By Deacon Frank Agnoli
(Editor’s note: The publication of the third edition of the Roman Missal provides a great opportunity for each diocese, parish and individual Catholics to grow in their love for — and knowledge of — the liturgy. In this series Deacon Frank Agnoli, the Davenport Diocese’s director of liturgy, reflects on the parts of the Mass.)
One of the greatest blessings of Vatican II is that we get to hear much more of the Bible at Mass now than we did before — especially from the Old (First) Testament. After the council, the Lectionary that we use at Mass was thoroughly revised, and even adopted (in an adapted form) by many Protestant communities. On Sundays, instead of just one reading before the Gospel, we now hear two — from both the New and Old Testaments. And instead of a single cycle of readings, we now have a richer variety of readings spread over three years.
In Year A, the Gospel reading comes from Matthew; in year B it is from Mark and year C from Luke. During Ordinary Time, the first (Old Testament) reading and psalm are chosen to echo the Gospel. The second (New Testament letter) reading is independent; in each of the three years we read from a different set of letters. During the other liturgical seasons, all the Sunday readings are chosen to work together; during Easter, the first reading comes from the Acts of the Apostles and the second reading from Revelation. John’s Gospel is also read during the Easter season, as well as during the summer in year B (because Mark’s Gospel is shorter).
The weekday lectionary is on a two-year cycle: the first reading changes but the Gospel stays the same (before the council, most of the time the Sunday readings were simply repeated during the week).
As Pope Benedict XVI reminds us: in the Liturgy of the Word, “God himself speaks to his people, and Christ, present in his own words, proclaims the Gospel” (Sacramentum caritatis, #45). How can we listen to our Lover, with heart as well as head, if we are reading along? Unless there is a problem with hearing the reader, close the missaletes. Read the readings at home, before Mass, and after Mass. Study them all week long. But when they are being proclaimed, listen!
At Mass, we listen not to learn facts (our study during the week can be for that) but to encounter our friend and Lord. If we really believe that God is speaking to us, should we not pay attention? When we are having intimate conversations with our spouse or a close friend, do we read along from some script? Then why do so at Mass?
In order to more deeply engage the readings, embrace your imagination. We are part of the story, so put yourself in it. Who are you, with what character do you identify with as you listen? Maybe you’re just in the crowd, watching from a distance. Or maybe you’re the one Jesus is addressing … in words of challenge or words of healing. Regardless, “Thanks be to God” doesn’t mean we’re glad the reading is over. But it is our ritual way of saying “yes” to what the readings are calling us to do, to whom the Scriptures are calling us to become.
Entering the Mystery
Do I take the time to read the readings before Mass, preferably a number of times during the week? Do I take advantage of opportunities to study the Bible?
When at Mass, do I listen to the readings (not read along), so I can hear not just with my ears, but with my heart?
Do I try to enter the readings imaginatively so as to hear what God is saying to me today?
The Ars Celebrandi
As one who proclaims the Scriptures, whether lay or ordained, do I carefully prepare for this ministry? Do I take the time to pray and study the Scriptures, as well as to practice the readings?
As a parish, do we have a sound system that helps people hear the proclaimed word? Do all our ministers know how to use the microphone?