Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Bolton

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Together at Mass

Together at Mass 7

“Oh that you would listen to his voice”

Once more, in the words of the Missal’s Instruction, we call to mind both the content and spirit of the Liturgy of the Word: “In the readings, God speaks to his people of the mystery of salvation and nourishes their spirit; Christ is     present through his word. The homily explains the readings, and the chants and profession of faith comprise the people’s acceptance of God’s word. Finally, moved by this word, they pray in general intercessions for the needs of the Church and the world.”


The elements which make up the liturgy of the word are clear: the readings, chants, homily, creed and bidding prayers. However, there is a need to give more attention to the spirit of this part of the Mass: to increase awareness that “God speaks to his people” and that “Christ is present through his word”; to reflect on our own “acceptance of God’s word” and on how we are “moved by this word” to prayer.


Last week we reflected on the significance of the changes that were made to this part of the Mass, bringing the riches of the Bible to us. It will not do any harm for us to think again about this major change and to see what changed attitude it calls for from us. As our Lord said in a different context, new wine demands new wineskins. A major change in the Mass calls for change in us: positive listening is more than simply hearing – it demands something of us.


We also saw last week how the Gospels and New Testament letters are        presented to us in a semi-continuous manner, along with a wide selection of passages from the Old Testament through the Sundays of Ordinary Time.    Today we will see briefly how the readings are developed during the seasons of Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter. As we begin to see the pattern of presentation, we are already becoming attuned to the content.




The Word for Feasts and Seasons

During the main liturgical seasons readings are selected which are in keeping with the spirit of the particular season. In each case the selection of readings helps us to enter into the spirit of the season and, overall, to cover wide tracks of the Bible.


Advent: readings include Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah; New  Testament passages which are appropriate for the time of year, and Gospel stories related to the coming of Christ, focusing on John the Baptist and our Lady.


Christmastide: the three readings have been chosen to relate to the several feasts of this period: the Nativity; the Holy Family; Mary, the Mother of God; the Word made flesh; the visit of the Magi; the Baptism of Jesus. In these Masses there is a close unity between all three readings.


Lent: during this season we are reminded of some of the key stories of the Old Testament history of salvation; the Gospel passages include the temptations of Christ and the transfiguration; and speak to us of initiation and forgiveness. The other New Testament readings have been chosen to correspond to the above.


Eastertide: the first readings are taken from the Acts of the Apostles, giving the life, witness and growth of the infant Church through the power of the Spirit; the second readings complement this with reflections on faith and hope; while the Gospel narratives include appearances of the Risen Lord, the Good Shepherd and a return to St. John’s discourse at the Last Supper.



The Liturgy of the Word comprises more than the three readings whose selection has been described in last week’s note and in the note above. Also included in the Liturgy of the Word are the elements commented on below. Our listening is to be accompanied by our responding, in psalm, in song, in reflection, in faith and in prayerful concern.


The Psalm

Much of the prayer-life of Jesus, especially in the synagogue, would have centred on the psalms, the inspired prayer-book of the Old Testament. The responsorial psalm continues that practice. Here especially the entire assembly in invited to join in proclaiming the word of God.


The Gospel Acclamation

After the second reading there comes a change of mood. We stand, sing Alleluia, carry the Gospel book to the Lectern accompanied by candle-bearers. In these ways we express our respect for Christ who becomes present among us through his word. This way of preparing to listen to his word, and our closing words after the Gospel reading, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ”, are also an indication of our readiness to take to heart the entire Gospel message, to hear it and proclaim it.


The Homily

The General Instruction describes the homily as “an integral part of the liturgy and a necessary source of nourishment”. It is not an optional extra to be included or omitted according to whim or state of the weather. The homily is an integral part of our act of worship. It is normally to be based either on the texts of the Mass itself, or on the readings that have just been proclaimed. 

The homily is sometimes spoken of as “breaking the bread of the Lord’s word” to help make it more digestible, more accessible, and help to relate the word of God to everyday life. But that does not mean the homily is intended to be an academic explanation of the readings. It is primarily a sharing of faith – and, hopefully, a sharing that may appeal to the heart as well as to the head.


The Creed

The Creed is sometimes spoken of as though it were simply a list of “things that are to be believed” – a resume of Church Dogma. In reality it should be seen rather as a prayer of thanksgiving for the wonders of God’s love. We are not simply giving assent to a set of ideas, we are affirming our commitment to God and to a way of life in relation with God.

The Almighty has reached out to us, through the incarnation of his only begotten Son, born of the Virgin Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of Life, who draws us into the communion of the Church and leads us to life everlasting. In response to such goodness what can we say? We raise our voices and say: “Credo” – “I believe”. The word ‘credo’ comes from two very simple Latin words: ‘Cor do’ – “I give my heart”; it’s a very personal response to God. 

In current practice we use the plural - “we” believe in God. The Nicene Creed which we use at Mass was originally a statement made by the bishops of the Church in the Council of Nicaea in 325, and the Council of Constantinople in 381. The use of “we” is a reminder of the fact that it is a unifying expression of our shared faith. We are in union of faith with other Christians across the centuries and across the sad divisions that still exist today.


The Bidding Prayers

“In the general intercessions, or prayer of the faithful, the people exercise their priestly function by interceding for all mankind … for the Church, for civil      authorities, for those oppressed by various needs, for all mankind, and for the  salvation of the world.” Note that reference to the “priestly function” in which all of us share through baptism.

With these prayers we come to the end of the liturgy of the Word and move into the liturgy of the Eucharist. The proposed spread of intentions for the intercessions is a good reminder that, when we are together at Mass, we are not cut off from the world. Coming to Mass is not an exercise in escapism from the realities of everyday mundane existence. Just the opposite – at Mass we take on seriously our responsibility to continue Christ’s mission to the world.



New wine—new wineskins

That was the message given by Jesus himself: “New wine needs new wineskins”. It can well be applied to our approach to the Liturgy of the Word. To be able to gain from the liturgy of the word the riches intended in the reform of the Mass, then a new mentality is called for from us.

Last week we reflected briefly on what was in reality a truly major change in the Mass. The readings from scripture used to be treated in a manner that suggested they were simply a ritualistic prelude to the important parts of the Mass. Even the name given to the first part of the Mass —“the Mass of the Catechumens” as    distinct from the “Mass of the Faithful”—  suggested that the first part was not of any importance in itself.

You will remember what was said about the ‘shape’ of the Mass in the Missal’s General Instruction: “Although the Mass is made up of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the two parts are so closely connected as to form one act of worship. The table of the Lord is the table of God’s word and of Christ’s body, and from it the faithful are instructed and refreshed.” By describing the Mass in this way the liturgical reform in the light of Vatican II has given new emphasis to the importance of the liturgy of the word in its own right. 

Our attitude to the first half of the Mass should resemble the attitude we have   developed over generations to the second half of the Mass. We approach Christ in the eucharist with conviction that this is a real encounter with his living presence, a communion with our Lord which affects us deeply. And we should bring to the liturgy of the word a similar attitude of reverence and respect. We really need to cultivate an attitude of genuine desire for, and openness of mind and heart to this presence of God. What God asks of us in this first part of the Mass is to receive him into our lives, through his Word, and to hold on to this word of his and to ponder on it. In this we should be ready to imitate our Lady, was attentive to the word of God and “who pondered these things in her heart”.

To listen attentively to the proclamation of the word of God demands something of us the listeners. We should be willing to listen with full attention; prepared to join in the responses; expecting to find meaning and nourishment in the word of God; searching for ways it may affect our lives. God’s word to us has come to us through the words of others, people of other times and other places. Our task is to discover what God is saying to us here and now through those words. At the end of the readings we join in saying “Thanks be to God” or “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ”. In doing so we are expressing our own willingness to continue to welcome and give thanks to God who speaks to his people, and faithfully listen to and follow his Son, Jesus Christ