Have you ever wondered why we read from an Old Testament book, then a Psalm, then a New Testament epistle, and a Gospel at every single Sunday Mass? Why do we follow them with a homily, the Creed, and intercessory prayer? Is it just to mix things up and keep them interesting, or is there something much greater and more intentional behind all of this?
As Catholics, we go to Mass so often that we might not think about why the Apostles and early Church Fathers set up the Mass the way they did, especially in regards to the structure of the Liturgy of the Word.
According to Christopher Carstens in his book A Devotional Journey into the Mass, in the Liturgy of the Word “we should hear…an echo of salvation history’s larger dialogue.”
During the Liturgy of the Word, we don’t just listen to the Bible while sitting, singing, or standing. Each Sunday, we actually walk through salvation history and remember the various ways in which God has communicated with His people throughout the ages.
- In the first reading from the Old Testament, God speaks to us through His message to the Chosen People, prophesying the Messiah.
- During the Responsorial Psalm, we speak to God, using the language of the Israelites.
- When we read the second reading, God speaks to us through or about Jesus.
- Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus Himself speaks to us.
Next comes the homily, in which our priest or deacon helps us apply these Scripture passages to our daily lives. Next we recite the Creed, responding to God’s call by formally declaring our faith in Him and the Church He established. Finally, in the Prayers of the Faithful, we speak to God in our own words and pray for the needs of the Church and the world.
As you can see, the Liturgy of the Word involves far more than simply “reading the Bible.” At each and every Mass, the Church presents us with a specific series of passages that help us journey through the history of salvation. We see God’s faithful love displayed over thousands of years, and we remember the hope that Christ has brought us through His life, death, and Resurrection.
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