A lectionary is simply a list of Bible passages for reading, study, or preaching in services of worship. As a general term, a Lectionary can include readings for weekdays, although the term is more commonly applied today to the Scripture readings for Sunday and holidays (Holy Days). Some churches, such as those in the Catholic and Lutheran tradition, have their own lectionaries, while other churches follow a common, shared lectionary. There has been a tendency in recent years to move to more uniformity among the various lectionaries.
Earlier lectionaries included a Daily Lectionary (The Daily Office) for reading in daily church services. We have adapted the Daily Lectionary Readings from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer for use as daily personal devotional readings. These are organized in a 2-year cycle, with Advent, 2016 (2017 Church Year) beginning Year 1.
Since most churches outside of the Catholic and Anglican traditions do not have services every day, most lectionaries today are organized for Sunday worship. The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) is a Lectionary for worship now used by many Protestant churches, and includes readings for Sunday services, as well as other special days, such as Christmas Eve and Day, Holy Name (New Years), Epiphany (January 6), Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, Easter Vigil, Ascension of the Lord, and Thanksgiving Day. The RCL Sunday readings are the basis for the Lectionary Commentary and Preaching Paths in The Voice.
The RCL Sunday readings are organized around the two major Seasons of the Church Year, beginning with Advent-Christmas-Epiphany, and then Lent-Easter-Pentecost. The remainder of the year between Pentecost and Advent is called Ordinary Time, from the word "ordinal," which simply means counted time (1st Sunday after Pentecost, etc.). The readings during Ordinary Time are more diverse and often follow specific biblical books in sequence rather than coordinating with specific themes.
The Sunday biblical readings are designed around a three year cycle, Year A, Year B, and Year C. In this 3-year cycle, all of the major stories and passages from most books of the Bible are included.
The Church Year begins with Advent in November/December.
There are usually four readings for each Sunday, one each from the Psalms, the Old Testament, a Gospel, and an Epistle. However, during the seven Sundays of Easter, the Old Testament Reading is replaced with a reading from Acts. Also, on some Sundays a poetic Responsorial Reading replaces the Psalm reading. Each year in the 3-year cycle, the readings focus on one of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, or Luke), with readings from the Gospel of John used throughout the year. The Gospel of Matthew is the focus of Year A, Mark of Year B, and Luke of Year C.
One weakness of traditional lectionaries has been a neglect of the Old Testament, especially in using it almost exclusively to point to New Testament passages (see Hearing Old Testament Advent Texts). The RCL has attempted to correct this problem, and allows more of the Old Testament to be heard in its own right as the word of God. Even though there is still a tendency to use Old Testament prophetic texts as prologue, the RCL has made progress in presenting the Old Testament as Scripture for the Christian church.
The Lectionary texts for Sunday readings are adapted from the Revised Common Lectionary, copyright © 1992 by the Consultation on Common Texts, Nashville: Abingdon Press. Unless otherwise attributed, Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA.