Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Liturgical Footnote #8
By Fr. J.C. Garrett

Thomas à Kempis, in his spiritual classic The Imitation of Christ, speaks about there being two tables at which we dine during the Mass, the table of the Word and the table of the Sacrament. In fact, this two-fold division is seen in Scripture in the account of the “second Mass.” In St. Luke’s account of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, first the Resurrected Jesus explains the Scriptures to them so that their hearts “burned within” them, before they “recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread.” After the Introductory Rites of the Mass, we get to the first table, the Liturgy of the Word.

The Liturgy of the Word is an ESSENTIAL part of the Mass. If you miss the readings, even if you are present to receive the Eucharist, you have NOT fulfilled the Sunday obligation to attend Mass. And making it just in time for the Gospel is also NOT good enough. One of the questions we grimace to hear at the rectory is “How much of the Mass can I miss and still fulfill my Sunday obligation?” Mass begins with the Entrance Hymn (Introit) and ends with the Final Bless and Dismissal; you really need to be there for ALL of it. Of course there are occasions when a person might be late for Mass, but to be habitually late for Mass suggests that one is not placing God first in one’s life and is just “fitting God in” when it is convenient.

Why is the Liturgy of the Word essential? As St. Jerome wrote, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” At the Mass we are having a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, the “Word made Flesh.” For those who remembers the “old” Mass, you might recall that the Liturgy of the Word was shorter than it is now; there was just one reading, the Psalm and then the Gospel, and the same readings were used each year. One of the revisions of the New Mass was to expand the amount of Scripture used during the Mass. Now the Sunday Mass has typically an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a New Testament reading, and the Gospel. In addition, there is now a three year cycle of readings; Cycle A we hear from St. Matthew’s Gospel, Cycle B is from St. Mark’s Gospel (with five weeks from Chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel, since St. Mark’s Gospel is rather short), and Cycle C is from St. Luke’s Gospel. Actually, the cycles of readings are a bit more complicated than that, but this basic outline fits rather well for the Sundays of Ordinary Time. The Gospels are read in a more or less continuous manner, one week picking up where the previous week left off. This continual system is also used for the New Testament readings; the Letters of St. Paul and St. James are read during Ordinary time, while the Letters of St. John and St. Peter are read during Christmas and Easter. Unfortunately this results in the New Testament reading often not fitting well with the Gospel reading. The Old Testament reading (during the Easter Season it is replaced by readings from the Acts of the Apostles) and the Psalm are selected to somehow relate to the Gospel reading.

With all this Scripture, it is important for us prepare ourselves for Sunday Mass, but that’s next week’s column.

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