By Fr. Michel Mulloy, Director of Liturgy
The Liturgy of the Word is a dialogue. God is speaking to us and we are responding. That dialogue is accomplished through the human persons. This makes the role of the proclaimer very important.
The laity proclaim the first reading, the response and the second reading. Proclaimers are allowing God to speak to the community through their person. This ministry is the right of the baptized. As sons and daughters of God we are all called to read, speak and live the scriptures. Standing before the assembly to proclaim the word of God is a natural extension of this baptismal call.
The gospel in the context of the Mass is reserved for the priest or deacon. The priest is Christ present leading Christ body, the Church gathered. The deacon who shares in the ordained ministry of the bishop, can also proclaim the gospel. The gospels are the words of Christ himself and therefore the gospel is the high point of the Liturgy of the word. God’s plan of salvation unfolds through the first reading, response and second reading, leading to the fullness of his plan revealed in Jesus Christ. It is fitting that the one who stands in the midst of the people speaking in the person of Jesus in his leadership of his people, should proclaim Jesus’ words.
We respond to the proclamation of the word of God in three ways. First, we listen. Listening is responding. It is hard work because it requires not just ears, but hearts and minds. Distraction is easy. Constantly bringing ourselves back to the moment, we are telling the Lord we want to be there and to be in relationship with him.
The second way the congregation responds to the word of God is by offering thanks. The lector ends the reading with, “The word of the Lord.” This is a proclamation that sums up the experience we have shared. We have been privileged to listen to the Lord speaking to us in the person of the lector. Our response is important. We acknowledge this privilege to know the Lord present. Obviously, our hearts ought to be filled with gratitude. “Thanks be to God.”
The third way we respond to the word of God is silence. The general instruction of the Roman Missal invites the congregation to meditate on the word we have just heard. The silence allows the word of God to sink into our hearts and into our lives.
Silence can be awkward and difficult, but the silence is purposeful. In anticipation of the silence we listen to the reading with an open heart. There might be a phrase or a word, an idea or awareness that catches our attention. When that happens, the silence becomes a moment to allow that touch of God’s word to settle more deeply into our minds and hearts. If we are not moved by some aspect of the reading proclaimed, we can simply be quiet and relax in the goodness of the word we have feasted on. In the practice of silence over time the word of God will penetrate our lives and form us anew. The silence will be cherished and missed when we are in situations where the readings are moved through too quickly. This silence, along with our attentive listening and heartfelt spoken response, will enrich our dialogue with the Lord in his word.
The Liturgy of the Word continues after the readings. The homily opens up the word of God. Preachers are invited to help the faithful understand how the stories of our faith intersect with our own stories. Christ continues to speak to his people through a well-crafted homily.
Following the homily, we all stand and profess the Creed. Having listened to God speak to us, and having reflected on how we are called in response to God’s word, we state our belief.
Finally, having listened, reflected and professed our faith, we are ready to ask God for what we need. We pray confidently for God to help us. Thus, we offer our petitions or Universal Prayer.
The Liturgy of the Word is a rich encounter with God in Jesus. It requires our preparation and whole-hearted attention.