QUAERITUR: Why in the TLM are Gospels mostly from Matthew?

A question from a priest friend, for some discussion.

A question from a confrère. Why does the 1962MR have scriptural readings that are mostly from Paul’s Epistles and Matthew’s Gospel?

 

I don’t know.

I suppose is makes sense that the reading generally called the Epistle be from letter, and most of those are by St. Paul.  I also suppose more reflection was given to those letters in the Church of Rome and areas where some Mass formularies were developed.

As far as the Gospel of Matthew is concerned….

Perhaps readers can help?

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37 Responses to QUAERITUR: Why in the TLM are Gospels mostly from Matthew?

  1. xathar says:

    The early Church believed that Matthew’s was the first gospel written. Perhaps that has something to do with it…

  2. dcs says:

    I believe most of the Epistles (Second Readings) in the Novus Ordo are also taken from St. Paul. I hadn’t noticed that most of the Gospel readings in the TLM were from St. Matthew. For the current week they are as follows:

    Sunday (VIth Sunday after Pentecost) – Mark
    Monday (Feria) – Mark (if you say the Mass of the preceding Sunday)
    Tuesday (St. Bonaventure) – Matthew
    Wednesday (St. Henry) – Luke
    Thursday (Our Lady of Mount Carmel) – Luke
    Friday (St. Alexis) – Luke
    Saturday (St. Camillus de Lellis) – John

    Sorry I don’t have the time right now to do a more in-depth study.

  3. DG says:

    According to the page below, the 1962MR on Sundays and major feasts uses 373 verses from Matthew, just 30 from Mark, 188 from Luke, 256 from John. Based on verse count then alone, Matthew makes up 44%, Mark 4%, Luke 22%, and John 30%, of the gospel read at mass. Between Matthew and John then, you have almost 3/4 with Luke making up the vast majority of the last 1/4.

    As for St. Paul’s popularity as epistles — I guess the 1962MR just mirrors scripture.

    http://catholic-resources.org/Lectionary/Statistics.htm

  4. john hunwicke says:

    I suspect the one answer to Fr Zed’s friend’s question is that almost all of S Mark is included in S Matthew, and a fair bit of S Luke (what the daft old ‘Modern Biblical Critics’ of yesteryear used to call the Q material). This makes S Matthew convenient.

  5. Origen Adamantius says:

    Matthew’s gospel is the most “ecclessial”, having the commission of Peter, the sermon on the mount (ch 5-8:beatitudes, fuller version of the Our Father, etc..), the great commission, and the ecclesial discourse (ch.18); historically it use was proportionately greater in reflection and prayer. Since Augustine till the 19th century, Mark was understood to be a poor summarization of Matthew and thus was not utilized a lot since Matthew was available.

    Paul dominates the letters of the NT simply by the relative volume of his corpus; however, his letters, it is generally agreed, touch a wider range of theological and spiritual issues than the others.

  6. Germanist says:

    See Peter Seewald’s interview book with then-Cardinal Ratzinger, Chapter II – About Jesus Christ – The Path – About Gospels and Evangelists.
    Among many more detailed info there, he explains that Matthew’s was regarded to be the first gospel written and so became THE gospel for the church and the liturgy.

  7. sd says:

    Cool question!

    The numbers that DG quotes above are maybe close to proportional on the length of the gospels – except for Mark which is shorter but not THAT much shorter? That feels right but I haven’t checked.

    I would guess that the under-inclusion of Mark in the old MR reflects changing attitudes toward to Bible generally, and Mark specifically. As John and Origen point out above, you get most of the Mark material in Matthew anyway, so to the extent that you view the Gospels as being one unified document (which is a more traditional than contemporary attitude) then a lot of Mark seems less valuable.

    but to the extent that you treat the 4 gospels as unique documents (which is more of a contemporary than traditional attitude) then Mark is a lot more distinct.

    My sense is that Mark is very, very popular with modern Christians of all stripes. Its just so spare and immediate – so much like modern popular and highbrow art. The omissions of material compared to Matthew (and Luke) no doubt seemed less pleasing to the mind of pre-20th century Christians, for whom more elaborate and realistic art were generally thought to be more complete and excellent. But to 20th/21st century sensibilitites, which are much more oriented to art that leaves out as much as it contains, Mark can appear refreshingly vital. Just the essentials, with tons of mystery left to fill in the gaps.

    Anyway, just a crazy theory

  8. Jimmy Akin says:

    1) It’s traditionally regarded as the first gospel written.

    2) By an eye-witness who was one of the Twelve (unlike Mark and Luke).

    3) Is also placed first in canonical order and thus the first one most read, making it the most familiar to the greatest number.

    4) Offers a more complete account than Mark (the shortest gospel) and John (who wrote to fill in things the others left out).

    5) Offers a more systematic account than the other three (Matthew is a great organizer).

    6) Is indeed more “ecclesial” than others, such as Mark, which omits material favorable to Peter (presumably due to Peter’s modesty). In fact, it’s the only gospel to use the word “church.”

  9. Jordanes says:

    As others have suggested, probably the reason St. Matthew’s Gospel is the primary Gospel used in the traditional Roman Missal is simply because history records that it was the first one written (unprovable and improbable modern or modernist hypotheses of Markan priority notwithstanding), and thus the Church very, very early on placed it as the first book in the New Testament. Those who read the four Gospels will naturally start with St. Matthew’s. As the first one written, it held pride of place in the liturgy.

    St. Paul’s epistles dominate in the old Missal simply because most New Testament epistles were written by him. Thus, sometimes the “Epistle” reading was also referred to as the “Apostle” reading, since it almost always came from one of the writings of “the Apostle,” St. Paul.

  10. Jeff says:

    An interesting question.

    Here’s a somewhat related one:

    What is the origin of beginning all readings in the TLM with “In illo tempore” for Gospels, “Fratres” for most epistles, “Carissimi” for epistolary readings from John, and “In diebus illis” for OT, Acts, etc.?

  11. Jeff Pinyan says:

    Jeff — 15 July 2009:

    As for “fratres” and “carissimi”, I would guess that is because of the use of those greetings in the letters themselves, with the (added?) effect of addressing the assembled faithful with the term of endearment used by the author of the epistle to his original audience. In a way, it makes the faithful present at the Mass the “recipient” of the epistle’s contents.

  12. Josh Hood says:

    Jeff,

    The phrases you cite are just to make the readings begin smoothly, rather than beginning abruptly in the middle of a sentence. If you attend the Ordinary Form, this happens every Sunday with the second reading beginning “Brothers and sisters…”

    For the Pauline letters, “Fratres” is used because this is the form of address used throughout the epistles of Paul. Likewise “carissimi” for the Johannine letters. As for “In illo tempore” and “In diebus illis” I confess I do not know the exact origin of those, but they certainly became customary very early.

  13. Alan says:

    Perhaps it was known to be the best translation… in that it did not come from the Greek (a translation of a translation) but directly from the language of jesus.

    “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church.”
    Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3:1:1 (c. A.D. 180).

  14. Brian says:

    Is this the same for the Eastern Churches?

  15. Liam says:

    And, apropos sd’s remarks about the Gospel of Mark, I would be remiss if I did not link to perhaps the most indelible reference to the unique character of the Gospel of Mark this year at St Blog’s, as Amy Welborn reflected on the sudden death of here husband in early February:

    http://amywelborn.wordpress.com/2009/02/11/euthus/

  16. OPfriar says:

    Not sure the exact relevance here, but it’s worth noting that the founder of my order (St. Dominic), when he traveled about, is said to have carried with him only St. Matthew’s Gospel and the letters of St. Paul. So if that is any indication, then the primacy of those particular books has a long tradition, dating back at least to the 1200’s.

  17. Dave N. says:

    Tragic, I’d say. But an interesting question nonetheless.

  18. at the risk of sounding..obvious, Maybe it is simply because matthew is the longest gospel, thus having the most content. I know the parables are longer and more detailed, which also is more relevant to us the faithful, who the parables were intended for?

    Plus when you think about it…we relate to matthew better then the others. Matthew was a true sinner, in the sense of the word. I am not sure one would say that about luke, or Mark, and definately not the beloved apostle, John. But matthew, being a tax collector, and us actively witnessing his call, appeals to all of us intimately. Atleast, thats what I take from it.

    Perhaps Mother Church in her infinite wisdom, realized that.

  19. MikeInFL says:

    As to ‘in illo tempore’, I read somewhere that the use of the phrase ‘at that time’, is a contrast to the mythical ‘once upon a time’. ‘In illo tempore’ emphasizes that the events described did in fact occur at a particular time in human history and at a particular geographical place, seen and heard by real, living humans, and that the gospel is a narrative by an eyewitness or of an eyewitness’s report.

  20. William says:

    Speaking of Sacred Scripture and the TLM…

    Bishop Farrell of Dallas created (nearly two years ago) a small committee of priests to assist him in TLM matters. The priests are to assess “the Pastoral needs of the people as well as the capacity of our priests and parishes to celebrate the Mass in this (Extraordinary) Form.”

    One of the priests who serves on that committee (which is inactive as Summorum Pontificum is non-existent in the Dallas Diocese) has spoken of the TLM as a thing of the past, in need of reform and deficient in imparting Sacred Scripture to the Faithful. (The priest in question is, of course, not remotely interested in promoting Summorum Pontificum).

    He said that today’s Catholics are far more knowledgeable of Sacred Scripture as the result of the TLM having been banished in favor of the Novus Ordo Mass.

    Is the TLM deficient in the area of Sacred Scripture?

  21. Steve says:

    William,

    If you think that (assuming your premise is true, which I do not concede) Catholics today are “far more knowledgeable of Sacred Scripture” due to the reading cycle of the Ordinary Form, I have a sandbox in Florida to sell you!

    If Catholics are more knowledgeable now, it would be due mostly to the great apologetic work and emphasis on Sacred Scripture by Jimmy Akin and others in recent times, not an expanded lectionary.

    Another problem with this line of argument is that it implies that the main purpose of the readings at Mass is to teach the faithful, rather than to glorify God. Mass is not necessarily a teaching tool in the first place.

    In any case, saying that the TLM was scripture deficient is presumptuous at the very least. I doubt that a Mass that nurtured the faith for centuries is deficient in regards to its scripture.

  22. William says:

    Steve’s post:

    “If you think that (assuming your premise is true, which I do not concede) Catholics today are “far more knowledgeable of Sacred Scripture” due to the reading cycle of the Ordinary Form, I have a sandbox in Florida to sell you! If Catholics are more knowledgeable now, it would be due mostly to the great apologetic work and emphasis on Sacred Scripture by Jimmy Akin and others in recent times, not an expanded lectionary.”

    “My premise” is true…? I simply presented that which I had heard from a priest. He claimed that which I had reported.

    1. I doubt that he is correct as about 80 percent of Catholics in the United States are absent each Sunday from Mass. Nevertheless, he insisted that thanks to the Novus Ordo Mass, scriptural knowledge among Catholics has improved greatly since Vatican II.

    Steve again: “Another problem with this line of argument is that it implies that the main purpose of the readings at Mass is to teach the faithful, rather than to glorify God. Mass is not necessarily a teaching tool in the first place.”

    But the Mass is the greatest teacher of the Faith.

    Steve again: “In any case, saying that the TLM was scripture deficient is presumptuous at the very least. I doubt that a Mass that nurtured the faith for centuries is deficient in regards to its scripture.”

    I simply asked a question. The priest has been tapped in Dallas to serve on a select committee of priests who, in turn, determine whether the TLM will be permitted to be offered at a give Dallas parish. The committee is useless as the Dallas Diocese has deposited Summorum Pontificum into the trash can.

    But the priest in question is one of the few in Dallas who is knowledgeable in regarding the TLM. Therefore, I asked whether his claim regarding the Novus Ordo’s supposed superiority, compared to the TLM, in imparting knowledge of Sacred Scripture is valid.

  23. Kenneth says:

    William, let me get some things straight. A priest in Dallas serves on a committee that was created to oversee the implementation of Summorum Pontificum. The Diocese of Dallas has never implemented Summorum Pontificum. And the priest believes that the Traditional Latin Mass is a “thing of the past”, was “deficient” in scripture and was in big need of reform to being with? Is this what goes on in Dallas?

    Folks, are at least some of our dioceses really in this bad of shape when it comes to dealing with the Traditional Latin Mass?
    Are things really this bad? I thought a dramatic rethinking and acceptance of Summorum Pontificum is underway?

  24. William: in short, no.

  25. danh says:

    Steve, William, et al

    One important fact often forgotten in assessing the amount of scripture in the EF vs the OF is that the Introit, Gradule, Alleluia, Offertory, and Communion Antiphons of the EF are all either based on Scripture or are direct quotes. When you include the proper prayers and the prayers that have been suppressed in the OF there is even more.

    It has been over 35 years since I last heard any of the Antiphons recited(or sung) in the OF other than the Psalm text betwixt the first two readings, and often only the first two of the “verses”, rather than all of them. We get hymns of dubious quality instead, ie, the four hymn sandwich. The cut and paste nature of many of the OF propers and other prayers would not count as scripture.

    It would be interesting to find a place on the INet where someone has taken this into account and THEN done a comparison.

  26. Nathan says:

    IMO, this discussion shows how well-intentioned liturgical change can, especially in our culture, miss the point. I think one can reasonably argue that St Matthew’s gospel is predominant in the TLM gospels simply because that’s the way it organically developed over centuries.

    It seems to be a result of our cultural approach–there has to be a formula in there somewhere–that we look at the readings in this way. I find it hard to think that in Rome in A.D. 1000, you would hear “No, Brother Leonard, this won’t do, the Cardinal wants us to increase St Mark by 23.678 percent so that the Faithful can hear equal amounts of each Gospel.”

    As some commenters pointed toward a statement that the TLM is supposedly scripturally impoverished, it also seems that such an approach takes the same intellectual tack–the selection of Holy Scripture readings at Holy Mass should take be based on some mathematical proportion of the Bible (“That’s excellent, Father Newton, the readings fit the regression analysis perfectly!”). IMO, the sequence of Gospels in the TLM, especially in Advent and Lent, present a coherence and richness not found in the multiple-year and multiple track cycles of the Novus Ordo.

    In Christ,

  27. Origen Adamantius says:

    Alan,

    You hit on one of the historical mysteries of Matthew’s Gospel. Evidence, primarily citing Papias, is that Matthew wrote in the Hebrew (?more likely Aramaic); But the extant Gospel that we have, primarily cites from the LXX (Greek)and the sentence construction implies according to grammarians that it was originally in Greek and not primarily a translated from a semitic language (although there are occasional semitic phrases).

  28. wsxyz says:

    Evidence, primarily citing Papias, is that Matthew wrote in the Hebrew (?more likely Aramaic); But the extant Gospel that we have, primarily cites from the LXX (Greek)and the sentence construction implies according to grammarians that it was originally in Greek and not primarily a translated from a semitic language (although there are occasional semitic phrases).

    Not intending to pick on anyone, isn’t it true this post implies two interesting assumptions:

    1) Those dummies 1900 years ago didn’t know the difference between Hebrew and Aramaic.

    2) Those dummies 1900 years ago were certainly not capable of producing a polished Greek text from a Hebrew original.

  29. Jordanes says:

    Origen said: Evidence, primarily citing Papias, is that Matthew wrote in the Hebrew (?more likely Aramaic)

    Until comparatively recently, it was generally thought that when St. Papias, St. Irenaeus, and others said St. Matthew wrote in “Hebrew,” they meant “Aramaic,” as that was the prevailing language spoken by Jews at the time. Hebrew, it was thought, had become chiefly a sacred tongue, a “dead language” like Latin, known by scholars and priests but not used by the generally population. Then the Dead Sea Scrolls and the discoveries at Masada came along, showing that knowledge and use of Hebrew was far more widespread than previously believed. This has led many to conclude St. Matthew did write in Hebrew after all.

    But the extant Gospel that we have, primarily cites from the LXX (Greek) and the sentence construction implies according to grammarians that it was originally in Greek and not primarily a translated from a semitic language (although there are occasional semitic phrases).

    On that subject, there have been some interesting findings and arguments stemming from the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research (though they’ve also offered some dubious hypotheses as well, in my opinion). Apparently it’s not uncommon in all three Synoptics for the sentence word order to be a close match to Aramaic and an even closer match to Hebrew word order, suggesting one or more stages of translation, or at least a Hebrew or Aramaic original written text standing at the source of the Synoptic tradition. It’s not impossible that St. Matthew or another first century Christian could have translated his original work from Hebrew into Greek, and that Greek Gospel then could have been reworked by a Greek-speaking Christian. Given the popularity of the Septuagint among Diaspora Jews and the early Christians, it’s not surprising that St. Matthew’s Old Testament quotes would have been drawn from the Septuagint when Greek Matthew was written. It’s not impossible that St. Mark and even St. Luke had already written their Gospels by the time Greek Matthew was crafted, thus having an influence on the translation process. There’s just so much we don’t know and can never discover, but there’s nothing we know that contradicts the only tradition the Church has ever had about who wrote the Gospels and in what order they were written.

  30. William says:

    “William: in short, no.”

    Thanks. I’d pass along to the priest some of the “TLM-is-rich-in-Scripture” arguments posted here but he’s not interested in the TLM. But at least I have learned that the TLM isn’t devoid of Scripture, at least compared to the Ordinary Form.

  31. William says:

    “William, let me get some things straight. A priest in Dallas serves on a committee that was created to oversee the implementation of Summorum Pontificum. The Diocese of Dallas has never implemented Summorum Pontificum. And the priest believes that the Traditional Latin Mass is a “thing of the past”, was “deficient” in scripture and was in big need of reform to being with? Is this what goes on in Dallas?”

    Yes. It is amazing that a priest who serves on a committee created to determine whether a given Dallas parish may offer the TLM speaks negatively of the TLM — he obviously doesn’t have the slightest desire to promote the TLM — but such is the case.

  32. Marcus says:

    I don’t know whether the Traditional Mass is impoverished when it comes to scripture. What I know is that a few minutes after leaving the Novus Ordo Mass, I’ve forgotten much of what I had just heard. There’s just too much thrown at you at the Novus Ordo.

    And when you factor in the Prayers of the Faithful that seem to go on and on, who can concentrate long enough to remember things? I have an easier time remembering things from a Traditional Mass. It’s easier to remain focused at the Traditional Mass.

  33. Brian says:

    Marcus,

    You have a point. I think the expression ‘less is more’ might apply here.

  34. Origen Adamantius says:

    wsxyz

    The issue is not whether those in the past are dummies but whether we are because of what we co not know about then.

    1) The difficulty is whether in using “Hebrew” Papias was referring to the “Hebrew language” or “the language used by the Hebrew people-Aramaic”.
    2) A polished translation is by its very nature an interpretation – so which is inspired the original or the interpretation? The CHurch holds hat the Greek text is the inspired text. Some speculate that the so called “Q” is the Hebrew Matthew. IN all there is much speculation but minimal evidence concerning the nature of the Hebrew Matthew and its relation to the Greek Matthew that has left it open for much speculation.

  35. Simon Platt says:

    … except that the septuagint is surely an ancient Greek version of the old testament …

  36. Samuel Ferraro says:

    While there is nothing wrong with Catholics broadening their scriptural knowledge, it should be kept in mind that we are not protestants. Sacred scripture is one part of where Catholic faith is rooted, the other two being sacred Tradition and the Magisterium. The Traditional Latin Mass is NOT deficient in any way! It most clearly represents the sacrificial nature of the Mass, which is the cornerstone of the Faith. While I believe the Mass of Paul VI to be valid and licit when properly said with the correct intention, it contains too many readings. The new Mass unfolds more like a prayer service. I suspect that most people who attend this Mass cannot recall the resposes to the responsorial psalm an hour after the Mass. The Mass of Paul VI should have an epistle and a gospel just as the TLM does.