July 2014 talk by Bro. Dan Grossano, Lector at Council 4524, St. Joseph's Parish, East Rutherford, NJ, Archdiocese of Newark. Click to access handout.
Before addressing tonight’s topic, I hope you brothers were able to follow through on the challenges from the last time of reviewing the handout I gave previously on the introductory rites of the Mass and tried to utilize its insights as you attend Holy Mass. Brothers I do not give these talks to entertain myself, but rather to help enliven, educate and challenge you all. Tonight we will be addressing the Liturgy of the Word. First, we need to remember that Holy Scripture these are God’s own Words; the Scripture is literally God-breathed, theopneustos (pronounced thee-o-new-stos) in the Greek meaning that they are inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures are similar to Christ in that He was both fully human and divine so with the Scripture, which was inspired by God, the divine element, but He also used the sacred authors’ own volition and gifts to proclaim this Word, the human element (Sri 2011, p. 53). Know that there is a power to God’s Word even regardless of our complete grasp of it (Origen as cited in Crean 2008, p. 59). Thus there is more power on a metaphysical level to God’s Word, even the most seemingly dull passages, when compared to the most rousing poetry. This is because when God’s Word allows us to commune with the divine (Hahn 1999, p. 99). Similar to the Jews when we read Scripture we remember God’s past wondrous deeds as signs that point to our hope in the blessings that He wants to give us in the future (Hahn 2005, p. 90). For example, we recall the Exodus of the Jewish people from slavery from Egypt knowing that it points to our freedom from slavery from sin that our Lord desires to give us on our way to the true Promised Land which is Heaven. In the liturgy one is drawn not as an outsider, but mysteriously is a participant in the history of salvation that we read about in the Liturgy of the Word (Hahn 2005, p. 93). The liturgy makes present the events of the liturgy in the here and now even though they occurred long ago in history (St. Augustine as cited in Hahn 2005, p. 96). Again, so it is not just God drawing Israel out of Egypt, but it is God drawing me away from my idols of lust, pride, laziness, etc.
Now to get more practical, the readings on Sundays come from a three year lectionary indicated by years A, B and C. The weekday liturgy follows a two year cycle (Sri 2011, p. 55). There is some evidence that this practice even went back to the Jews (Sri 2011, p. 54 & 55). What is great about the lectionary is that it covers most of the Bible and not contingent on the particular passages that a priest might like to preach on (Sri 2011, p. 55). Also the Church give us different liturgical seasons so that we can reflect on different aspects of Christ and the Catholic faith. Being that we are human we can not comprehend all of these mysteries all at once (Sri 2011 p. 56). Think about appreciating family members every day though we still celebrate certain anniversaries and birthdays to particularly celebrate what they mean to us (Sri 2011 p. 57). As we go through the liturgical cycle we hopefully grow deeper and deeper into these mysteries and come to appreciate them more (Sri 2011 p. 57). The first reading at Mass is usually taken from the Old Testament, then a selection is read from the Psalms, the second reading is from one of the New Testament epistles, the book of Revelation or the Acts of Apostles and the Gospel is the climax as all of salvation history which pointed to Christ (Sri 2011, p. 55 & 64).
We treat listening to the Word of God as something everyday and commonplace, but know that the Israelites prepared for three days until they were ready to listen to God declare the words of the covenant . . .wow what reverence and awe (Sri 2011, p. 53&54)! That is why in the New Covenant in Christ we have to prepare for His word through the introductory rites of the sign of the cross, the penitential rite and the Gloria. Through this we show how are unfit to be in the Lord’s presence, ask for His mercy and sing his praises (Sri 2011, p. 54). We sit to listen to God’s Word because sitting in the ancient world was the posture for learning and listening to a teacher. In the early Church sitting was seen as that position of a student or mentee (Barron 2011, p. 178). The Word of God invites us into a world in which we are challenged to talk, behave and think differently, but we have to be open to it (Barron 2011, p. 179). Through being open to this Word we are also agreeing to hold fast to it. Hearing the law in the Old Testament was to put it into practice because if one was disobedient one would be punished. The covenants that God made with the Israelites carried with them blessings and punishments or curses (Hahn 1999, p. 49).
The reader stating “The Word of the Lord” should help move us to amazement that God is actually speaking to us and we respond by saying “Thanks be to God” (Driscoll 2005 p. 40-41 as cited in Sri 2011, p. 59). Then there should be some time of silence for us to ponder this word for our lives as well as to stand in awe that the Lord has just spoken to us (Sri 2011 p. 60). The Responsorial Psalm comes from the book of Psalms in the Old Testament which is comprised of 150 psalms that were used privately as well as in public worship in the Temple liturgy (Sri 2011 p. 61). We can see the use of a call and response style use of the psalms going back to the third century and that probably was similar to how the Israelites also used them in worship (Sri 2011 p. 63). The Second Reading is usually from one of the New Testament epistles, the book of Revelation and the Acts of Apostles (Sri 2011 p. 64).
In the Gospel we stand to welcome Jesus who will speak to us (Sri 2011, p. 65). When the Gospel is proclaimed we stand to indicate that we are prepared to receive His Word and carry it out. One way to help us prepare our hearts would be to say to ourselves “‘Jesus Christ was made obedient unto death, even the death on the cross’” (St. Francis deSales as cited in Crean 2008, p. 68). We say Alleluia which means “Praise Yahweh” or “Praise the Lord” and is used to praise God for His work of salvation through Christ especially the coming of Christ depicted in the wedding supper of the Lamb in the book of Revelation (Revelation 19:1-9 as cited in Sri 2011 p. 65-66). We make the sign of the cross on our mind, lips and heart so that we might be open to the Word that is proclaimed in the Gospel as well as sharing it with others (Kocik 2007, p. 51). We also say “Glory to you, O Lord” because this is the climax of the Liturgy of the Word when Christ becomes present similar to the climax of the Liturgy of the Eucharist (Hahn 1999, p. 121). In the Words of the Gospel, Christ is speaking to us individually so He does not merely say long ago “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17) rather He is speaking to you, Eugene . . . Joe . . .Pat individually today (Sri 2011 p. 67). We should hear the words of the Gospel as spoken to us personally by Jesus and we should ask Him for the help to put these words into practice (St. Alphonsus as cited in Crean 2008, p. 70). The homily should help us comprehend the readings and make it applicable to our lives. In Greek the word homily means “explanation.” Also having an ordained minister, one having valid apostolic succession, read the Gospels points to the fact that all of Scripture needs to be interpreted in the light of the faith of the apostles, which has been preserved through the Church. This is also the reason why only an ordained minister can preach a homily even though a lay person may have great gifts of preaching. Having an ordained minister should in a sense guarantee that what he is preaching on is in line with the apostolic faith faithfully preserved through the Church and not just his own opinions or experiences (Sri 2011 p. 68). In closing, I want to issue you three challenges which I have indicated on the handout. The first is to start reading the Bible more frequently, at least twice a week. Start just reading the Gospel of Mark as it is a simple Gospel. Reading the Gospel will help you to become more familiar with the Scripture as it is proclaimed at Holy Mass. The second is to ask the Holy Spirit before Mass to open your heart to God’s Word as it is spoken to you today, amidst your joys, sorrows, struggles and hopes and that you would put its truth into action. The third is to review the handout that I have left for you and try to remember its insights as you actively participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Remember brothers we are called to continue to enter more deeply and with greater appreciation into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass not just as passive participants. Vivat Jesus!
Crean, T. (2008). The Mass and the Saints. San Francisco: Ignatius.
Driscoll, J. (2005). What Happens at Mass. Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications.
Hahn, S. (1999). The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth. NY: Doubleday.
Hahn, S. (2005). Letter and Spirit: From Written Text to Living Word in the Liturgy. New York, NY: Doubleday.
Sri, T. (2011). A Biblical Walk Through the Mass: Understanding What We Say and Do in the Liturgy. West Chester, PA: Ascension Press.