For much of my life, I did not think that the Liturgy of the Word was that important. The Scripture readings felt like a warm-up, a time to mentally prepare myself for the rest of Mass. Since the Gospel speaks about Jesus, and was always far more interesting—and easy to understand—than any exhortation from Deuteronomy or Numbers, I naturally thought that it was the only reading I needed to pay attention to. Furthermore, during the homily, the priest usually preached on the words and events of the Gospel, and often did not talk about the other Scripture readings; this only further cemented my mindset that these “other parts” just did not matter that much. So, for the first several minutes of each Mass, I would operate on autopilot, halfheartedly listening until the strains of the Alleluia reached my ears.
I can’t pinpoint a specific moment in time, but eventually, I began to ask myself: Why? Why is the Liturgy of the Word important? If the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life,” then why don’t we just jump ahead to the Eucharistic Prayer and toss out the other stuff?
As I learned more about the Liturgy of the Word, I discovered that it is vital. According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), “The Mass is made up, as it were, of two parts: The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. These, however, are so closely interconnected that they form but one single act of worship. For in the Mass the table both of God’s word and of Christ’s Body is prepared, from which the faithful may be instructed and refreshed.”
Each part of the Mass has a specific purpose and importance. When I routinely zoned out during the Liturgy of the Word, I was losing out on so much goodness! The GIRM states that in the Old and New Testament readings, “God speaks to his people, opening up to them the mystery of redemption and salvation, and offering them spiritual nourishment; and Christ himself is present in the midst of the faithful through his word.”
The readings are a way in which God communicates to each person. If I ignore the readings, I am not opening my ears to hear Him speak. In an effort to more fully participate in the Mass and more clearly hear God speak, I have decided to take the Liturgy of the Word seriously. Yes, there are times when I find myself thinking about what I’m going to make for lunch instead of the Scriptures, but I’ve managed to zone out far less than I used to. Here are a few techniques that have helped me:
Intentionally listen and focus when the readings are proclaimed. If I sit down and just hear the readings, it’s easy for the Scripture to slide in one ear and out the other. But if I focus my mind and heart on the words that are being said, it is a lot easier to keep from zoning out—and I am often enriched by what I hear!
Reflect on what has just been proclaimed. I can’t count how many times, after hearing the readings, I suddenly find myself standing for the Gospel with no idea of what I just heard. Instead of falling into this trap, I can prayerfully reflect during the Responsorial Psalm. According to the GIRM, this psalm “holds great liturgical and pastoral importance, because it fosters meditation on the word of God…[it] should correspond to each reading and should, as a rule, be taken from the Lectionary.”
Go over the readings before or after Mass. A few minutes before or after Mass, read through the Scripture passages. Ask God to help you reflect on His word, and think about it throughout the day. The daily Mass readings can be easily accessed through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website. Blessed is She is a fantastic resource for women, and Mass readings and short reflections are e-mailed each day to ladies who sign up.
I used to suffer through the Liturgy of the Word, but now I love it. Through the Scriptures, my faith has grown. St. Jerome is attributed with saying that “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” As we listen to the Scriptures at Mass, let us reflect on them, encounter Christ, and truly grow in our love and knowledge of God!