The Liturgy of the Word: The Gospel

The Liturgy of the Word reaches its high point in the proclamation of the Gospel.

The Liturgy of the Word reaches its high point in the proclamation of the Gospel.

The Gospel

As the Gospel is acclaimed, a sacred minister draws close to the ambo to proclaim it in a short procession, often accompanied by acolytes, candles, and incense, all gestures used in ancient ceremonies to welcome a ruler making a public appearance. In some liturgies the sacred minister bears the Book of the Gospels in procession toward the ambo: the Book of the Gospels, the Word of God, is drawing near and receives reverence: the Word is the V.I.P. The man of the “Hour” has arrived and is ready to address the crowd, through the sacred minister who represents him and his written Word.

In His Son, God has said it all

The reason the Gospel is set apart from the other Readings is poignantly summarized by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews: “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son…” (1:1-2). In Christ, the fullness of revelation, spoken or otherwise, has taken place. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches (cf. CCC 65) that God has said everything in His Word: in giving us his Son God has given us his only Word, a Word the prophets only spoke of in fragments.

When we listen to the Gospel we begin with a special greeting and response, then upon hearing which Gospel will be proclaimed we give glory to the Lord (“Glory to you, O Lord”). By making the sign of the cross on our forehead, we’re signifying our openness to receiving the Gospel; by making it on our lips our desire to profess it; and by making it on our hearts our desire to welcome it. In short, we express our desire to think the Gospel, speak the Gospel, and love the Gospel, because the Gospel is Jesus Christ and we must think of him, speak of him, and love him. The Gospel sheds light on everything we need to know, and one everything we need to do. There’s no greater light for a believer.

Christ’s Whole Life Has Something to Say

Obviously, this Gospel goes beyond simply some words on a page if we’re going to think it, speak it, and love it in this way. Biblical “scholars” have spilled a lot of ink on trying to study the Gospel historically and literarily in order to determine what sayings Our Lord “really” said. They should have saved their ink (and their time), because when we say Christ speaks in the Gospel, it is not just the sayings of Jesus recalled by the evangelists, but his whole life that speaks: words, works, miracles, gestures, and situations. At Nazareth, Gabriel speaks to Mary, and Christ’s Incarnation, thanks to Mary’s fiat, speaks to us. At Bethlehem, he doesn’t speak a word, but he speaks volumes through his Nativity. At the empty tomb, before appearing to the Holy Women, the scene speaks volumes about the Resurrection.

Since he is the Word, his whole earthly life speaks, and when we listen to the Gospel, we must ask him to help us understand our life through contemplating his. His teachings are to inspire us, but his example of life should too.

The Gospel Helps us Hear the Whole Testament

St. Augustine described the New Testament as hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament as unveiled by the new (cf. CCC 129 and Dei Verbum 16). The Gospel is hidden, in a sense, in the Old Testament readings, but also sheds light on what those readings truly mean. So like good scribes we draw from the old and the new when considering the Word of God. It all has something to say, but the Gospel helps us to understand it more fully: not just the Old Testament, nor the New Testament, but the Whole Testament has something to say.

Believers in Christ see everything God has said and done in the light of Christ. The Lord has blessed us with accounts written by four evangelists, each emphasizing certain aspects and speaking to different Christian communities with different concerns and needs. It is the Gospel “according to” Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the first three share so many similarities that they’re called the Synoptic Gospels. John, at the end of his life, wrote his Gospel from a beautiful perspective that complemented the Synoptic Gospels and also presents other mysteries of Christ more deeply. The evangelists not only recall the events of Our Lord’s life (many times as eye witnesses), but also see them often through the lens of the Old Testament. Together they give us a richer and deeper insight into God’s Word that helps us more fully fathom the Whole Testament.

The liturgy’s Sunday Gospel readings are organized to help us do a semi-continuous reading of all the Gospels over a period of three years. The order of the Bible is followed: Matthew for year A, Mark for year B, and Luke for year C. In year B, chapter six of John’s Gospel is added to supplement the shorter Gospel of Mark. John’s Gospel is read especially in Lent and in the Easter Season as part of a catechesis on the sacraments, since in a long-standing tradition Lent was when the catechumens were preparing to receive the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil and then received a catechesis on them throughout the Easter Season.

It’s no wonder that with all this spiritual wealth at our disposal, we respond to the proclamation of the Gospel by saying together: “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” Our Lord has just spoken to us and shared Good News. Let’s think the Gospel, speak the Gospel, and love the Gospel as Good News for us and for the world.

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(beginning Ash Wednesday)

Thank you! We look forward to sharing these reflections beginning on Ash Wednesday!