17 March 2023


In the second half of Lent, the ancient Authentic Form of the Roman Rite offered three Gospel readings, all from S John. All of them are long; all of them are beautifully crafted and full of the very finest teaching; and are intended primarily for the catechumens preparing for Initiation at Easter. I list them briefly with a few notes about their histories since the 1970s.

The Samaritan Woman. Theme: Living Water. S John Chapter 4. Traditional place: Friday after Lent 3. Novus Ordo place: Sunday Lent 3 in year A.

The Man Born Blind. Theme: Enlightenment. S John Chapter 9. Traditional place: Wednesday after Lent 4. Novus Ordo place: Sunday Lent 4 in year A.

Lazarus. Theme: New Life. S John Chapter 11. Traditional place: Friday after Lent 4. Novus Ordo place: Sunday Lent 5 in year A ('Passion Sunday').

The readings selected to accompany these passages in the Novus Ordo do not show much interest in the Readings associated with these Gospels in the Old Rite.

In the Novus Ordo, they may also be used with their associated readings, in Years B and C. They may also be used, together with their associated readings, on weekdays. Abbreviated selections of verses are authorised.

All three Readings have associated Proper Prefaces; each of which is a highly abbreviated version of a Preface taken from the Appendix which Charlemagne and his academics added to the 'Gregorian Sacramentary'.

Current Anglican English provision copies Rome.

In the ancient Ambrosian Rite, the Sunday Gospels are: 

Lent 2: The Samaritan Woman.

Lent 3: Abraham (John 8:31-end).

Lent 4: The Man Born Blind.

Lent 5: Lazarus.

In the Byzantine Rite, Lazarus is read on the Saturday before Palm Sunday; the Samaritan Woman and the Man Born Blind occupy Sundays in the period after Easter.

C S Lewis, a Literature Man, and E L Mascall, a Mathematician, both commented on the literary form of these pasages: almost 'modern novelistic'; 'vivid' (Mascall rendered the Man Born Blind into Cockney). Lewis observed that he had been studying literature, ancient, medieval, and modern, for yonks years and had never come across stylistic parallels. Both scholars treated with abrasive and merited contempt the reductive views of self-styled 'modern biblical experts'.

These three majestic Johannine narratives deserve respect and also deserve close attention.


Zephyrinus said...

An outstanding summation of "The Three Great Gospels", dear Fr. Hunwicke. Many thanks for this wonderful article.

Suffice to say that The Authentic Form of The Roman Rite contains no deficiences, but, au contraire, contains everything needed for proper Lenten contemplation and teaching.

Long may it continue.

Michael said...

Fr. Hunwicke, thank you for pointing me to Lewis's collection of essays, Fern-Seed and Elephants.

Robster said...

..."the Authentic Form of The Roman Rite contains no deficiences, but, au contraire, contains everything needed for proper Lenten contemplation and teaching..." But of course, many of the laity are not able to go to daily EF mass.

PM said...

Liberal theologians like to caricature Lewis as a crude, fundamentalist backwoodsman. He was nothing of the sort, of course. Not only was he an outstanding literary scholar but, thanks to the Mods syllabus, had a thorough education on classical philosophy and, though he wrote in plain language, was an acute logician.

Moritz Gruber said...

In fairness to the liturgy reformers, seconding a bit what the dear @Robster said,

it was a bit of a pity that these three beautiful Gospels, along with others, such as that of Lent II Saturday (the Prodigal Son!), Lent III Tuesday ("if thy brother sinneth", etc.), Lent IV Saturday (the Woman Caught in Adultery), Passion Friday and Saturday never were said on any day marked by compulsory attendance of the faithful and a sermon. Assuming the, generally but not without exception, good practice to model a sermon on the Gospel of the Day. Also, the immensely important verse "do ye not judge, so that ye may not be judged" is never in any such Gospel to my knowledge, except possibly among the Saint's feasts.

What is more, Passion Friday is not even said on the Friday, because both priest and people will want to celebrate our Lady's Compassion.

I include "do not judge" for the reason that an actual explanation of this commandment is an urgend pastoral necessity. Basic catechesis, which some luckily have, has successfully conveyed at least to the orthodox believers that this is a stick the liberals like to beat us with, and they are wrong. But human beings, especially human beings actually defending a worthy cause, are wont to be defiant; to the point that among the orthodox, it sometimes seems that the good Christian is the one who does judge. That, however, is not what our Lord meant either. It really is necessary to hear in detail on this.

Of course, a preacher can address the topics of the Prodigal Son, of the Woman Caught in Adultery and of "do not judge" in Pentecost III: a somewhat loaded Sunday, right, especially since he will want to say the one or the other word about Sacred Heart devotion, too? Some of these topics he can put into Pentecost X. - He can say something about Lazarus in Pentecost XV, obviously. But still, there are no obvious hints (at least not ones I see) when to preach on the Man Born Blind, or on the Samaritan Woman, or on Caiphas' decision to have our Lord killed (well... maybe Passion Sunday for that), or on "Father, glorify thy name" of Passion Saturday...

Nor for "If thy brother sinneth". I included that as admittedly a peace of practical moral detail, and possibly a bit of a pet peeve of mine: but these are rules that need expounding. Especially because those who know they exist and believe in their authority all to often follow a "let's give a telling-off and be done with it" in order not to offend against our Lord's commandment, leaving prudence and tact aside and, most importantly, not distinguishing whether the condition "my brother sins" actually applies. (Our Lord did not say "If thy brother acteth imperfectly".)

That is not to say the liturgy reform was thereby justified. You cannot have all things in life, and the Sunday choices of the Roman Rite are yet better. I do say that these really are things we do not have in traditional-Roman-Rite life.

Moritz Gruber said...

A different thing: With all due respect to the noble Ambrosian Rite - it really does make sense to have these Gospels in Lent, and it's a pity not to hear them -, doesn't it somewhat... er... have "a whiff", as we call it in Germany, that the Roman Rite was partially Ambrosianified when on the Throne of St. Peter sat a former Archbishop of Milan?