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The Liturgy of the Word
Through Sacred Scripture, God speaks to us and enables us to more fully fathom the mysteries of salvation that come to fruition in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Liturgy of the Word is intimately connected to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, just as they were in the time of Jesus’ earthly life: he preached and he taught before he sacrificed himself, and in the celebration of the Eucharist, through the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, he continues to do so.
The Word of God contained in Sacred Scripture is not just addressed to its first readers or to the historical moment it recalls; it has something to say to every one of us and says something about the present, the past, and the future.
In the Liturgy of the Word, we hear the Lord once again, and he is made present (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7), even before the Eucharist is consecrated on the altar. We not only hear him, but are invited to listen to him and, in silence, song, prayers, and petitions, respond to what he wants to share with us as we prepare to receive him in Holy Communion.
The First and Second Readings
Catholics are sometimes accused of never reading the Bible. Without denying the spiritual fruitfulness of a continuous reading of all of Sacred Scripture (a highly recommended practice), a legitimate response is that we have the Bible proclaimed to us whenever we worship. Those of us who can attend daily Mass are even more blessed in this regard. Through the arrangement of the readings, the Church is helping us to interpret and understand the events of salvation history found in both the Old and the New Testament.
A little clue in every reading…
The arrangement of the readings into cycles and years is meant to shed light on either the Gospel of the day or the liturgy of the day. We have an opportunity to not just hear the Lord speak to us through one disconnected moment of salvation history, but to start making connections. The Word of God helps us to understand and celebrate the mystery of God, and each reading is a clue to help us work out the mysteries of life and salvation with God’s help.
The mystery of salvation always remains a mystery of faith: we won’t definitively solve it until Heaven, but we remain on the right trail using the clues provided every time we meditate on the Word of God, not only individually, but as the Church.
The prequel and the sequel to the Gospel
The readings, whether from the Old Testament or the New, only find their full meaning in the Gospel. The Old is a prelude or prequel to the Gospel and is only fully understood in its light, and the New Testament readings from either the Acts of the Apostles, the Letters, or Revelation show the aftermath and the future of the mysteries of Christ’s earthly life. We’re part of that future and we’re heir to that past, all the way from Genesis until the book of Revelation, but always passing through the Gospel.
Neither the prequel nor the sequel would make any sense without the main story—God’s plan of salvation through the life and times of Jesus Christ yesterday, today, and forever—but through them, we gain deeper insight into the Gospel message.
God speaks through Sacred Scripture to me
A lot of readings don’t even contain a direct quotation from the Lord, but Our Lord speaks through them all. God is the author of Sacred Scripture who inspires the human writers (the prophets, the evangelists, the apostles, etc.) to speak about him. He respects their talents, cultures, and attitudes, so they too are authors of Sacred Scripture, but he works through them and with them to communicate his message to men and women of every age and culture. Every author is trying to communicate his experience of God and pass along the experience of either Israel or the Church, so even at the human level, we have so many opportunities to establish a connection that speaks to our situation.
However, the important thing is not that we find an affinity with one human author of Scripture or another, one story or another. Neither is it the historical and cultural tidbits that pique our interest. The most important thing is that God wants to speak to us through it all. Not just to us, collectively, but to you and me, individually, personally, and intimately. Just as the Holy Spirit inspired Sacred Scripture, so the Spirit can help us be inspired by it.
With every reading, you need to ask the Spirit to help us understand what God wants to say to you today, right here, right now. That’s the best way to respond to “The word of the Lord” at the end of each reading with a “Thanks be to God” that is from the heart because the Lord really has spoken to you.