The Liturgy of the Word: Listening to Christ
As we continue our walk with Jesus through the Mass, we move from his baptism in the river Jordan to his preaching. We experience this in the next part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word. Here we usually read first from the Old Testament prophets. Each week Jesus listened to and read these words in the synagogue with his disciples—we too accompany him. Remember when he read and taught in the synagogue of Nazareth:
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth; and they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here also in your own country.'”And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. But passing through the midst of them he went away.
Jesus is not afraid to challenge his listeners with the Old Testament Word, so it should also challenge us. As we listen to the first reading, ask the Holy Spirit to challenge you.
After the first reading we pray with the Psalms. Jesus also prayed with the Psalms, they were the vocal prayers that Jesus learned as a child—like the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Angel of God prayers are for us. As we pray with Jesus on how to better carryout the Father’s will.
After the Responsorial Psalm, we listen to the teachings of the Apostles in one or another of their various letters. Just as Jesus sent out the apostles (Matthew 10:1,5-11:1; Mark 6:7-13; Luke 9:1-6) and the 72 disciples (Luke 10:1-20) to prepare the way by preaching repentance and conversion so as to embrace the Gospel of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
Finally we listen to Christ in the Gospel. The Church teaches us that the Liturgy of the Word makes Jesus Christ present to us: “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” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 29, quoted in Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, 45). That is why the Church requires that an ordained deacon, priest, or bishop read the Gospel and give the Homily, because they sacramentally re-present Christ’s own preaching to us.
At the end of the Gospel, the priest or deacon says, “The Gospel of the Lord”—God’s good-news to us!—and we respond with a resounding, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!” Praise the Lord for the good-news he gives us. Then Christ, through the ordained minister’s Homily, explains what his teaching means, why it really is good-news, and how we can live it out in our lives.