Sunday, July 26, 2015
Have you ever wondered why we sit for the first two readings at Mass but stand for the Gospel? This is one of several ways that the liturgy gives special significance to the portion of the Bible that is found in the four Gospels.
We believe that Christ speaks to us in all the readings. Because He is the Word of God made flesh, whatever God says to us comes to us through Christ. Yet there is something exceptional about those four books that give us most of our information about Jesus Himself. The Gospels reveal Him to us, recounting His teaching and His miracles; His journeys and His encounters with the people of His time; His death and His resurrection. It is in the four Gospels that we find the fullest picture of Jesus and His meaning for our lives.
There are several ways that the liturgy reminds us of the supremacy of the Gospels. Before the Gospel is proclaimed, the deacon expresses the hope that the Lord will be with us, and we respond in kind. This reminds us that the Lord is present in the Gospel in a unique way. On special occasions, the deacon will incense the Book of the Gospels to express our reverence for Christ.
Risen Savior, like many parishes, uses a Book of the Gospels for this proclamation which is carried in procession at the beginning of Mass and placed on the altar until the time to proclaim the Gospel reading.
The main expression of the Gospel’s importance, however, is the Gospel procession after the second reading. Following our shared silence, we all stand and sing the Gospel Acclamation. The deacon goes to the priest and asks for the grace to proclaim the Gospel well; the priest blesses him by saying, “The Lord be in your heart and on your lips that you may proclaim his Gospel worthily and well.” The deacon then goes to the Book of the Gospels and raises it high for all to see and acknowledge. Flanked by the candle bearers, he processes to the ambo while the whole assembly acclaims Christ and welcomes Him in His Word by singing the Alleluia. After the deacon proclaims the Gospel, he says, “The Gospel of the Lord,” and while we’re replying, “Thanks be to God,” he kisses the book and says, “Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away.”
All of this attention is intended to open our minds and hearts in a special way to the words of the Gospel. That is why after the deacon tells us the name of the Evangelist whose Gospel we’re reading, we make the sign of the cross on our foreheads, asking God to keep Jesus’ word always on our minds. We cross our lips to remind ourselves that our Christian duty is to spread the Gospel, and we cross our hearts as a reminder to keep the Gospel as our center.
Hearing the Gospel is only the first step. Once we have heard the words, we have to figure out how to live them. Through the Gospel, Christ challenges us to imitate Him and walk in His ways.
Sunday, July 19, 2015
Consider this challenge: Take the whole Bible and figure out how to cut it up into bite-sized pieces that can be used over 156 Sundays, plus a few dozen major feast days. Take into account the seasons of the liturgical year, as well as 2000 years of previous ways of doing the same thing. When you have all the Sundays and major feasts figured out, divide those into a three-year rotation. Then, decide how to divide what’s left into about seven hundred weekdays to create a two-year list of readings for daily Mass.
In the process, of course, you will have to decide which verses of the Bible are most important. You have to determine how long each reading should be and where to start and stop each passage.
These were just some of the challenges faced by those who created the book of readings that we call the Lectionary. In making their decisions, the Church used two main patterns for choosing readings.
Generally the first reading is from the Old Testament, though during Easter season it comes from the New Testament book of Acts. The second reading is from the New Testament letters or the Book of Revelation, followed by an excerpt from one of the four Gospels. For the seasons of Christmas and Easter, the readings are chosen based on the feast, so they all fit together well.
In Ordinary Time, a different principle comes into play. We read through the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, one each year, in what is called a semi-continuous reading. We don’t read every verse, but we work the Gospel, chapter by chapter. John’s gospel is used most often during the Easter season in all three years.
The first reading is chosen to relate to the Gospel passage, and the psalm is chosen to respond to the first reading. The second reading is not necessarily linked to the other readings but gives us another set of ideas to ponder.
The goal of this rather complicated structure is simple: to expose us to more of the Bible than we used to hear in Church. Before 1970, the Lectionary had only one year’s worth of readings and we heard about 10 percent of the Bible proclaimed at
Today’s three-year cycle allows us the opportunity to listen to some 60%
of Sacred Scripture read at Mass. Mass.
Back in 1893 Pope Leo XIII (13th) reminded Catholic Christians that we have a holy obligation to study Scripture. It’s not enough for us to hear the Word proclaimed at Mass, but to go home, open our Bibles and read the Word of God, allowing it to become part of us.
Sunday, July 12, 2015
What would happen if Jesus came to church next Sunday? I mean, if He showed up in his first-century garb – robe, sandals, beard – and walked up to this ambo and began to speak. What would you do? How would you react?
I suspect it’s a safe bet that all of us would have our eyes fixed on Him and our ears tuned to every word He spoke. Of course, someone would probably be on a cell phone, alerting the media!
Such an event should not strike us as unusual, however, because Jesus comes here every Sunday to speak to us. That’s what Catholic tradition teaches – that when the word of God is proclaimed in our midst, Christ speaks to us today. He comes in disguise, we might say, speaking through the lectors and the deacons and priests who proclaim the readings. The Second Vatican Council put it this way: “[Christ] is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are read in the Church.”
Most of us are aware of Christ’s presence in the presider as well as in the people gathered for worship. Jesus’ presence in the word is yet another way He reveals Himself to us. Reverence for Christ present in His word calls us to attentive listening. Many of us have developed a habit of following along in the missal, a habit we should try to break! The proper response to Jesus who is present is to put down the books and listen with open ears and open hearts to what the Lord is saying to us.
Listening does not mean being passive, however. Truly listening is a very active response when someone speaks to us. We show respect for anyone who talks with us by looking at the person and concentrating on what he or she is saying. That takes effort on our part, not allowing other thoughts or external distractions to claim our attention.
It may be helpful to realize that our primary task is not to get every word that is spoken, but to listen carefully to whatever word the Lord wants each of us to hear that day. This will vary from person to person, but Christ offers each of us the message that we really need to hear. It’s a good idea to read the readings at home before you come to Mass; that’s why we print the Scripture references in the bulletin each week. Then when the word is proclaimed, we can allow Christ to speak directly to us through the readings and the homily. If we are touched by one word or phrase or idea every Sunday, and nurture that word in our heart through the week, then God’s word will be effective in our lives.
In the silence after the readings and after the homily, we might ask ourselves two simple questions: What did I hear Jesus say? And how will I live that word this week? The answers to those questions have the power to change our lives!
Sunday, July 5, 2015
It seemed like a typical Sunday Mass in a typical parish. The opening hymn was joyful, the Penitential Rite was reverent, and the Glory to God was sung by all with vigor. Then the presider said, “Let us pray.” Then nothing happened. Ten seconds became fifteen, then twenty. People began to look around nervously and wondered: What’s wrong with Father? Did he fall asleep?
In fact, he was simply doing what the liturgy intends. The missal says that, after the priest says, “Let us pray,” the priest and people “pray silently for a while.” In some parishes that “while” lasts only a few seconds, but it is intended to be a brief yet significant pause for prayer. This is an appropriate time for each of us to recall our needs and hopes and present them to the Lord. The priest then gathers our prayers into one opening prayer – a prayer sometimes referred to as a “collect” because it collects our prayers together.
This is one of several places in the Mass that silence is encouraged. The liturgy is always a blend of sounds and silence. Since Mass is communal worship, it is natural that most of the time we are together will be filled with spoken and musical prayer. Yet there is also a need for moments of silence to allow ourselves to enter more deeply into the worship we share.
During the Liturgy of the Word we are also encouraged to enter into moments of silence after the readings and after the homily. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal calls for such silences so that “the Word of God may be grasped by [our] heart.”
We are also called to share a time of silence after we have all received Holy Communion as a sign of our unity.
These times of silence don’t work automatically, of course. It takes a deliberate effort from every member of the assembly even to allow silence to occur. The priest and deacon up front may be quiet, but shared silence also requires the assembly to embrace it. Sometimes we seem a bit uncomfortable with silence, because we live in a world of almost constant noise. We need to learn how to be silent together.
And in the silence, each of us must decide whether to engage in sincere prayer or just to daydream. If we embrace these times of silent prayer, however, we can enrich our experience of the Mass, drawing us closer to Christ and to one another as we worship together.