Liturgy of the Word: Scripture,
a homily, Profession of Faith, intercessions

By Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

November 6, 2002

The Liturgy of the Word brings us into the living presence of God. This part of the Mass includes readings from sacred Scripture, usually a homily, a Profession of Faith on Sundays and solemnities, and the General Intercessions. We're invited into a dialogue of listening and responding. The Introductory Rites have focused our attention, and now the Holy Spirit can stir our hearts to an understanding of the saving mysteries announced in God's word, and our own participation in them.

In the sacred Scriptures we hear once again of the great events of salvation history and how they will become present to us in the eucharistic sacrifice. The Church has chosen the readings carefully for every day of the liturgical year. Because of this, only if the Church permits an option — and then only hesitantly — will the celebrant consider replacing one reading with another.



Because we recognize that Scripture is "God speaking to his people," we should never omit Scripture readings or replace them with other kinds of writings. The Church gathers the Sunday readings into a three-year cycle and the weekday readings into a two-year cycle. These become an ongoing instruction in our faith and walk with God. Scripture is always read from the ambo. The collection of these readings is called the Lectionary. We currently have four volumes to our Lectionary. You may have noticed the brand new look of the Lectionary in your parish. As of last Pentecost, a new translation of the readings became mandatory.

First we sit and listen attentively to a reading from the Old Testament. We ponder the goodness of our God in a moment of silence. In response, we then sing (or at least recite) a psalm, which is also Scripture. This "responsorial psalm" is always meant to be just that — a psalm that corresponds to the Lectionary reading. Sometimes in the past parishes have used "songs" in their place, but this is unsuitable. Since a psalm is the inspired word of God, the text should not be changed, and the cantor or leader should preferably stand at the ambo from which the Scripture is proclaimed.

On Sundays and solemnities we have a second reading — again, followed by a short silence. After each of these readings, the reader concludes by saying: "The word of the Lord." And we respond, "Thanks be to God!"

The Gospel Alleluia then precedes the Gospel. We stand and exultantly sing out "alleluia," usually followed by a verse that introduces the Gospel passage. (A different acclamation occurs during the Lenten exclusion of the Alleluia.) We stand as a gesture of greeting the Lord who comes in a unique way through his Gospel. In the Eastern rites, the importance of attentiveness is underlined with repetitions of "be attentive!"

While the assembly prepares, the deacon asks the celebrant for a blessing before he proclaims the Gospel. Absent a deacon, the priest will ready himself by inaudibly praying: "Almighty God, cleanse my heart and my lips that I may worthily proclaim your Gospel." Your parish may have a Book of the Gospels. This book, usually decorated more ornately than the Lectionary, may be carried in procession to the ambo and may also be incensed in reverence.

The deacon or priest then announces the reading. We answer in gratitude and praise for the Good News, "Glory to you, O Lord!" We make three small signs of the cross on the forehead, mouth and heart which embody the prayer: "May the word of God be on my mind, in my words and in my heart" as we aspire to make ourselves one with the word of God. (The new Roman Missal has revived this gesture once again for all to do.)

The deacon or celebrant then proclaims the Gospel and ends with an acclamation, "The Gospel of the Lord." The assembly responds, "Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!" The priest or deacon then kisses the book in a sign of reverence and prays another inaudible prayer: "Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be washed away."

We then sit and listen to the homily.

Next week: The archbishop continues his reflections on the liturgy.