The Liturgy of the Word
July 25, 2019
by Deacon Peter McShurley
The Liturgy of the Word follows the penitential act. On Sundays and Solemnities, it consists of a reading from the Old Testament, a psalm, a reading from an epistle or the Acts of the Apostles, the Gospel, the homily, prayers of the faithful, and the profession of faith. This part of the Mass prepares us to receive our Lord in the Eucharist. It does this by nourishing and strengthening our faith. Faith, we know, is a gift from God that allows us to know and believe in God himself. While faith is a supernatural gift, it does not come all at once, it needs time to grow within us. Our Lord compares it to the mustard plant. It starts out as a seed but can grow more and more. Like any plant, the seed of faith needs to be watered and needs sunlight. The Liturgy of the Word is like water and sunlight that helps our faith grow. Everything is Christ centered. First we hear from the Old Testament which looks forward and foretells Christ’s coming. Next we hear from one of the epistles or the Acts of the Apostles which speaks about the spreading of the Gospel after Christ ascended into heaven, and finally we hear the words of Christ himself from one of the four gospels.
Because the readings, psalm, and Gospel are the inspired Word of God, they do not convey mere stories or facts. The inspired Word of God is living. This means that while the Word is proclaimed from the ambo, the Holy Spirit is present and speaking to the hearts of each person at Mass. Every time we come to Mass God has a message that he wants to give each one of us. When the deacon or priest proclaims the Gospel, he begins with the familiar dialogue, “the Lord be with you.” This dialogue, to which the faithful respond “and with your Spirit,” signals that Christ himself is present. When the Gospel is proclaimed at Mass, it is Christ who is speaking. This is why we stand during the Gospel. Our bodily posture symbolizes the importance of what is taking place during this moment. The homily is also part of the Liturgy of the Word and as such, is not merely a talk that conveys information about the faith. Rather, if the homilist is open to the Holy Spirit, then his words should give sunlight to our faith, helping it to grow. The homilist is the instrument through whom Our Lord conveys his message.
Since the Liturgy of the Word transmits faith, and not mere information, those who hear the Word of God need to be properly disposed to receive his message. One way to do this is to read the readings before coming to Mass or getting to Mass a few minutes early for quiet prayer. For Families with young children coming to Mass can sometimes be a chaotic adventure, however, simply offering a small prayer, “Lord give me your grace to receive what you wish me to receive today” can make all the difference. All our Lord needs is a slight opening in our hearts, if we can give him this, he will take care of the rest.