Monday, 6 May 2013

The Unread Gospels

It was before Easter that I started to look at the Lectionary, to see which passages are omitted from the Gospels read on Sundays over the three year cycle. It all started because I had frequently noticed that my missal showed some verses were omitted, and I wondered why that was.

I first looked at St Matthew’s Gospel, here and here, then at St Mark's, here and here, then at St Luke’s, here and here, and finally at St John’s here. (You can tell I am traditionally inclined, can’t you!)

It has been quite a long process, conducted mainly in the evenings: so it may be that there are errors in my checking (I have noticed errors in the cross-references in the Bibles I was using for checking parallel passages; it may be there were other errors that I did not notice.) So I am not claiming 100% accuracy for the analysis, but I think it sufficiently accurate that one may start to look for patterns.

In this post, I will simply note my first attempt at spotting patterns.  In a subsequent post, I will consider Bugnini’s account of how the new Lectionary was compiled.

I will be most interested in others’ comments: you now have all the information about the omitted passages that I do, and may well see things differently.  I am quite aware that I am coming at this from a particular critical angle; for that reason I am especially keen to hear others’ perceptions.

I do, however, think that there are some discernible patterns in the passages that were not selected to be read.  That is particularly clear, of course, when the same incident or passage  is de-selected from several Gospels.

I was particularly shocked at how much of Our Lord's discourse about His relationship with the Father is omitted from the reading of St John's Gospel.

Anyway, here is my first attempt at discerning some patterns.

1 Bad news stories: eg The Massacre of the Innocents; The prince of this world is on his way;  They will expel you from the synagogues;

2 Many Miracles: eg the  Gadarene swine; Healing  the lame, the blind, the deaf, the crippled and many besides, and the feeding of the four thousand; Cures at Gennesaret; The return of the Unclean Spirit.

3 Many Criticisms of the Pharisees and Jewish Leaders: Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees...; If a man swears by the temple...; Straining for the gnat...;  Whitened sepulchres...; Fathers slew the prophets...; Brood of vipers...; ... as a hen gathers chickens... By what authority? You have defeated God’s commandment to establish your own tradition: Corban, Pharisees and lawyers rebuked: filled with wickedness; unmarked tombs; unendurable burdens; prophets murdered between altar and sanctuary; will not let others enter... Yeast of the Pharisees.

4 Much of the story of St John the Baptist eg the circumstances of his birth, much of his mission, his death; his fulfilling the prophecy: the one who was to precede the Christ.

5 Many sayings of Our Lord

5.1  Negative ones (?)

If you do not forgive, you will not be forgiven; Not parading good deeds, praying in private; Fasting in secret; Do not profane sacred things; False prophets.

5.2 Difficult ones (?)

In truth I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming with his kingdom; If anyone is ashamed of me... Who rejects you, rejects me... Happy the womb that bore you... Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit;

5.3 Sayings about the Son and the Father, and the Divine Claim eg The light of the world, the Father is my witness, I am not of this world, I preach what the Father has taught me, if you were Abraham’s children, the devil is your father... you are a Samaritan, and possessed, Abraham saw my day and rejoiced, Before Abraham was, I AM.    What the Father has told me is what I speak.  Be brave: I have conquered the world.

6 Prophesies:  eg Jesus as Servant of the Lord and quotation from Isaiah; The Sign of Jonah; Prophecy of Death and Resurrection, The Son of Man to be handed over... Weeping for Jerusalem: not one stone left... Nathaniel under the tree; you will see heaven laid open; Caiaphas: it is better that one man die: a high priestly prophesy.

7 Some link passages: eg When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns.

8 Then there are some oddities: 

8.1 St Luke’s version of the Our Father is used - why, when St Matthew’s longer text is closer to the one we pray?

8.1  The Magnificat is not read as a Gospel, but as a Responsorial Psalm - why?

So my initial analysis is, firstly, that there is a pattern of avoiding negative passages (1, 3, 5.1, 5.2), and in particular, negative passages about the Jewish Leaders.  

Whilst I can understand that, and the sensitivities that might drive it, I think it betrays an odd way to read the Gospel.  Perhaps if we had had more readings about Whitened Sepulchres, Catholics, (bishops and others) would have examined their consciences a little more rigorously, a little more regularly.  Reading the Gospel as about 'them long ago' is missing rather a lot of the point...

I also wonder whether there is something about prophecy which worried the selectors? I know some critics claim that passages which prophesy (for example) the fall of Jerusalem must obviously be later than the fall of Jerusalem... I hope that is not part of the thinking here.  

I further wonder if there is an attempt to sanitise Our Lord a bit, by (let us say) de-emphasising negative/difficult bits...

I suspect that St Luke's version of the Our Father is used to shock us out of familiarity: I rather hope not, but as I say, I suspect it to be the case.

I think the whole process is very much of its time (1960s) and will say more about this in a subsequent post, with reference to Bugnini's declared modus operandi. 

I am completely baffled by the omission of St John the Baptist, and troubled by that and by the omission of so much about the Son and the Father, and the Divine Claim.  I will ponder further on that.

And as I say, I will welcome others' comments, reflections, disputations, and so on.


Patricius said...

You have certainly done a lot of work!
In forming an idea of the context of the liturgical reading of the Gospels you may be interested in the following link which concerns the order and content of the Gospel readings in some of the eastern churches.
The intention there appears to have been to get through all four Gospel texts in the course of the year - another approach which contrasts with our own pre 1969 "lectionary". In fact it would be very interesting to know upon what principles of selection that was based.
Keep up the good work!

Ben Trovato said...

Thanks, Patricius, I will read this with interest (probably when I should be doing something else!)