The Place of Scripture in Liturgy: Part I - Fitting Proclamation of the Word of God
December 28, 2007
My Grandma Kappy gave me a treasured gift when I was 22 years old. It was one of her quilts. What a joy it was to unfold. The hand-stitching was precise. The pairing of fabric by color and design was pleasing. And best of all, my history was bound up in it. As I kept unfolding this present, there was my brother’s hand-me-down shirt I had on when I fell out of the tree. I recognized my Cub Scout kerchief, my favorite summer pajamas, my bed room curtains, my graduation tie.
At the First Proclamation of the Word of God
The Church unfolds a treasured gift every time the word of God is proclaimed. It is the mystery of Jesus Christ the Lord evident from the very first liturgy celebrated by any community. After a new church is built, the diocesan bishop comes for the first Mass. This celebration is called the “Dedication of a Church and an Altar.” The whole liturgy is filled with ritual elements that remind us what it is to be Church (the People of God) gathered in this church (the building). This first Liturgy of the Word begins thus:
"The proclamation of the word of God is fittingly carried out in this way: two readers, one of whom carries The Lectionary, and the psalmist come to the bishop. The bishop, standing with the miter on, takes The Lectionary, shows it to the people, and says:
May the word of God always be heard in this place,
as it unfolds the mystery of Christ before you
and achieves your salvation within the Church.
Dedication of a Church and an Altar, provisional text, revised 1989, no. II. 53.
The Ritual Hope and Promise
Because of this mighty praying, here is what always happens after that first liturgy – week after week and year after year in that holy place with the holy People of God:
» The Scriptures are always read aloud. The Church is assured that Christ is present in these liturgical proclamations [Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 7].
» In the proclaiming and hearing of the word of God, the mystery of Christ is unfolded. The Church attends to this by means of the liturgical year: Advent (and the comings of Christ) to Christmas (and God taking on our flesh) to Lent (and baptismal preparation and renewal) to Easter (and the death and rising of Jesus Christ) to Pentecost (and mission of all the baptized) to Ordinary Time (and the holiness of the Church) to Advent again [General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, nos. 17 ff.].
» In this proclamation-response event, the Church is saved by God’s desire and action. The living word shapes the Church, helps these People of God grow, and makes available the fullness of redemption [Lectionary for Mass: Introduction, nos. 7-10].
» Many ministers are preferred and needed for this important task: one for each reading, psalm, and homily. The dedication sets the pattern based on the knowledge that because so much is at stake, so much is needed [General Instruction of the Roman Missal, nos. 91 and 109].
» All become more and more aware that this Word is indeed from God, is God, and is enfleshed in the very person of the dead but risen Jesus Christ the Lord. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God [John 1:1].
The Ritual Demand
Good proclamation begets good hearing. Good hearing begets good response. Good liturgical response begets good apostolic action. It is hard work. It is important work because so much is at stake. Here is what real parishes are doing to keep the word of God alive.
Two Examples of Ritual Preparation
St. Jerome Parish (in Illinois) sets Tuesday night aside for all who proclaim the word of God during Sunday Mass. Every reader, every psalmist, every preacher gathers with parish staff to break open the Sunday readings with prayer, exegesis, and reflection. Those who cannot participate in this preparation do not minister. The parish is convinced that better ministers foster better prayer that builds up faith.
St. Paul of the Cross Parish (in Indiana) also sets Tuesday night as the gathering of priest, catechumenal catechists, dismissal ministers, all other catechists, and the liturgy director. Dinner is provided. After an opening prayer, the pastor provides some exegesis on the Scripture and the liturgy. He then shares the draft of his preaching while the catechists share both the needs of those to be catechized and the session outline draft. The conversation that follows not only informs all these ministers but it is not uncommon for changes to be made for better prayer, better proclamation, better preaching, better catechesis.
At the Next Proclamation of the Word of God
May every liturgy proclaim well the word of God. May every liturgy unfold more of the mystery of Christ. And in that unfolding, may the living Christ be present in the lives of all believers.
Eliot Kapitan is the director for the Office for Worship and the Catechumenate in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. He writes a regular column on liturgical catechesis “Pray, Believe, Learn, and Live” for Modern Liturgy magazine.
Photo by Paul Covino: Proclamation of the Word at Boston College