Propers and Sundays after Pentecost in the Revised Common Lectionary

Many churches which follow the Revised Common Lectionary call the Sundays between Pentecost and the start of Advent by number:   
  • The Sunday immediately after Pentecost is often called Trinity Sunday.  
  • The next one is called the "2nd Sunday after Pentecost", 
  • One week later is the "3rd Sunday after Pentecost", etc.

This is a simple approach to a season when the church doesn't have any major feasts.

Unfortunately it's  not the way that the Revised Common Lectionary RCL) works.  Instead of moving forward from Pentecost, the RCL words backward from Advent.
  • The RCS readings / collects and lessons for the last Sunday before Advent (known by some churches as the Reign of Christ) are always called Proper 29.
  • The RCL readings / collects and lessons for the week before that are called Proper 28.
  • The RCL readings / collects and lessons for the week before that are called Proper 27.
  • The RCL readings / collects and lessons for the week before that are called Proper 26.
  • etc ... right down to ....
  • ...
  • The RCL readings / collects and lessons for earliest possible week after Pentecost are Proper 1

Easter happens at a different time each year, so there are different number of weeks between Easter and Advent each year.  Because the last week always has Proper 29, this means that the earliest Propers (ie Proper 1, 2, 3 and 4) are only used in some years:  in other years, they are not used and ministers, lectors and music-ministers need to make sure that they start at the correct set of Propers each year.

So how does a church-musician in a RCL-following church know which set of Propers (ie readings and prayers) to use when choosing music?   The practical answer is to look up a table which sets out the calendar for the current year - for example, this one provided by the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

Want to know more?   This blog-post explains more about Propers, from a Church of England / American-Anglican perspective.

Photo adapted from PxFuel

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