I’ve just read a copy of a talk given by Fr James Siemens, a Ukranian Greek Catholic priest, to the CIEL conference at the London Oratory last November. He touches on the question of the annual cycle of readings for the traditional Roman rite. Why we have the particular set of readings in the order that we have them is a question that has often puzzled those who are interested in such things. There is a general opinion that the reason is lost in the mists of antiquity – as Fr Siemens puts it, that ‘the readings [after] Pentecost are simply a residual collection of readings determined by inscrutable past circumstance’. But he suggests that light has been thrown on the question by a recent work with the rather unpromising title: The Book of Common Prayer: Past, Present and Future.

This work is by an Anglican scholar, Rev. David Phillips. This author claims that the cycle of readings mirrors the three stages of the spiritual life: purgative, illuminative and unitive, with seven weeks for each. The idea is that from the 4th Sunday after Pentecost to the 10th Sunday, the collects, epistles and gospels principally concern the soul’s purgation. From the 11th to the 17th they set out the means for the soul’s illumination. Then from the 18th to the 24th, they speak of the soul’s union with God. According to Fr Siemens, the author makes a convincing case.

Will report back when I know more.

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