The development of the Sunday cycle is to be traced in the Epistle and Gospel books from the seventh to the eleventh centuries, in the “Gelasian” manuscripts from the end of the seventh century, and in the varying combinations of the latter with the “Gregorian” tradition in the “Mixed” Sacramentaries after the eighth century.
This evolution began by providing undesignated masses and lections in blocks, for use at need and discretion. Thus the “Gelasian” Sacramentary, with no proper masses for any Sundays after Epiphany or Whitsunday, supplied eight after Easter, and sixteen for unspecified Sundays. In the earliest known lectionaries of the seventh century, the Gospel list [The Rheims Capitulary: Frere, op. cit., II. 2 ff.; Klauser, Das römische Capitulare Evangeliorum [Bib. 93], 13 ff.] gives ten Sundays following Epiphany – too many to be a survival from the sixth century, before Pre-Lent was instituted – obviously with the intent that the overplus should be employed where required; while the Epistle list, [The Würzburg Epistles, in Revue Bénédictine XXVII. 41–74, and D.A.L. VIII. 2285 ff.] with four lections in sequence from Rom. 12–13 after Epiphany, [These seemingly were at first for days within the Octave, as the Würzburg list gives them without title, while later lectionaries appropriate them to the Sundays: cf. Frere, op. cit., III. 29 §3.] similarly furnishes ten Sundays after Easter, with lections chosen from the Catholic Epistles, and has no Sundays at all after Whitsunday, but instead offers no less than forty-two selections of “unappropriated” Epistles arranged in regular scriptural order. [Frere, op. cit., III. 33 ff.]
When in the ninth century this ad libitum material began to be assigned to the Sundays of the year, the “Gregorian” tradition in both sacramentaries and lectionaries followed the old Roman use as found in the “Leonine,” and did not treat the Sundays in a separate section of movable feasts, but, true to its fundamental and original character as a festal cycle, interwove them as best it could with the Calendar of immovable commemorations – precisely as we still do with the feasts and Sundays from Christmas to Epiphany. The whole latter portion of the season after Whitsunday was tied to outstanding festivals, with one Sunday before and six after “The Apostles” (SS. Peter and Paul, on June 29), five after St. Lawrence (August 10), and six after St. Cyprian (September 14). Thus the variation of Sundays added because of an early Easter did not come at the end of the series, as at present, but at the beginning, between the Octave of Whitsunday and June 29, and avoided displacing the services of half the year with the same wide swings as Easter.
The archetype of the “Gelasian” books, [Eisenhofer I. 64.] on the other hand, on reaching France toward the end of the seventh century, had there undergone a rearrangement which segregated its components roughly into three sections of the Temporale or movable feasts, the Sanctorale or fixed days, and the masses for special occasions. When the Sundays after Whitsunday were added to these books, they were divorced from the Saints’ Days which had dated them, and naturally were numbered in an unbroken sequence. This “Gelasian” numbering eventually prevailed over the “Gregorian” arrangement in the “Mixed” Sacramentaries; and the whole “Gelasian” classification, adopted in the Franciscan Missal, was accepted at Rome early in the fourteenth century, and so became standard in the Missal of Pius V in 1570.
The older material was utilized for this new sequence by adding Trinity I–III before the “Ember” Sunday, Trinity IV, [The Whitsuntide Ember Days were late in acquiring a definite relation to the Church Year, having originally been celebrated the first week in June, and North Europe being very reluctant to admit them to the Octave of Whitsunday, and hence interposing the new Sundays before the “Ember” Sunday.] intercalating the autumnal “Ember” Sunday at Trinity XVIII, and interposing Trinity XX and XXI. In the Gospel list, the old Epiphany IX was used for Trinity XX; Trinity II was new; the others were appropriated from former ferial use. In the Epistles, Easter VII–IX were used for Trinity I–III, and Easter X for Trinity V; and Trinity VI–XVII and XIX–XXIV were taken from the first part of the former “unappropriated” list of Epistles – giving something approaching a system of reading in course.
Such was the evolution which produced our present order of liturgical worship through the Sundays of the year, and the assignment of those salient passages of Scripture read at the Eucharist which we now regard as basic to all other lectionaries. There is no plan of the whole; and the attribution of the liturgical lectionary to St. Jerome was a myth of the ninth century. [Frere, op. cit., III. 73 ff.] The fact is that the Celebrant, the Epistoler, and the Gospeller were three different functionaries, using three separate books: and the Sacramentary, the Epistle-Lectionary, and the Gospel-Capitulary pursued three independent and not even simultaneous lines of development. Hence apart from the great days and seasons, there is no connection between the Epistle and the Gospel, save such as might exist between any two portions of Scripture; and none between either and the Collect of the day.
- DAL = Cabrol, F.: Dictionnaire d’archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie. Paris: Letouzey, 1903—.
- Eisenhofer = Eisenhofer, L.: Handbuch der katholischen Liturgik. 2 vols. Freiburg: Herder, 1932–3.
- + Frere, Studies in Early Roman Liturgy.