5 December 2013

Whatever happened to Genesis? (1)

A few years before he sent S Augustine and his little group of monks to bring the Gospel to the Angle and Saxon peoples of the old province of Britannia, S Gregory the Great appears to have reorganised the liturgies of the three Sundays before Lent: Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima. At this time of both natural and human disasters, the Pontiff arranged pilgrimages of supplication to the three stational churches of the three patron saints of Rome: SS Peter, Paul, and Lawrence, placed as they were like fortresses outside the walls of the beleaguered city. At the same time he explained, in a homily which still survives, the thinking behind the selection of readings which used to be read at the Divine Office during the 'Gesima' season - a selection which survived until the aftermath of Vatican II*. S Gregory is concerned with the Five Periods of Salvation History which begin with the Story of Eden in Genesis. And so it is Genesis which the Latin Church has devoutly read from Septuagesima onwards; those great pre-Paschal narratives of Fall and Sin and Floods, which resonate typologically with the Paschal Obedience of the New Adam and our Redemption through the Flood of the Baptismal font..

So, right up to the eve of the liturgical disruptions of the twentieth century, those who read the Breviary read Genesis. They started on Septuagesima each year, and by the time they reached Ash Wednesday they had read chapters 1-14. On the Sundays of Lent, they read Genesis chapters 27 and 37. Thereby, they read annually the basic narratives of the Judaeo-Christian dispensation. I cannot discover that the Liturgia Horarum provides this same basic annual diet. But ... Salvation may be at hand ... Genesis appears in the post-Conciliar Weekday Eucharistic Lectionary. The good news is that, in weeks five and six of the year, Genesis chapters 1-11 are read.

The bad news is that  they are only read in year I of the two-year cycle. The other bad news is these eleven chapters are at risk of being cut off by the beginning of the Lenten cycle of readings. So, this last year, we didn't get much beyond chapter 1 before Ash Wednesday supervened. In 2015 we shall do better; we shall make it into chapter 7. Not until 2017, in four years time, shall we get the entire eleven chapters. I calculate that between 2000 and 2024, twenty five years, only in eight years are those chapters read fairly fully.

When Easter is safely out of the way, three lectionary weeks get us from chapter 12 to the end of Genesis. But only in Year I.

I intend to explore the question of why this matters so much.

*Readers who wish to remind themselves about the actions and motives of Pope S Gregory the Great with regard to the 'Gesima' Sundays and the reading in these three weeks of Genesis, fully explained as it was in his own Homilies, may find old articles of mine, accessible with the help of the search machine attached to this blog, to be of some help.

1 comment:

Jesse said...

I re-read all your Gesima posts (and many more besides) during your hiatus, Father. I'm looking forward to what more you have to tell us. Meanwhile, your reflection reminded me of something familiar. I'm sure your readers don't need to be told the source:

Sed factum est nescio quo pacto hominum negligentia, ut paulatim a sanctissimis illis veterum patrum institutis discederetur. Nam primum libri sacrae scripturae, qui statis anni temporibus erant perlegendi, vix dum incoepti a precantibus praetermittuntur. Ut exemplo esse possunt liber Genesis, qui incipitur in Septuagesima, et liber Isaiae, qui in Adventu, quorum vix singula capitula perlegimus, ac eodem modo caetera veteris testamenti volumina degustamus magis, quam legimus, nec secus accidit in evangelia, et reliquam scripturam novi testamenti, quorum in loco successerunt alia, nec utilitate cum his, nec gravitate comparanda, quae quotidie agitatione linguae magisquam intentione mentis inculcantur.