What to do with Wednesdays?

As you may have read elsewhere, the Sunday lectionary and propers are the central axis around which the temporal calendar revolves. The lectionary of the temporal calendar, however, is not limited to Sundays, but provides Epistles and Gospels for Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year, as well as a full mass for every single day in Lent.

Over the past few months, with the institution of a Wednesday evening Eucharist beginning in the octave of Easter, I’ve had the opportunity to become acquainted with the appointed Wednesday pericopes of Eastertide and Trinitytide as they are found in medieval German use. The vast majority of the Epistles and Gospels assigned for weekdays don’t appear in the historic Sunday lectionary, and there are more than a few instances in which neither the Gospel for a particular Wednesday nor its parallels appear in even the Lutheran Service Book three-year lectionary.

While the majority of the sources show an overwhelming consensus on the appointed readings from Advent through Trinity Sunday, even on weekdays, it becomes more complicated once Trinitytide begins. Thankfully, the Epistle is rarely a challenge, as there is almost complete unanimity in the selection of Epistles for both Wednesdays and Fridays through the majority of Trinitytide. For example, on the Wednesday of Trinity V, the appointed Epistle in 28 of the 31 sources is 1 Timothy 2:1-7. Of the remaining three sources, Bremen 1511 and Hamburg 1509 instead appoint 2 Peter 3:1-5, and Trier 1547 alone lists 1 Corinthians 6:15-20. So far, it’s all relatively neat and tidy and easy enough to sort through.

Epistles for Wednesday of Trinity V

But the appointed Gospels can be quite a different story. When sorting through the various possibilities for the Gospel on the same day, the Wednesday of Trinity V, a majority consensus simply doesn’t exist. The strongest candidate seems to be Luke 10:21-24, with 11 of 30 sources (Yes, there were 31 sources for the Epistle, but only 30 for the Gospel. Naumburg 1501 is to blame, but that’s a matter for another post), but Mark 2:13-17 seems to be a solid runner-up with seven sources. But out of the remaining twelve sources, there are still more possibilities for the Gospel—six more, to be exact—some with as many as four sources in support, some with as few as one.

Gospels for Wednesday of Trinity V

It may seem that the obvious conclusion is simply to assume that the Luke 10 reading is the most appropriate, since it has the largest number. But it’s a little more complicated than that. Some of the six missals that provide the Mark 2 reading are among the most prominent and reliable of all the sources. If you’re familiar with textual criticism of the Greek New Testament, you might consider these our version of Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and Alexandrinus. In addition to the medieval sources, one of the sources prescribing the Mark 2 reading is the 1613 Magdeburg Cathedral Book, a post-Reformation Lutheran book to which we give some extra weight, being, of course, Lutherans ourselves in the process of compiling a book for other Lutherans.

In addition to the strength of these witnesses, a consideration of liturgical context also lends credence to the Mark 2 reading. The collects and intervenient chants of each Sunday are repeated on ferias throughout the week, including Wednesdays and Fridays. These Wednesday readings are thus tied not only chronologically but also thematically to the preceding Sunday. When we look at the text of the Mark 2 reading, we see that it fits the liturgical context perfectly. The Gospel of the Sunday preceding is the calling of St. Peter from his fishing boat in Luke 5, and Mark 2:13-17 recounts the calling of St. Matthew from his tax booth.

This sort of thematic unity is quite common within the Sunday and Wednesday Gospels within Trinitytide. The feeding of the four thousand on Trinity VII is followed on Wednesday by Our Lord’s chastisement of the disciples in Matthew 16:1-12, in which He reminds them of the feeding of the four thousand. The parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-9) on Trinity IX is followed on Wednesday by the next six verses, Luke 16:10-15. Our Lord’s tears over Jerusalem in Trinity X are followed by His prophecy of its destruction in Luke 21, the deaf and mute man of Trinity XII is followed by two blind men and a demon-oppressed mute man on Wednesday, and Trinity XX’s wedding banquet is followed by Luke 14’s “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. At least a dozen of the Wednesdays in Trinitytide have this sort of strong correlation with the Gospel of the preceding Sunday. Brighter minds than mine will, I’m sure, note many more.

The question of selecting readings, then, is not always a matter of simple democratic majority. It isn’t even quite as easy as a weighted majority. Each reading with any substantial attestation has to be weighed and considered from a variety of perspectives, and also with an eye to other places it may appear. If, for example, two historic texts have similar numbers of strong witnesses and both carry similar thematic weight, but one already appears elsewhere in the lectionary, then the unique reading may well be given preference.

Perhaps a good test case for several of these principles is the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Trinity, recently celebrated by a number of those who follow the historic lectionary. While the medieval consensus for Trinity 25 overwhelmingly prescribes John 6:5-14, when we take into account the witness of the Lutheran Magdeburg Cathedral Book, as well as subsequent Lutheran tradition, together with the fact that this portion of John 6 is already read on Laetare, we find ourselves favoring Matthew 24:15-28 rather than John 6:5-14 as the Gospel for the day.

As you can see, we have a long road ahead of us. Happily, some weekday readings have a much greater consensus than the above examples. Unhappily, some weekday readings have a still more scattered array of possibilities that will take careful thought and consideration. I do hope that this gives you some sense of what exactly this process will be like—careful and thorough, based on medieval consensus, tempered by Lutheran tradition, and seeking to present “all the counsel of God.”

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