The Table of God's Word

The Table of God's Word

One of the most important statements about the Liturgy of the Word in an official church document is found in the Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass. It says:

“The Church is nourished spiritually at the table of God's word and at the table of the Eucharist: from the one it grows in wisdom and from the other in holiness. In the word of God the divine covenant is announced; in the Eucharist the new and everlasting covenant is renewed. The spoken word of God brings to mind the history of salvation; the Eucharist embodies it in the sacramental signs of the liturgy.” (LMI 10)

Unfortunately, nearly 40 years after this first appeared, some people indicate by their attitude or late arrival that the scripture readings at Mass are merely a preliminary event before the main game!

More recent official statements have also stressed that the Liturgy of the Word is a vital aspect of the celebration of Mass and is so closely connected with the Liturgy of the Eucharist that they form a single act of worship.

The apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (Sacrament of Charity) issued by Pope Benedict XVI after the Synod of Bishops held in Rome in October 2005 includes these gems:
“Let us never forget that when the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself speaks to his people, and Christ, present in his own word, proclaims the Gospel.

“The word of God must be listened to and accepted with a clear awareness of its unity with the sacrament of the Eucharist. Indeed, the word which we proclaim and accept is the Word made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14).”

“Knowledge and study of the word of God enable us better to appreciate, celebrate and live the Eucharist. Here too, we can see how true it is that ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”

This emphasis on the importance of scripture in worship is not some ‘new’ idea that arose first after the second Vatican Council. Early in the 6th century, a sermon given by Caesarius, Archbishop of Arles, included this:
“Which do you think more important – the word of God or the body of Christ? If you want to answer correctly, you must tell me that the word of God is no less important than the body of Christ! How careful are we, when the body of Christ is distributed to us, not to let any bit of it fall to the ground from our hand! But we should be just as careful not to let slip from our hearts the word of God that is addressed to us, by thinking or speaking of something else. He will be no less guilty who listens negligently to the word of God than he who by his negligence allows the Lord’s body to fall on the ground.”
In the Liturgy of the Word, God speaks, we listen; God nourishes, we digest; God is present, we respond. We play our part in this dialogue by listening carefully to the reader and preacher, by being attentive to what God is saying to us during the readings and the homily as well as in the times of silence that follow, and by participating fully in the assembly’s responses.

Elizabeth Harrington