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source: Fr. Dan McLaughlin, OSA

Liturgy of the Word: The Readings

by Jeremy Hiers, OSA

This post is part of a series called The Mass: An Augustinian Perspective offered on

Lay theologian Edward Sri notes that “the Bible does not simply talk about God, but is God’s own speech.”[1].

In the Liturgy of the Word, we encounter the words of God spoken personally to each one of us. We prepared ourselves for this Holy Encounter in the Introductory Rites through the Sign of the Cross, the Penitential Act, the Gloria, and the Collect. We are now prepared to hear what God wants to speak to us through the lectors, whom God will use as the instrument to proclaim His Word to us.

Saint Augustine says,

Let us leave a little room for reflection in our lives, room too for silence. Let us look within ourselves and see whether there is some delightful hidden place inside where we can be free of noise and argument. Let us hear the Word of God in stillness and perhaps we will then come to understand it.

Saint Augustine (Sermon 52, 22)

The Liturgy of the Word invites us to a position of reverence as we take God’s voice in and allow the Spirit to help us contemplate what it means for our concrete life and the intention we brought with us. Accordingly, the General Instruction on the Roman Missal states, “The Liturgy of the Word is to be celebrated in such a way as to favor meditation and so any kind of haste such as as hinders recollection is to be avoided” (GIRM, 56). As we hear and reflect on the Word of God in the period of stillness and silence granted to us between readings, we come to discover newer levels of meaning for our lives and our relationship with God and our sisters and brothers.

The arrangement of reading selections for the Mass itself becomes a source of meaning for us.  By this arrangement, the unity of the Old Testament, New Testament, and salvation history is made present.  

The First Reading

The first reading illustrates either continuity/contrast between the Old Testament story and the Gospel or underscores how the Old Testament prefigures Christ and the Church. 

Reflection Question: How do the circumstances of the people of God portrayed in the first reading relate to the circumstance I brought to Mass with me today? How might they relate to what is going on in the world today?

Responsorial Psalm  

The Psalms were prayers written by people praying to God out of the concrete experiences of their life.  They were written by people just like us who experienced the ups and downs, joys and griefs of life.  Accordingly, we utilize these prayers in the Psalms to respond to the first reading out of our own experiences.  The Responsorial Psalm can help us discover deeper meaning in the first reading we just heard and prepare us to discover the meaning awaiting discovery as we prepare to hear the second reading proclaimed.

Reflection Question: How does the Psalm relate to the restlessness or yearnings I feel in the circumstance I brought to Mass with me today?

RELATED: Praying the Psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours

The Second Reading

The second reading is an opportunity to reflect on the mystery of Jesus Christ, His saving work, and the meaning it has for our lives. 

Reflection Question: How do the circumstances of the people of God portrayed in the second reading relate to the circumstance I brought to Mass with me today?

The Gospel Reading

The reading of the Gospel serves as the high point of the Liturgy of the Word.[2] In the Gospel, Christ speaks directly and personally to each one of us. The Gospel Acclamation (the Alleluia in all seasons except Lent) is sung as a joyous chant in response to the Good News we know is coming and helps prepare our hearts to welcome the message that Christ will give us as the Gospel is proclaimed. The procession of the book of the Gospels that takes place during the Gospel Acclamation serves as a sign of Christ coming into our midst.

Reflection Question: Am I truly open to hear good news with respect to the circumstances I am facing in my life, even if that good news might challenge me in some way? How do I envision Christ coming into my life, the world, the Church, and the intentions I brought with me to Mass? How do the words of Christ relate to my life and the circumstances I brought with me to Mass today?

[1] Edward Sri, A Biblical Walk Through the Mass (West Chester, PA: Ascension Press, 2011), Kindle Edition, Location 810.

[2] General Instruction on the Roman Missal, no. 59.

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