The Catholic Mass of the Latin rite is divided into two principal parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. These two principal parts of the Mass “are so closely connected with each other that they form but one single act of worship” (Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 56).
Promoting Love for Scripture
One of the most noticeable reforms of the Missal of Pius V has taken place with the Liturgy of the Word. In my opinion, this was one of the best reforms, because it allows the Word of God to be proclaimed in the language of the people and it provides a greater variety of biblical texts for the enrichment of our spiritual life.
In the Vatican II document on the Sacred Liturgy, we find the following reasoning regarding the place of the Bible in our worship:
Sacred scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. For it is from scripture that lessons are read and explained in the homily, and psalms are sung; the prayers, collects, and liturgical songs are scriptural in their inspiration and their force, and it is from the scriptures that actions and signs derive their meaning. Thus to achieve the restoration, progress, and adaptation of the sacred liturgy, it is essential to promote that warm and living love for scripture to which the venerable tradition of both eastern and western rites gives testimony. (Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 24)
The Liturgy of the Word is comprised of three selections from the Bible. Outside of the Christmas and Easter Seasons, the First Reading is always taken from the Old Testament. During the entire liturgical year, the Second Reading is always taken from the New Testament. The Gospel passage is taken from any of the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Liturgy of the Word follows a three-year ABC cycle which provides a rich variety of readings from the Sacred Scriptures.
The Old Testament and New Testament readings are not merely randomly chosen to cover material. If you carefully consider them in relation to one another, they often reveal the Catholic interpretation of Scripture.
Between the First Reading and the Second Reading, one of the 150 Psalms is sung or said. The Responsorial Psalm provides a prayerful meditation between the two passages from the Bible. Between the Second Reading and the Gospel, the Alleluia verse is sung or said.
St. Jerome (340–420), who spent so much time with the Bible, once said that “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” In order to be well-prepared for Sunday Mass, I recommend that you not only read the Scripture readings over before you go to your parish for Sunday worship, but that you actually make the Sunday Bible readings the center of your weekday meditations. Take the Sunday readings each day of the week and contemplate the text. Through quiet prayer, the Holy Spirit will help you apply the meaning of the texts to your practical life, and by being well-prepared each week for the Sunday liturgy, your weekly experience will be much deeper and more meaningful.
The Vital Importance of Preaching
The Sunday homily follows the proclamation of the Gospel passage. Parish priests have a solemn obligation to be well prepared for the Sunday liturgy. Priests who neglect this solemn duty are doing irreparable harm to the souls that have been entrusted to them. Preaching the Word of God is a tremendous responsibility. Since the lay faithful are being bombarded by numerous and continual challenges to the practice of their Faith, it is essential that parish priests be committed to inspire, motivate, and instruct their parishioners every week.
In order that parish priests can accomplish this solemn obligation, the ministry of preaching needs to be the very soul of their ministry. They are to devote as many hours every week to the preparation of the Sunday homily as necessary to meet the practical needs of their parishioners. The preparation of the Sunday homily must be the first thing that each parish priest does each week. The same applies to deacons when they are scheduled to give the homily.
The ministry of preaching is something to be interwoven with the daily life of the parish priest as his daily prayer and daily apostolic activity enlighten and inspire his Sunday homily. When the Sunday homily flows from his priestly heart, his spoken word becomes convincing and challenging to his listeners. The parish priest must be willing to “walk the talk,” never asking his people to do something that he himself is not doing or is not striving to do in his own journey with the Lord. Preaching becomes a powerful tool of evangelization when it flows from the heart of the preacher. The Holy Spirit works well with this kind of sincere and convinced instrument of the Word.
The Holy Spirit also works with those who hear the preaching as they ask with sincere hearts for God to speak to them through the preacher. Do you support the preaching in your parish with your prayers?
Surrounded with Witnesses
After the homily, all stand for the declaration of the Profession of Faith. Personally, I find this moment of the Catholic Mass to be one of the most moving because of its ancient origin. It is at this moment that I am making a link all the way to beginning years of the Catholic Church. I can feel the presence of our brothers and sisters from the early Church who came together each week for the “breaking of the bread.” I can join together with my brothers and sisters who professed their faith while hiding in the catacombs. People like Peter, Paul, Polycarp, Augustine, and Ambrose become present to me as I affirm my faith each week. The thought of the first martyrs in the Roman coliseum inspires me to be more and more faithful. Perhaps to alleviate their terror as the beasts came charging toward them, they cried out: I believe!
The Prayer of the Faithful concludes the Liturgy of the Word. This part of the Mass also has an ancient origin. St. Paul refers to the Prayer of the Faithful as a part of the liturgy when he writes, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tm 2: 1-5).
As we listen to the petitions during the Mass we must be attentive to what we are asking the Lord. It is at this moment that we should recall the words of Jesus when He said, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Mt 7: 7-8).
May the Lord open to you the meaning of the Word He speaks to you in the Liturgy of the Word.
© Copyright 2006 Catholic Exchange
Father James Farfaglia is Pastor of St. Helena of the True Cross of Jesus Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, Texas. Originally from Ridgefield, CT, Father has founded and developed apostolates for the Catholic Church in Spain, Italy, Mexico, Canada and throughout the United States. He may be reached by email at Icthus@GoCcN.org.