The readings that we as Catholics use at Mass are not chosen by the priest or members of our parishes. Instead, the Roman Catholic Church around the world has a standard set of scripture readings which the Church has compiled in a set of lectionaries, or books of readings. There are two different sets of “cycles,” as they are called. The first cycle is read on Sundays and is repeated every three years. A different set of readings is read on weekdays and is repeated every two years. This means that after attending Sunday Mass for only three years, a Catholic will have heard large portions of the Gospels, Old Testament texts, and New Testament texts.
At the Second Vatican Council, one of the desires of the gathered bishops was to make scripture more accessible to Catholics around the world. A primary way to accomplish this was by greatly expanding the variety of readings at Mass and reworking the lectionary. In fact, it is widely recognized that the Catholic lectionary is a work of great genius, and several other Christian denominations also use the Catholic lectionary, such as some Lutherans. (There are exceptions to this, such as some books that are not considered canonical). The readings during seasons like Advent and Lent help us to open our hearts more widely to the spirit of the season that the liturgy is trying to convey to us.
There are some exceptions to the rule that every church has the same readings around the world. When a saint’s feast day is celebrated on a weekday, it is optional to use readings specific to that saint. Generally, priests choose to use the daily readings to maintain the coherence of the scriptural text over several days. However, it is permitted to use the optional readings at the preacher’s discretion. Another exception to the rule of universal readings will be found in Eastern Catholic Churches. This could be the topic for another article, but the Catholic Church is not a homogenous entity, but rather a unity of many Churches. We are members of the Latin Catholic Church, but there is also the Eastern branch of the Church, made up of around 23 other Catholic Churches. They are also Catholic but not part of the Latin tradition. Many of these churches would have their own lectionary cycles because they are part of a different liturgical tradition than the Latin Church. These are different than and not to be confused with Orthodox Churches.
There are few Eastern Catholic Churches in our part of the world. In fact, I am only aware of one Eastern Catholic parish in our diocese, and it may be closed by now. However, in Eastern Europe and Asia there are many Eastern Catholic Churches. If you are travelling abroad or even elsewhere in the country, you are free to attend an Eastern Catholic Divine Liturgy (Mass). The readings may be different, and the liturgical tradition will be different, but it is still the same Mass. Just make sure that you see the word “Catholic” somewhere in the name of the parish! We are blessed to be part of a Universal Church – a Church which has expanded not only across the world, but also across time for two thousand years. Our Faith is truly a gift from God, and it is a blessing to have the Mass available to us wherever we go around the world!