Liturgy of the Word

 

The First and Second Readings

The first reading is usually from the Old Testament, except during Easter season, when it is from the Acts of the Apostles.  The second reading is from the New Testament.  At the end of each reading, the lector says, “The Word of the Lord”.  This is like a great shout or trumpet call reminding us how marvelous it is to hear God speak to us through Scripture.  We express our amazement and we say that we do not take it for granted when we reply from the depths of our hearts, “Thanks be to God”.  Our response is then followed by a moment of silence as we sit in awe and adoration of God, who just spoke to us.  Silence gives us time to reflect on the words we just heard – to become like Mary who “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart”.  (Luke 2:18)

The Gospel

The Gospels consist of God’s own words about Christ’s life.  As the church teaches, “when the Sacred Scriptures are read in the church, God Himself speaks to His people and Christ, present in His own word, proclaims the Gospel”.  We don’t just hear about Jesus, He actually speaks personally to each one of us through the divinely inspired words in the Gospel.  There is special reverence given to the Gospel.  Only a priest or deacon read the Gospel.  Everyone stands to welcome Jesus, expressing our reverence and readiness to listen to Him.  Except during Lent, everyone sings or says “Alleluia”, which is a Hebrew expression of joy meaning “Praise the Lord.”  During Lent, another appropriate expression of praise to God is used.  Candles are carried and incense may be burned as the book of Gospels is carried to the ambo.  The priest or deacon announce the Gospel reading and trace the sign of the cross on his forehead, mouth, breast and then on the book.  After saying Glory to You, O Lord, everyone should do the same silently asking, “May the Word of God be always on our minds, on our lips and in our hearts.”

The Homily & The Creed

The homily follows the Gospel.  The word homily means explanation in Greek.  The homily is given by a priest or deacon.  We come to Mass to listen to God’s Word in the readings, but the homily is a crucial part so that we can understand the readings and apply them to our lives.  The homily is not meant to be private thoughts or individual experiences, but the passing on of “the Church’s apostolic faith,” therefore, given only by an ordained minister.

The Creed is a summary of our faith and the story of Scripture.  Moving from creation to Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection, to the sending of the Holy Spirit, to the era of the Church and finally to the Second Coming, the Creed carries us through the entire story of salvation history.  As one theologian has commented, “What the Scriptures say at length, the Creed says briefly”.  When we say the Creed, we publicly stand with the entire congregation and God and solemnly declare that we will strive to not live like the rest of the world, but to give our wholehearted allegiance to the Lord:  “I Believe in one God.”  We have just heard Jesus talk to us and now we reaffirm our faith and belief to prepare ourselves for the ultimate feast, the Eucharist.

Prayer of the Faithful

The Liturgy of the Word concludes with the Prayer of the Faithful.  The Catechism notes that intercessory prayer is “characteristic of a heart attuned to God’s mercy.”  If we are truly in tune with God’s heart, we will naturally want to pray for others.  Up to this point, we have heard God’s Word proclaimed in Scripture, expounded upon in the homily and summed up in the Creed.  Now, we respond with the heart and mind of Jesus by praying for the needs of the Church and the world.  Since the prayers are meant to be universal in scope – for those in authority, for those experiencing various needs and sufferings and for the salvation of all – the intercessions train us to look not only after our own interests, “but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:4).

Source:  A Biblical Walk Through the Mass:  Understanding What We Say and Do in the Liturgy by Edward Sri