Hearing the Word of God at Mass
The words of Sacred Scripture are unlike any other that we ever hear. God reveals himself to us through the Scriptures. We believe that all of Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit and must be revered as truly being God’s Word. In hearing God’s Word, we come to know the depth of his love for us and our responsibilities as followers of Jesus.
There are three Scripture readings at Sunday Mass, taken from both the Old and New Testaments.
The first reading, for most of the year, is from the Old Testament, which reminds us that throughout history God has been at work saving his people. During the Easter Season, the first reading is taken from the Acts of the Apostles, which recalls the growth and mission work of the early Church.
The second reading, always from the New Testament, is taken from a letter from one of the Apostles or from the Book of Revelation.
The third reading, from one of the four Gospels, is the high point of the Liturgy of the Word. The Gospels are the fullest expression of God’s revelation in Christ. The Gospel reading is so central, in fact, that it is proclaimed from a different book than the other readings.
This book – the Book of Gospels – is the one that is solemnly carried in procession at the start of the Mass, not the Lectionary that is used for the other readings. The book is placed flat on the altar until the Gospel is proclaimed by the priest or deacon; the deacon who reads the Gospel asks a blessing by way of preparation; the priest celebrant who reads the Gospel bows before the altar praying to be worthy to proclaim it.
We may surround the Gospel with candles and incense. We stand to hear the Gospel. We sign our foreheads, lips, and hearts with the cross, praying that the Gospel will remain in our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts. The priest or deacon kisses the Gospel book after proclaiming the text.
Through these gestures and signs of respect, the Church pays homage to Christ who is present when his Word is proclaimed. The proclamation of the Scriptures in the Mass calls us to respond in faith.
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