Both Hebrew and Christian lectionaries developed over the centuries. Typically, a lectionary will go through the scriptures in a logical pattern, and also include selections which were chosen by the religious community for their appropriateness to particular occasions.
The use of pre-assigned, scheduled readings from the scriptures can be traced back to the early church. Not all of the Christian Church used the same lectionary, and throughout history, many varying lectionaries have been used in different parts of the Christian world. Until the Second Vatican Council, most Western Christians (Roman Catholics, Old Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and those Methodists who employed the lectionary of Wesley) used a lectionary that repeated on a one-year basis. This annual lectionary provided readings for Sundays and, in those Churches that celebrated the festivals of saints, feast-day readings. The Eastern Orthodox Church and many of the Oriental Churches continue to use an annual lectionary.
Lectionaries from before the invention of the [printing press] contribute to understanding the textual history of the Bible. See also List of New Testament lectionaries.
The roots and history of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) and the Roman Catholic Lectionary originated in the Roman Catholic Church, where it generally goes by the Latin name Ordo Lectionum Missae.
Since the Second Vatican Council of 1962–1965, the revised lectionary of the Roman Catholic Church has been a foundation-block upon which many contemporary lectionaries have been based, most notably the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), and its derivatives, as organized by the Consultation on Common Texts (CCT) organization located in Nashville, Tennessee. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and many traditional mainline American Protestant denominations are members. The CCT thereby represents the majority of American Christians.
Most of the current lectionaries used by western Christian denominations organize the scripture passages to be read in worship services for each week of the year. The listing for a given week includes:
The Lectionary (both Roman and RCL versions) is organized into a three-year cycle of readings. The reading cycle is denoted by letter as A, B, or C. The year A cycle begins at the Advent and Christmas near the end of those years whose number is evenly divisible by 3, e.g., 2001, 2004, 2007. Year B follows year A, and year C follows year B.
There is also a 2 year cycle for the weekday readings (year 1 and year 2).
For churches that hold weekday services, the Lectionary provides shorter readings:
These readings are generally much shorter than the weekend readings. The pericopes for the first reading along with the psalms are arranged in a 2-year cycle. The Gospels are arranged so that all four are read every year.
In some churches, the Lectionary is carried in the entrance procession by a lector. In the Roman Catholic Church, it is prohibited to process with the Lectionary, but a Gospel Book may be carried by a deacon or instituted lector. When a Gospel Book is used, the first three readings are read from the Lectionary, while the Gospel Book is used for the final reading.
The Lectionary is not to be confused with a missal, gradual or sacramentary. While the Lectionary contains scripture readings, the missal or sacramentary contains the appropriate prayers for the service, and the gradual contains chants for use on any particular day. In particular, the gradual contains a responsory which may be used in place of the responsorial psalm.
The annual cycle of the Gospels is composed of four series:
The interruption of the reading of the Gospel of Matthew after the Elevation of the Holy Cross is known as the "Lukan Jump" The jump occurs only in the Gospel readings, there is no corresponding jump in the Epistle. From this point on the Epistle and Gospel readings do not exactly correspond, the Epistles continuing to be determined according to the moveable Paschal cycle and the Gospels being influenced by the fixed cycle.
The Lukan Jump is related to the chronological proximity of the Elevation of the Cross to the Conception of the Forerunner (St. John the Baptist), celebrated on September 23rd. In late Antiquity, this feast marked the beginning of the ecclesiastical New Year. Thus, beginning the reading of the Lukan Gospel toward the middle of September can be understood. The reasoning is theological, and is based on a vision of Salvation History: the Conception of the Forerunner constitutes the first step of the New Economy, as mentioned in the stikhera of the matins of this feast. The Evangelist Luke is the only one to mention this Conception ().
In Russia, the use of the Lukan Jump vanished; however in recent decades, the Russian Church has begun the process of returning to the use of the Lukan Jump.
In the Syriac Orthodox Church, the lectionary begins with the liturgical calendar year on Qudosh `Idto (the Sanctification of the Church), which falls on the eighth Sunday before Christmas. Both the Old and the New Testament books are read except the books of Revelation, Song of Solomon, and I and II Maccabees. Scripture readings are assigned for Sundays and feast days, for each day of Lent and Holy Week, for raising people to various offices of the Church, for the blessing of Holy Oil and various services such as baptisms and funerals.
Generally, three Old Testament lections, a selection from the prophets, and three readings from the New Testament are prescribed for each Sunday and Feast day. The New Testament readings include a reading from Acts, another from the Catholic Epistles or the Pauline Epistles, and a third reading from one of the Gospels. During Christmas and Easter a fourth lesson is added for the evening service. The readings reach a climax with the approach of the week of the Crucifixion. Through Lent lessons are recited twice a day except Saturdays. During the Passion Week readings are assigned for each of the major canonical hours.
As per theory expressed in The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran: A Contribution to the Decoding of the Language of the Koran English Edition of 2007 (Die syro-aramäische Lesart des Koran: Ein Beitrag zur Entschlüsselung der Koransprache, 2000), a book by German philologist and professor of ancient Semitic and Arabic languages Christoph Luxenberg which takes a philological and text-critical approach to the study of the Qur'an and is considered a major, but controversial work in the field of Qur'anic philology, the word Qur'an itself is derived from 'qeryana', a Syriac term from the Christian liturgy that means ‘lectionary’ a book of liturgical readings. The book being a Syro-Aramaic lectionary, with hymns and Biblical extracts, created for use in Christian services. This lectionary was translated into Arabic as a missionary effort. It was not meant to start a new religion, but to spread an older one.