The Divine Liturgy: Part III by Monsignor Ferrarese

The Liturgy of the Word centers on the Pulpit or Ambo. We have tried in our parish, liturgically, to enforce the uniqueness of this place by not doing announcements, eulogies, or other things from it. The lectern on the other side more than compensates for this. The Pulpit is the only place that the Word of God is proclaimed, and explained through the homily. If you go to some churches in Europe you will notice that the Pulpit is very high up towering over the congregation, emphasizing that the Word of God comes from above. Pulpits, including our own, are beautifully appointed, further underlying the importance of the Word of God.

During the Protestant Reformation, the Mass was swept aside as a superstitious addition to the true worship of the Word of God. Even today, many non-liturgical Protestant Churches (e.g. Baptist, Methodist, some Lutherans, and Presbyterians) have a giant pulpit at the center of the Church as the main focus. If there is an altar, it is a small wooden table somewhere beneath the giant pulpit.

The Lector, who usually has been especially training and commissioned for this exalted task, proclaims the Word of God. Notice that I do not say ‘read’ the Word of God.  Proclaiming has a more powerful and deeper meaning. We proclaim something important that needs to be listened to attentively. A Lector must proclaim a reading slowly and with meaning to help the hearers of the Word in the pews to understand the passage from the Word of God and to apply it to one’s own life. For when we hear the Word of God, it is not merely about understanding a passage; it goes beyond. God the Holy Spirit enters the hearer and begins the mysterious work of soul development, which is the whole purpose of the Liturgy of the Word. It is meant to ‘sculpt’ us according to the design of the Creator. In essence, a very profound thing happens.

Since the Vatican Council, we benefit from very detailed cycles of citations in the readings selected. There is a Sunday Cycle of three years and a Weekday of two years.  Much of the Bible is proclaimed in Church for someone who attends Mass every day. In fact, Catholics who are daily communicants hear more of the Bible than any other Christian denomination! The first reading is usually from the Old Testament and prefigures the Gospel of the day. The second reading (if the Mass is a Sunday Mass), which is often from the letters of St. Paul, introduces another theme. At times this contrasts with the main theme or provides the Priest or the congregation with another direction for reflection.

Because the Gospels are so special in the New Testament, the congregation stands at attention for the Proclamation of the Gospel, and this is often preceded by a procession. The Gospel Book is held aloft and, when the Celebrant or Deacon reaches the Pulpit, he greets the people with, “The Lord be with you”, and the congregation responds with, “And with your Spirit”.  The entire congregation then makes the Sign of the Cross with their right thumbs over their forehead, their lips, and their heart, saying the following prayer silently: “May the Word of God be in my mind, on my lips, and in my heart.” The celebrant or Deacon then proclaims the Gospel (meaning Good News) of the day. He can say or even sing it if it is an especially solemn occasion. For these special occasions, it is also common to incense the Book of the Gospel before reading or singing it. Here, the smoke of incense always signifies the prayers of the people rising up to God.

After the Gospel, the congregation sits down and the Priest or Deacon explains the Scriptures just heard; this is called the homily. A homily is meant to be instructive and inspirational, relating the Scriptures to the everyday experience of the congregation, usually ending with a reference to the upcoming Liturgy of the Eucharist.

After a period of silent reflection, everyone stands to profess the one holy catholic and orthodox faith, in most cases embodied in the Nicene Creed. The Liturgy of the Word ends with the Intercessions, asking God for the specific needs of the Church universal and the particular church or parish in which the Mass is being celebrated.

At a daily Mass, the entire Liturgy of the Word can all be done in 10 minutes!  Such is the conciseness, brevity, and simplicity of the Roman Rite!

Suggested Resolution: Every time I hear a reading in Church I will ask myself: What is the Lord saying to me by this reading and is there anything that God wants of me in response to this reading?

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