Understanding the Liturgy of the Mass: Part II - The Liturgy of the Word

by Deacon Steve Kassebaum

For this season of Advent, Father Chester and your deacons would like to help you make the Mass come to life for you in a new and personal way. Our homilies in the next four weeks will be based on the book by Mark Hart, entitled Behold the Mystery: A Deeper Understanding of the Catholic Mass. We highly recommend that you order a copy for yourself and read it. Mark Hart is a layperson, who is an executive vice president for Life Teen International, and hosts a SiriusXM Catholic radio show called "Fired Up!"

Mark Hart states that the Mass is a cataclysmic event because it brings Heaven and Earth together. It requires that we put our gifts and talents in the hands of God, allowing him to take something simple and transform it into something majestic. Christ is present in the liturgy, not like you and I are present, but deeper than that. We encounter Christ in four places at every Mass. At the community gathering through our Baptism, in our priest, in Sacred Scriptures, and finally most importantly in his Eucharistic Body and Blood. The Mass is made up of movements and content and the better we know what the movements and flow of the Mass mean, the more we will understand the why the Catholic Mass is, first and foremost, a sacrifice.

Today I will be talking about the Liturgy of the Word.

The Lord Jesus, before feeding us with His body and His blood in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, feeds us first with the Word of God in the Liturgy of the Word. Through the readings, we hear directly from God as He speaks to our hearts and souls.

The First Reading: The first reading is mostly chosen from the Old Testament and during some seasons the Book of Acts might be read. With these words, God was speaking through the prophets and was preparing his people for the coming of Christ. This reading usually harmonizes with the Gospel reading.

The Responsorial Psalm: The Psalm reflects themes in the readings as there is a link between the First Reading and the Psalm; the Psalm is our prayerful response to what we heard in the First Reading. Jesus used the Psalms for prayer every day and would have known most of them by heart, which is an added reason for paying attention to the Psalm.

The Second Reading: This reading is usually taken from one of the letters in the New Testament, which may also include the Book of Acts or the Book of Revelations. They are the writings of Jesus' Apostles. We hear the preaching and writings of the men that Jesus instructed to minister to us when He left. These men were filled with the Holy Spirit and committed to spreading the Good News. While the letters address particular situations in the early Church and were written during the years of ~60-110AD, their message transcends the centuries with guidance that applies to us in our lives today.

The Gospel Acclamation - Alleluia: Just as the Gospel Alleluia begins, you'll see the Deacon bow before the Priest. What is being said is this: The Deacon says, "Your blessing Father," and the Priest says, "May the Lord be in your heart and on your lips, that you may proclaim His Gospel worthily and well in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And sometimes Father Chester says to me -- "Don't mess up the Gospel Deacon Steve." (Just kidding!)

"Alleluia" is a Latin echo of the Hebrew acclamation "Praise God!" Here it heralds the Gospel. In a solemn celebration, the deacon goes to the altar where the Gospel is enthroned. We bow and then lift the book and process with the Gospels held high while the choir and our community acclaim the good news with "Alleluia." We acclaim the most wonderful deed of God among humankind, Jesus Christ -- here made visible in the Book of Gospels containing His words and message to us all.

The Gospel Reading: In the first reading, God spoke through His prophets, in the second through His Apostles, and now in the Gospel speaks directly through His son Jesus Christ. It is the most important time of the Liturgy of the Word. We hear directly from Jesus' speaking, teaching and healing. The word Gospel means "good news" and this good news is not just any message, it is Jesus himself speaking to us!

As the deacon or priest introduce the Gospels, we perform the sign of the cross on the Book of Gospels and then all of us do the sign of the cross traced on our forehead, our lips and over our heart. This is done to symbolize that we receive the word of God in our mind, we confess it with our mouth, and we keep it in our heart.

Hearing the Gospel proclaimed also reminds and identifies us with the first community that heard these words from the mouth of Jesus. On the conclusion of the reading the Priest or Deacon proclaims, "The Gospel of the Lord." We mean not the book, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the "Good News" itself. The congregation's response is, "Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ." The readings follow a three-year cycle, so it will be three years before you hear these readings proclaimed in Church again.

After The Gospel is read, you see the Priest or Deacon raise the Book of Gospels and kiss it -- along with that kiss we silently say these words -- "Through the words of the Gospel, may our sins be wiped away".

The Homily: We believe that "faith comes through preaching." (Romans 3:13-15). This idea is rooted in the Jewish belief that the creative power of God's word transforms human life. The word Homily comes from a Greek word that means "dialogue" or "conversation." It is the moment in which we explain the scripture readings.

The Scriptures are not always easy to understand and apply to present life. For this reason we try to break open the Scriptures, showing how the word of God addresses us today. How His words and guidance apply to our lives today, to the world we live in, to the issues we deal with every day.

The Profession of Faith (the Creed): The Creed is a written profession summarizing our faith. Initially defined at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. and finalized at the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D., the Nicene Creed is most often used at Mass, although the Apostles' Creed may be used at some liturgies. The Creed is our opportunity to respond in faith to God's Word to us.

General Intercessions (Prayers of the Faithful): The Liturgy of the Word concludes with the Prayer of the Faithful or General Intercessions. In these simple prayers we pray to God for all our needs. We call them the Prayer of the Faithful because all our prayers are united and offered to the Father as one prayer.

In part three, Father Chester will discuss The Liturgy of the Eucharist as we work to help the Mass come alive for you. God Bless you all.

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