In this series on the Mass we are casting light on the various aspects and movements in the Mass that we believe will help you more actively participate in the celebration.
There are so many different parts to the Mass. We stand up, sit down, kneel, and make gestures with our hands, on our lips, forehead, and our heart. To the outsider it may seem a bit confusing. To be honest, to a lot of people who have been going to Mass for years it could be a little bit confusing too—unless we learn what we are doing, unless we learn the biblical foundations for it all.
What God Has to Say
In previous posts we talked about the Introductory Rite. We discussed the meaning of “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” and “The Lord be with you … And with your spirit.” We talked about the Confiteor, where we confess our sins, and then we moved into the Kyrie where we call upon the mercy of God. Then we moved onto the Gloria where we celebrate his goodness in collective praise.
That is the Introductory Rite, and now we move to the first major movement of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word. In the Liturgy of the Word the focus of the Mass becomes the lectern, the place where God will speak to us in his Word. As Catholics we believe the Bible is different than any other book in the world. We believe it is the inspired Word of God, the theopneustos, the breath of God. God breathed. God is the author. The Holy Spirit is the author of what we’re about to hear.
The whole congregation begins to focus on the lectern because this is where God’s Word will be proclaimed. We all need to hear a word from God, don’t we? We’re so busy following newscasts, social media, our favorite shows, and all kinds of stimuli; and it really doesn’t do us a lot of good. What we really need is to hear from the Lord, so all of our focus now is on hearing what he has to say to us.
The Proper Response Is Gratitude
Isn’t that a beautiful thought, to think God has a word for you? How is that word going to come to you? Well, on Sundays it’s going to come in three readings: an Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, and a Gospel reading. There’s also going to be a psalm thrown in there too as a bridge between the Old Testament and New Testament readings.
Who is going to deliver this word from God? Are we all just going to come up to the lectern and read it silently a little bit? No. It’s going to be proclaimed in an audial way. Someone in the congregation is going to say to God, “Yes, Lord, use me. Use my voice to proclaim your word. Use my voice to speak to these people. I will read. I will be the one.”
That person who comes to the lectern, the lector, lends their voice to God so God can speak to the people. What an incredible privilege to be a lector. He or she comes up and reads the Old Testament reading, and concludes with, “The Word of the Lord,” and the people respond, “Thanks be to God.” Thanks is a part of the Mass over and over. “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving”.
What’s the Connection?
Then there is a response to the Old Testament reading, and that response is the Responsorial Psalm. Many people don’t realize that it is one of the 150 psalms. So we respond to God’s speaking to us in a psalm. The psalms thus become a way of responding. It’s the proper way to respond to God after he has spoken to us.
After the Responsorial Psalm, which sometimes is sung, we will then move into a New Testament reading. After that reading we sing “Alleluia”, we all rise, and the priest comes to read the Gospel. If a deacon is present then he will read the Gospel. Even if the bishop is there with a deacon, the deacon will read the Gospel because that’s his role, to read God’s Word.
We all stand for the Gospel because we’re supposed to be actively participating at that time. How do we do that? Well, there’s a connection between the First Reading in the Old Testament and the Gospel reading. The Church put those readings together for a reason. Your job is to find out what that reason is.
This is a moot point if you’re not paying attention. If you come to Mass and sit down, and all of a sudden there’s the First Reading, the Responsorial Psalm, then the Second Reading, and the Gospel, and you’re sitting there kind of looking around thinking, “Huh, I wonder what that was all about. I don”t remember any of the readings … ” that’s where you miss out. You have to be focused. Focus and think about those readings.
After that the priest or deacon will give a brief homily and he will connect them for you, and hopefully give you something practical to put into your life.
This is the place where God speaks to us. He is present with us. We need to be present with him, hear from him, and then take those readings into our week. That’s the Liturgy of the Word.
A Biblical Walk Through the Mass by Dr. Edward Sri is a five-part program taking participants on an exciting in-depth tour of the Liturgy, exploring the biblical roots of the words and gestures we experience at Mass, and explaining their profound significance.
This article is also available as a video here.
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Jeff Cavins is passionate about helping people understand Scripture and become disciples of Jesus Christ. Though he was born Catholic, Jeff went to Bible school and served as a Protestant minister for twelve years before reverting to the Catholic Faith. He then quickly became a leading Catholic evangelist and author. Jeff is best-known for creating The Great Adventure™ Bible study programs published by Ascension, which have been used by hundreds of thousands of people to engage in Scripture in a life-changing way. Some of his recent projects include his podcast, The Jeff Cavins Show, his book The Activated Disciple, and the Great Adventure Bible studies, Ephesians: Discover Your Inheritance, and Wisdom: God’s Vision for Life.
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