The View from the Pew Part III: The Liturgy of the Word
Immediately after we finish the opening prayer for Mass, we enter into what is called the
Liturgy of the Word.
The Liturgy of the Word comes with the Biblical readings. So this means the readings
must always be from the Bible, and the readings change bas ed on the day.
How do we chose the readings? It’s changed over the years.
The earliest Christians simply would read whatever scriptures were available in their
community. The first “ were Bibles with notes in the margins telling the
reader what to read on a particular Sunday, and these showed up by the fifth and sixth
century. Mass readings had their own books by the 7th century. After the 16th century
Council of Trent, we had what is called the Roman Missal where all the readings and
prayer s for Mass were contained.
Our current Roman Catholic lectionary goes back to 1970 created by a commission
after Vatican II, and it follows a three year cycle. Year A is the year of Matthew, Year B
is Mark, and Year C is Luke. The Gospel of John is used each year at Christmas, Lent,
and Easter, as well as to round out Year B, since Mark is short. An appropriate gospel
passage is assigned for each Sunday of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. In
Ordinary Time, the remainder of the gospel is read more or l ess in order, skipping over
the parts read in the special seasons.
The first reading usually comes from one of the books of the Old Testament, but it can
be the New Testament too, especially during Easter. There’s often a link in theme
between the first r eading and the Gospel.
The second reading is from a New Testament letter, or Revelation during the Easter
Season. During the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter, the reading is
chosen for it’s particular content. Otherwise a letter will start o n one Sunday and it’s
major portions are read in order over the following Sundays. There are also readings for
daily Masses that follow a two year cycle, though sometimes readings overlap,
especially on feast days.
In between the first and second reading is the Responsorial Psalm, which helps us to
meditate on the Word of God and corresponds to the readings. It can be sung or
Prior to the Gospel, there is an Alleluia sung or other chant during Lent. We do this to
greet the Lord who is about to speak to us through the words of the Gospel. All partake
in the singing or reciting of it.
One thing to think about during these readings is to just let them sink in. Sometimes it
helps to follow along in a missal; others prefer to just hear the words. But what I find is
that even when I hear them four times over a weekend’s liturgies, or hear familiar
parables having been a Catholic my whole life, where I’m at on that day or in life will
have something new speak to me. It could be a word or a sentence bu t there’s always
something that hits me.
Right after this is the homily. Each priest or deacon has a different style. In seminary,
there was one priest who I remember would use what he called the “ trying to end
up where he began, and I’ve found that stories always kept my attention. A favorite
radio segment I’d listen to every day when it was on was Paul Harvey’s the Rest of the
Story. He would tell the story of a person from their life and it would draw you in and
you’d find out at the end who that famous person was. But it kept my attention the whole
way. As such, my own style is I read the readings, and see what other expert preachers
have reflected on; I listen to Bishop Robert Barron, go to the Bishop’s website and
watch a homily; go to a commentary I subscribe to called “Homily Helps” and read
homilies from a British Dominican website (after all they are O.P., the Order of
Preachers). I then think about a direction I’d like to go for a theme, and like to find a
story of a person who relates to the theme and then make my points. I write out each
homily each week, but try my best to preach without notes. Admittedly this is easier at
the Sunday Masses; I refer to the Saturday night Mass sometimes as the “focus group”
as I’ve sometimes chucked a homily and re wrote it and know what works and isn’t
working by Sunday. I’m not Bishop Sheen, but I try my best each week and it’s my goal
to give people something to think about that can help them on their faith journey. I look
back too on what has worked an d what hasn’t worked. With children’s Masses, I read a
story book each week basing this on a poll of first graders I conducted where I asked if it
was OK to read stories in my homilies and the consent was unanimous. (When the new
school year starts I’ll tr y to mention the book of the week in this space). One thing to
consider is reading a homily yourself too. The bishop’s site usccb.org has daily videos
which are quite good, and the site for Bishop Robert Baron, wordonfire.org has
wonderful weekly messages and many great articles.
Following the homily, we profess our faith on Solemnities and Sundays. We do this to
respond to the Word of God and affirm our common faith together. Note a fe w years
back it was altered slightly for translation from “ to “ and I really appreciate this, as
the faith is an individual thing too each one of us has to affirm that we will follow God.
Lastly, we have the Prayers of the Faithful or Universal Prayer. Here we pray for the
church, the needs of the community, those burdened by difficulties in life or any needs
we may have.
If I had to summarize the Liturgy of the Word in one sentence, it would be let God speak
to you. As I said, even though we’ve heard many of these passages before, there’s
always something new that speaks to us as the stories are timeless.
Next week, we’ll take a look at the Liturgy of the Eucharist where we celebrate Jesus
giving us time and time again the gift of Himself.
Have a blessed week!
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