The Word of the Lord


The Liturgy of the Word is the first of the two central parts of the Mass. Unfortunately, some people seem to consider it as akin to the preliminary event before the main game, so it doesn’t really matter if you arrive after the start!
The official documents of the Church describe the purpose of the scripture readings at Mass totally differently. The ‘Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass’ perhaps expresses it best:
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)
One of the strongest statements about the importance of the readings from scripture in worship is included in the introduction to the Missal: “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.” (GIRM 29)
The structure of the Liturgy of the Word is: First Reading, Silence, Responsorial Psalm, Second Reading, Silence, Gospel Acclamation, Gospel, Homily, Silence, Profession of Faith, General Intercessions.
Except in the Easter season, the first reading is taken from the Old Testament. A passage is selected which has a thematic link with the gospel reading. The first reading should be followed by a period of prayerful silence.
The responsorial psalm that follows is itself the word of God and the prayer of the Church through the ages. The psalm set down for the celebration has been chosen as the appropriate response to the first reading. For these reasons, the psalm is not replaced by a hymn.
The second reading comes from one of the New Testament epistles (letters). During Ordinary Time the passages are chosen to give a semi-continuous reading over six to seven weeks from one of the letters. At other times, they are chosen to link with the gospel.
The gospel reading, the high point of the Liturgy of the Word, is given special gestures of respect. The assembly stands and acclaims Christ’s presence by singing the gospel acclamation. “The Alleluia or the verse before the gospel must be sung ... by the whole congregation together.” (LMI 23)
The homily unfolds the mysteries of faith contained in the word that has been proclaimed and relates this word to our lives today. “It must always lead the community of the faithful to celebrate the Eucharist wholeheartedly.” (LMI 24) The homily is followed by a short silence.
The pattern of the Liturgy of the Word is one of dialogue - between reader and listener, between God and us. God speaks, we listen; God nourishes, we digest; God is present, we respond. We play our part in the 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