Leaving out John

Q:I must confess first to a bias, because St. John the Evangelist is my baptismal patron saint, but I have always wondered why - in the A, B and C cycles of Scriptural readings for Sunday Mass - the rotation includes only the Gospels written by Matthew, Mark and Luke. - A reader in Milwaukee

A: Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the same readings were used every year for the Sunday Masses. The first reading was usually from one of the epistles, and the Gospel readings were most often taken from Matthew or John, less frequently from Luke and only rarely from Mark.

The bishops present at Vatican II declared that "the treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God's word," ("Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy," No. 51).

The result is the Lectionary as we have it today, with a three-year cycle of Sunday readings. Year A uses for the most part the Gospel of Matthew; in year B, the Gospel of Mark (the shortest of the Gospels) is used, along with Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John. Year C uses Luke's Gospel. In all three years, the Gospel of John is read during the Easter season.

John's Gospel stands out among the four in that it is more deeply theological and sometimes pastorally difficult, which would help to explain why it is not used in the Sunday Lectionary as often as the other three. (Several passages, for example, seem particularly polemical with regard to the Jews.)

Some Scripture scholars do feel, though, that the readings from John are underrepresented in the present version of the Lectionary used at Sunday Masses - e.g., John's accounts of the call of Philip and Nathanael and of Christ's post-Resurrection appearance to Mary Magdalene are not used at all.

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015