Greetings brothers and sisters in Christ. These first letters which I am addressing to the diocese are a simple attempt to help each of us better prepare for an experience of Communion with our Lord at Mass.
Today I want to say a brief word about the Liturgy of the Word. This is the part of Mass where we are invited to listen with attention and receive God’s word during the readings.
The Church has always taught that Christ is just as present in the proclaimed word as he is present in the Body and Blood of the Eucharist. We believe that when the scripture readings are proclaimed, it is not the lector nor the deacon nor the priest who is speaking. It is truly Christ speaking collectively to us as a community and specifically and personally to each one of us. The Constitution on Divine Revelation states, “The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as it has venerated the Body of the Lord . . . In the sacred books the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them. (Dei Verbum, 21).
The Church Father Caesarius of Arles says, “With as great anxiety as we show when Christ’s body is ministered to us, lest nothing fall out of our hands onto the ground, with as great anxiety we should see to it that God’s word which is dispensed to us may not perish from our hearts because we are thinking or talking about something else.” Then he continues more forcefully, “The person who hears the word of God with inattention is surely no less guilty than one who allows Christ’s body to fall on the ground through his own carelessness.”
The word proclaims what the sacrament enacts: it’s the same Christ, really present. I think it is easier for us to experience Christ when we receive holy Communion because we use more of our bodily senses. When we eat his body and drink his blood we see, taste, smell and touch Christ. When we receive Christ’s word, we primarily use only the sense of listening. Many Catholics get excited to receive Jesus in holy Communion. But not as many express their enthusiasm for listening to Jesus through the Scriptures in the liturgy. But that same Jesus — the Word made flesh — who comes to us sacramentally in the Eucharist wants to speak to us in the Scriptures, the Word of God inspired.
With this in mind, how might I better receive the Word of God at Mass? Here are a few simple ideas:
First, I make the decision to listen to the readings. The word for listen is related to obedience, from the Latin verb, “ob audire,” which means to listen attentively to. When I make the decision to actively listen at Mass, I am obedient. A faithful disciple of Christ desires to be obedient to him in all things.
Take some time to read the readings before Mass. You can find these online at www.usccb.org or use a resource like the Magnificat. You can also simply arrive early for Mass and read the readings in the missal in your pew before Mass starts.
Bring the Sunday Mass readings into your daily prayer. This helps us to do more than simply review the readings. We take time to pray with them. Read a few lines of the Scripture passage and then pause and look back. What strikes you? What makes you happy? Excited? Nervous? Take some time with those words and phrases. If we have attended to God’s word in our daily prayer — when we come to Mass we are prepared to let that word move deeper into our heart and soul.
You can also listen to the readings on the way to Mass. If you are with family or friends you can have one person read the readings out loud. Take some time to discuss what the readings might mean for you. This is a better use of drivetime than to allow our heads to be filled with other things that might distract us from God speaking to us.
Read along during the Liturgy of the Word: For those of us who get easily distracted at Mass, we can pull out the missal in our pew and read along with the Mass readings. This can help us stay focused and attentive to God’s word.
Finally, realize that whenever we stand at Mass, we are preparing for an encounter with Christ. This is certainly true when we stand at the Alleluia in preparation for the Gospel. This proclamation makes Jesus’ life present to us in a profound way. We are not mere spectators listening to an historical account of something that happened a long time ago. Christ is speaking personally to each of us. “Repent.” “Be healed.” “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Come to Mass this next weekend and together we will obediently receive God’s Word.