Advent I: An Example of the Editing Process

Last October the editors of The Lutheran Missal began work on the lections for the Temporal Calendar. With the data from nearly seventy sources—ancient, late-medieval, and Lutheran—at our fingertips, we were finally ready to make informed choices about our own missal. For those who are interested in our editing process, the first week of Advent serves as an excellent example.

Advent I: Gospel
The screen above presents our editors with the results of all the data we have collected as it pertains to the Gospel reading for Ad Te Levavi. Of the sixty-eight sources that weigh in here (bottom left of above image), all but three prescribe Matthew 21. These three, Sion c. 1420, Liber Usualis 1961, and SBH 1958 can be safely ignored as outliers. The real question then concerns the ending point of the reading from Matthew 21. Fifty-six sources end partway through verse 9 with, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!” Only a few continue to the end of the verse: “Hosanna in the highest!” But these few are all Lutheran sources, as shown at the bottom of the map below:

Since we are creating a Lutheran missal, the editors choose to follow the Lutheran sources and include all of verse 9. Notwithstanding the additional four words added by the Lutherans, this pericope from Matthew 21 has been read by the Church on Advent I for over twelve-hundred years.

Advent 1: Epistle
The attestation for the Epistle is even more straightforward, with every source giving Romans 13. But once again, the Lutherans extend the ancient pericope to the end of the verse, finishing with the words, “and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” The Lutherans of old, it would seem, had no problem ending with the Law. Neither do the editors of The Lutheran Missal.

Advent 1: Prophecy (Old Testament)
Historically speaking, only a few occasions in the Temporal Calendar have more than two readings. Where additional lections are present (usually from the Old Testament), they are called the Prophecy. For example, each mass on Christmas Day has one Prophecy, Ember Saturdays have five, and the Easter Vigil has up to twelve.

Though it was not always this way, Lutherans today generally expect to hear three readings on a Sunday morning. This is a very recent tradition, but certainly not one that is contrary to the Gospel or offensive to liturgical propriety. The Lutheran Missal will provide a Prophecy for every Sunday of the Temporal Calendar and for those feasts of the saints that may supplant a Sunday.

Only three recent hymnals among our sources give a Prophecy: TLH 1941, SBH 1958, and LSB 2006. Though none have the same reading, all are from Jeremiah.

LSB’s selection, from Jeremiah 23, is to be preferred. It was not originally read as a Prophecy on Advent I. However, the pericope does appear as an “Epistle” (the reading preceding the Gospel) in over sixty sources at the end of the Church Year—paired with the Feeding of the Five Thousand from John 6. When the Lutheran Reformers revised the end of the Church Year, replacing Trinity 25 (Last Sunday) with Trinity 25, 26, and 27 (Last Sunday), the John 6 reading (also read on Lent 4) was eclipsed by the Parable of the Ten Virgins, and Jeremiah 23 disappeared from the lectionary. The editors of LSB did well to choose this lection, historically attached to the End/Beginning of the Church Year, as the Prophecy for Advent I.

Advent 1, Wednesday: Gospel
Matthew 3:1–6 is attested as the Wednesday Gospel by nearly 50 sources, with Sarum being the only exception. (This is, perhaps, an example of why Lutherans should not blindly follow the Sarum use. It may be a fine tradition, but it is not ours.)

Advent 1, Wednesday: Epistle
Every source gives James 5, beginning at verse 7. There was, however, some minor confusion about the ending point. The editors of TLM easily agreed to follow the majority consensus, which included two ancient sources (Murbach and Alcuin) and the Lutheran Magdeburg 1613.

Advent 1, Friday: Gospel and Epistle
Fifty sources provide a Gospel for Friday (all in agreement except Sarum, once again), but only twenty-eight give an Epistle. (This is typical for the Friday Epistle. About half of the sources simply reread Sunday’s Epistle.)

For the first time, we are presented with two distinct traditions: the southern majority for Titus 2 (17 sources), and the northeast corner for Zechariah 9 (5 sources).

As editors we are not simply in the business of “counting noses.” We must consider, among other things, the sources themselves and the content and pairing of the texts. The northeast dioceses are clearly a minority in this case, but they do carry extra weight for us Lutherans, as they are the birthplace of the Reformation. At least one member of the editors has a particularly strong attachment to these sources.

However, it was the content of the Epistles that swayed our decision. Zechariah 9, the minority tradition, is quoted in Sunday’s Gospel: “Behold, your king comes to you…” Certainly, it would be appropriate to read the original prophecy later in the week. But the majority tradition, Titus 2:1–10, pairs beautifully with Friday’s Gospel.

In Luke 3 the people come to John the Baptist, asking, “What shall we do?” John’s answers to the people, tax collectors, and soldiers read like a Table of Duties. Likewise, in Titus 2, St. Paul gives direction to older men, older women, young women, young men, and bondservants. Yes, we could revisit Sunday’s theme of Jesus, the lowly king, riding into Jerusalem upon a humble donkey. But it seemed better to the editors to allow Friday of Ad Te Levavi to stand on its own with a particular focus within the season of Advent: “Bear fruits worthy of repentance, [such as…]”

The decisions surrounding the lections for Advent I provide something of a window into the thinking of the editors. If there is sufficient interest, a less verbose summary of our work on the Temporal Lectionary could be compiled from our minutes and made publicly available. Please feel free to comment or ask questions here, on Facebook, or via email.

2 thoughts on “Advent I: An Example of the Editing Process

  1. I would pay extra for a book of the minutes of the meetings. As historical record, it would be invaluable to future generations. Please do so!


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