A lectionary is a collection of readings (also called “pericopes”) from the Bible. The early Christian church of the first century modeled their worship practices after the synagogue, which used a lectionary to determine the readings for the service. As the Epistles (letters) and Gospels were written, they began to use these during public worship in addition to the Old Testament readings.
Initially, the readings were arranged continuously, with the text for each Sunday beginning where the previous week left off. However, as the church year developed in the fourth century, the church began to assign readings to reflect the theme of the day. Festival days were set apart for the commemoration of saints and martyrs, each with their own readings.
During the Reformation, many reformers did away with the lectionary. Others, like Martin Luther, acknowledged its value and retained its use.
At Faith Lutheran Church, we use the three-year lectionary from our hymnal, the Lutheran Service Book, which is what most LC-MS churches use. An historic one-year series is also available. Each service is assigned an Old Testament reading, an Epistle reading (from one of the New Testament letters), and a Gospel reading. Year A focuses on Matthew, year B emphasizes Mark and John, and year C concentrates on Luke. An Introit is also assigned, which is primarily from Psalms, but occasionally incorporates other key verses of Scripture. While the readings correlate with the church calendar, the Epistle lesson often provides a continuous reading from a specific book. Since Acts and Revelation do not quite fit under the three categories, they are often used in place of the Old Testament or Epistle Reading. Acts is particularly used during the time of Easter as we focus on the time immediately following the resurrection of Jesus.
The use of a lectionary coordinates the worship of congregations around the world while emphasizing key Scripture passages that relate to the church calendar. However, it also excludes many passages of Scripture. The lectionary is a wonderful tool that we regularly use, but we are free to use different readings whenever it better suits our purposes for the edification of God’s people.