To be Prepared for the Word of God
As Catholics we are taught that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist which we receive at Mass; but often his presence in the Liturgy of the Word is treated as secondary.
In last week’s issue, Br Mike Chalmers CF wrote that “Christ himself is present in his Word, since it is he who speaks when Scripture is read in church”.
This insight must encourage our parishes to treat the manner in which the Word is conveyed and received at Mass with great care.
“It is not enough that the biblical passages are read in the vernacular if they are not also proclaimed with care, preparation, devout attention and meditative silence that enable the Word of God to touch people’s minds and hearts,” Br Chalmers wrote in his reflections for Bible Sunday, this year on August 25. Successive popes have advocated for the proper training of lectors, which must also include guidance in their interior preparations.
Successive popes have advocated for the proper training of lectors, which must also include guidance in their interior preparations.
At a general audience in January last year, Pope Francis issued a basic call: “We must look for good readers!”
He pointed out that good readers understand what they are reading and can therefore convey it well. This means that, at a bare minimum, readers have to read the text before Mass.
Experts suggest that readers might study the texts they are to read at Mass, and even prayerfully contemplate them.
This enables the lector to deliver the scripture passage with familiarity, taking care of details such as placing the emphasis on the sentence’s most important word. Familiarity with the text can also help with confident diction. And an evident love for the Scriptures will resonate with the listeners.
Familiarity with the text can also help with confident diction. And an evident love for the Scriptures will resonate with the listeners.
On the other hand, a poorly delivered reading can be a distraction and, indeed, a waste of the Word of the Lord if it results in the congregation becoming bored or restless, impatiently waiting for their chance to close the book with a collectively exhaled, “Thanks be to God”.
A well-delivered reading, the pope said last year, helps to create “a climate of receptive silence”.
This is important because, he said, “it is not enough to hear with the ears, without receiving in the heart the seed of the divine Word, allowing it to bear fruit”.
So while the aptitude of the interlocutor of the Word of the Lord is important — and there are many practical websites dedicated to helping lectors improve their delivery — so is the disposition of those who are invited to hear it.
And here one must not let the people in the pews get away with making excuses about poor lectors.
Pope Francis reminds us: “God speaks, and we listen to him, and then put into practice what we have heard.”
But when we don’t hear the Word of God — be it because of a mumbling reader or our own distraction — we turn our attention away from him.
Ideally, congregants are prepared for the Liturgy of the Word before they even come to Mass. Ideally, congregants are prepared for the Liturgy of the Word before they even come to Mass.
We can do so by perusing the Mass readings — and perhaps also the verses that precede and follow the readings, to better understand the context in which they are placed—before we come to church.
Alternatively, or additionally, we can prepare by reading a reflection on the relevant Scripture passages.
In that regard, The Southern Cross is providing a service by its weekly publication of Fr Nicholas King’s reflections on the following Sunday’s readings. It is indeed a privilege for the Southern African Church to have one of the world’s leading scripture scholars write these reflections exclusively for this newspaper.
The website of The Southern Cross also provides helpful reflections on the Sunday Mass readings by Fr John Allen Green OFM (now available every Friday).
These reflections, and others like them, are excellent ways of preparing for the Liturgy of the Word, and they are also usefully studied after Mass as a means of consolidating the message of these readings.
In this way the readings can truly nourish us for the coming week, to “put into practice what we have heard”.