to the prescribed scriptures every week, some never using it, and instead focusing on areas they find relevant to their specific denomination. And some churches choose to use the lectionary during Advent through Pentecost, but may choose other relevant topics to study or discuss during Ordinary time.
The advantage of a common lectionary is its invitation to read Scripture in community. In the lectionary, you're reading the same Scripture with other Christians all over the world, being formed in the likeness of Jesus alongside each of them. The Lectionary also reminds us that the many books of scripture come together to tell a bigger story of the relationship between God and creation, and God's continued faithfulness. Another benefit identified in A Beginner's Guide to the Lectionary is that "submitting to the lectionary in corporate worship can help wean us from the individualism in which we’re surrounded in our culture. We’re not picking what we want to hear from the Bible, but submitting to what the Church has decided to hear from God this week."
Whether you were familiar with Liturgical Calendars and Lectionary Readings before this blog post, or this is something completely new to you, you are welcome in this space! Prayerful Reflections are written by a diverse group of women theologians for the larger Christian community. There are so many talented female clergy, but they don't often have the same platform as male clergy. If you also believe it is important to amplify the voices of women clergy, please share the devotional with others.
Download Prayerful Reflections for free!
Starting December 1st you can read our daily reflections for Advent & Christmas. If you would like to print out Prayerful Reflections: Advent & Christmas devotional, you can download a pdf here: https://www.spiritualdirectionwithjulia.com/prayerful-reflections
The following websites were helpful for learning about the Lectionary and Liturgical Calendar