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BEGIN BIBLE STUDY WITH
THE SUNDAY READINGS

The Sunday Readings and the Lectionary

Something beautiful happens every Sunday. Around the world, in many languages, Catholics who’ve come together to celebrate the Eucharist are listening to the same Scripture readings. And, many Catholics during that week study the same Scripture readings.

The Sunday readings come from the Church’s official list of readings for liturgical use, the lectionary. (Lectionary comes from lectio, the Latin word for reading. Lay people who read and proclaim the Word of God at Mass are called lectors.) The shared Sunday readings help all Catholics, wherever they may live, experience the rhythm of the Church year and learn about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Church. (The Lectionary for Mass also includes weekday readings.)

Most Sundays, the first reading is taken from the Old Testament. (From Easter to Pentecost, it’s taken from Acts of the Apostles.) Both this reading and the psalm have been selected because they relate to the gospel reading in some way.

The gospel reading either reflects where we are in the Church year or is part of the three-year Sunday cycle of reading through the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, each in turn. During the seasons of Lent and Easter, we hear the gospel of John. On Sundays outside of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter, we read through Matthew, Mark or Luke, depending on the year.

The second reading is taken from the New Testament letters (epistles) attributed to Paul, Peter, John, and James. During Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter, this reading, and all the readings, relate to the seasonal theme. On Ordinary Sundays, though, you won’t hear any connection between this reading and the other readings. The Church is simply moving through one of these letters, selectively but in order, so Catholics can get familiar with it.


Beginning Bible Study with the Sunday Readings

With three proclaimed readings and a sung or spoken psalm, the Sunday readings offer an easy and interesting way to begin your study of Scripture and grow in your relationship with Christ as you stay in touch with the Church year.

For the gospel reading you might:

  • Focus on the primary gospel for the year (Matthew, Mark, or Luke), studying it piece by piece and reflecting on it during the weeks of Ordinary time.
  • Focus on the gospel readings we hear during the special liturgical seasons of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter.

If you want to ease your way into Bible study, you could start with studying just the gospel of the year, or just the gospel readings during one of the special liturgical seasons.

For the second reading you might:

  • Follow one of the letters read section-by-section at Mass in Ordinary time, learning about it and reflecting on it each week. For example, if you know from the lectionary that you'll hear selections from Galatians over the next four weeks, make that your Bible study for those weeks.
  • Make a study of the Acts of the Apostles during the Easter season, as it's proclaimed in the first reading on the Sundays from Easter to Pentecost.

Finally, you might choose to study and pray only the Sunday psalm, particularly if you'd like to bring Scripture more deeply into your spiritual life. Learn something about the book of Psalms and pay attention each week to how the psalm connects with the other Sunday readings.

(Since the Old Testament Mass readings are selected for their connections to the gospel, it's hard to begin Bible study with them. See Start with a Biblical Book for better places to begin with that part of the Bible.)

Choose whatever focus in the Sunday readings seems right for you. And don't forget to ask someone to join you in your study!


RESOURCES: Study the Sunday Readings

You’ll get the most out of your study and reflection if you use a simple lectionary-based Bible study resource. Why?

The books of the Bible were produced in long-ago times and places, by people who lived in different cultures and had different understandings of the world from our time and place. These books have also had a long life in the teaching and worship of the Church.

Using a lectionary study resource is like taking a tour of a new place accompanied by a guide who really knows how to explain it. You get:

  • Basic background on time, place, and language to help you make sense of what you read.
  • Key themes and teachings important for Catholics.
  • Ideas for relating the readings to your life and world.

Many resources are published for Bible study and prayer based on the Sunday readings. Here are a few.

Focus on the Gospel

Sunday by Sunday (weekly publication)

Good Ground Press

A short (four small pages), easy-to-read resource that emphasizes explaining and reflecting on the gospel reading, as well as reflecting on the Old Testament reading. Includes questions to think about as well as opening and closing prayers. You subscribe with the publisher and receive four issues a month.

An excellent beginning resource for individuals and groups. Works well with families.

Living with Christ (monthly publication)

Novalis

This resource offers all the Mass readings for a month, provides background help for the Sunday gospels, and includes reflections on teachings from the saints and Christian spiritual masters.

A nice beginning resource for starting Bible study and learning more about the Catholic faith. Works best for individuals.

At Home with the Word (annual publication)

Liturgy Training Publications

This resource comes out once a year with background, reflections, and the text of the Sunday readings. Includes good basic teaching: an introduction to the gospel of the year (Matthew, Mark, or Luke) and to the gospel of John; a simple guide to studying and praying the Bible; Scripture insights; unique prayers for each week; and connections to Catholic virtues and morality.

My favorite lectionary-based resource for getting started with Bible study. Works well with individuals or groups. Can easily be adapted by parents to work with families.

Focus on Other Sunday Readings

Since most lectionary-based resources focus on the Sunday gospels, you'll have to do a little work to find simple help for the other readings I discussed above. If you'd like to try, here are some ideas:

  • Read the introduction in your Bible for whatever reading you've chosen (the New Testament letter, the Acts of the Apostles, or Psalms).
  • Get a relevant issue of Scripture from Scratch and keep referring to this overview as you continue your study:
    • "Paul: Letters from a Traveling Theologian" by Elizabeth McNamer (Scripture from Scratch N0594)
    • "Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians" by Mary Ann Getty (Scripture from Scratch N0101)
    • "Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians" by Jerome Murphy O'Connor, O.P (Scripture from Scratch N1204)
    • "Paul's Letter to the Romans" by Raymond F. Collins (Scripture from Scratch N0902)
    • "The Letter to the Ephesians" by Ronald D. Witherup, S.S. (Scripture from Scratch N0605)
    • "The Acts of the Apostles: Luke's Dramatic Sequel" by Elizabeth McNamer (Scripture from Scratch N0497)
    • "The Wow and the Woe of the Psalms" by Daniel Durken, O.S.B. (Scripture from Scratch N0297)
    • "The Bible: Our Wellspring of Prayer" by Leonard Doohan (Scripture from Scratch N0494)

LECTIONARY STUDY


1. The easiest way to begin Bible study is to follow the Church's Sunday readings.

2. You might study the gospel for Ordinary time of the Church year, or the gospels read during the special seasons of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter.

3. You might also study one of the letters of the New Testament read during Ordinary time, or the Acts of the Apostles when it's read during the Easter season.

4. If you want to grow in your ability to prayer with Scripture, you might want to study and pray only the Sunday psalms.

5. Whatever you choose, many good, basic resources are available to help you make the most of your study.


ACTIVITY 1

Ask your parish staff (religious education, adult education or faith formation, deacon) for suggestions about resources for studying the Sunday readings.


ACTIVITY 2

Spend time each week talking about the Sunday readings with your family, using the resources here or other resources you find.

Lectionary-based Bible study is especially suited to families. You listen to the readings together at Mass, and then, with some preparation, talk about what you've heard. It's a great way

to start the week.


KEEP LEARNING

Easy: "The Lectionary and the Liturgical Year: How Catholics Read Scripture" by Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., S.T.D. (Scripture from Scratch, N0795)

The complete calendar and full text of the Lectionary of the Mass readings are available online at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops web site.