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Series on the Mass: With a thankful heart — The Liturgy of the Word

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A cantor leads the congregation in song. The liturgy section on the U.S. bishops' website explains, "at least two readings, one always from the Gospels, (three on Sundays and solemnities) make up the Liturgy of the Word. In addition, a psalm or canticle is sung." (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

Catholics have often been falsely accused of not being regularly exposed to the Scriptures. While it has been true in the past that sprinkling conversation with the Scriptures has typically not been a part of Catholic culture, this has certainly changed over the years.

What many people do not realize, however, is that Catholics are deeply saturated in the word of God every time they attend Mass. Readings from Scripture are a sizable part of every Mass.

How much Scripture? Quite a lot in fact. As the liturgy section on the U.S. bishops’ website explains, “at least two readings, one always from the Gospels, (three on Sundays and solemnities) make up the Liturgy of the Word. In addition, a psalm or canticle is sung.”

As a result of the Second Vatican Council’s greater emphasis on increasing greater literacy of the Scriptures, we now have a three-year cycle of readings built around readings from the three synoptic Gospels — Matthew, Mark and Luke. The start of a new liturgical year begins with the first Sunday of Advent and marks the transition from one Lectionary cycle (A, B or C) to the next.

During Mass, it is important to note that the Scriptures are read, not from the Bible but from a Lectionary. The USCCB website goes on to say that “a Lectionary is composed of the readings and the responsorial psalm assigned for each Mass of the year” including Sundays, weekdays and special occasions.

These readings are divided by theme and arranged on a three-year cycle: “Year A is the year of Matthew, Year B is Mark and Year C is Luke,” David Philippart explained in an article for U.S. Catholic on how the Mass readings are selected.

You might be asking, what of the Gospel of John? The Gospel of John is proclaimed at Christmas, Lent and Easter and to complete the rest of Year B since the Gospel of Mark is shorter than the Gospel of Matthew and Luke, Philippart said.

According to the USCCB website, the Lectionary also “provides readings for feasts of the saints, for common celebrations such as Marian feasts, for ritual Masses (weddings, funerals, etc.), for votive Masses and for various needs.”

The Liturgy of the Word begins with the first reading, which Philippart explained, is “chosen, usually from one of the books of the Old Testament, or from the Acts of the Apostles in Eastertime.” And “the second reading is chosen from a New Testament letter or, in Eastertime, the Book of Revelation,” he added.

The first reading relates thematically to the Gospel. For example, “if the Gospel is about Jesus giving sight to the blind, the first reading will tell how the blind will see when the Messiah comes,” Philippart wrote. During the Liturgy of the Word, we have an opportunity to hear the word of God proclaimed and reflect upon it, pray with it and assimilate it into our life.

Through the Liturgy of the Word, God speaks personally to each one of us. What a gift to us! This gift invites a response and God invites our response to his word every day.

Each Mass, we hear the phrase, “The word of the Lord,” and pray the response, “Thanks be to God.” And yet, how many times do we say these words automatically, without thinking and without being truly grateful for the word of God in our lives? Here are three tips to be more receptive to the word of God and to cultivate a joyful heart:

— Prepare in advance. Take time to read and reflect upon the upcoming readings ahead of time. Spend some time alone and with your family reading the Scriptures together and making a note of any important points that come to mind.

One beautiful practice is to pray “lectio divina,” which is an ancient way of reading Scripture that moves the person from reading and studying the word to truly living the word of God.

— Read the word of God every day. Want to know and love Christ better? Open the Scriptures regularly! St. Jerome famously said that “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” In sacred Scripture, we constantly find nourishment and strength. The word is welcomed, not as a human’s word but the word of God.

It is in the Scriptures that the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet us, his children, and speaks to us. His word is freely available to us, not just at Mass but every day if we would take the time to open it.

— Live the word by responding with a thankful heart. The Scriptures are the voice of God the Father who loves us deeply and unconditionally. When we hear the phrase, “The word of the Lord,” we should not just think of “words” or text, but THE Word. God the Son, Jesus Christ, is known as the Word of God.

The Gospel of John begins with this point, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). Intimacy with God’s word is intimacy with Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The word of the Lord is intended for each one of us and is God’s gift to us. It is a fountain of joy and nourishment that gives us the strength to arise each day.

The next time you hear “The word of the Lord” proclaimed, respond with renewed confidence and faith as you say, “Thanks be to God.”

— By Julianne Stanz Catholic News Service

(Julianne Stanz is director of discipleship and leadership development for the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and a consultant to the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis. Originally from Ireland, she lives in Wisconsin with her three children.)

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