Liturgy of the Word
The reading of Scripture has always been an integral part of the Liturgy. When the first Christians gathered to "break bread", they kept the Jewish custom of the "breaking open the Word", as well. From the Hebrew Scriptures, they read the Books of the Law and the Prophets; they shared letters written by early missionaries like Peter and Paul; and they shared, of course, their own story - the Gospels.
The First Reading
The presence of the Old Testament in the first reading manifests the Church's firm conviction that all Scripture is the Word of God. God is speaking to His chosen people in the words of love through the whole Liturgy of the Word. The reading prepares the table of God's Word for the faithful and open up the riches of the Bible for them.
There is continuity between the two Testaments: both lead us to Jesus Christ. The first reading and the Gospel reading are usually connected by a theme. Each time we listen to the readings of the Mass we are like the Disciples walking with the Risen Christ on the road to Emmaus. "Jesus explained to them what was said about Himself in all of the Scriptures, beginning with the books of Moses and the writings of all the prophets" (Luke 24:27). After the first reading we pause in order to reflect and pray about what we have just heard.
The Lector proclaims the First Reading. At the end of the first reading:
Reader: This is the Word of the Lord.
All: Thanks be to God.
The Cantor or Choir sings the Responsorial Psalm, and the congregation sings the response or the refrain.
The Responsorial Psalm is primarily the Assembly's response, in word or song, to the reading, which has just been proclaimed. The Christian Community uses God's Word - taken from the Psalms of the Old Testament - as a response to God's Word, thereby making God's Word their own.
The Second Reading
In the Second Reading, formerly termed the Epistle, the assembly encounters the early Church living its Christian faith. This witness of the apostolic community provides an example for all times, since Christians of every age are to recall the love of the Father made present in Christ, the good news of redemption and the duty of Christian love. All followers of Jesus are called to live decently and without blemish, to be tolerant of one another and to be steadfast in the faith.
The Lector proclaims the Second Reading. At the end of the reading:
Reader: This is the Word of the Lord.
All: Thanks be to God.
The Gospel acclamation is normally expressive of Paschal joy, recalling the Life, Death, Resurrection and Second Coming of Jesus. This song Alleluia, which accompanies the Gospel procession, comes from a Hebrew word that means "Praise God". The whole assembly praises Christ who comes to proclaim the Good News of salvation.
Everybody rises for the Gospel Acclamation.
Priest: The Lord be with you.
The Gospel is very sacred, since these are the words and deeds of Christ, we surround it by many distinct acts of respect; one of these is that we stand for the Gospel Reading.
Whereas, any lector could proclaim the other readings, a special minister was appointed to read the Gospel. In the early Church it was the Deacon who was considered the special example of Christ as servant. Only in the absence of a Deacon does the Priest proclaim the Gospel.
The making of small signs of the Cross on the book, forehead, mouth and heart express readiness to open one's mind to the Word, to confess it with the mouth, and to safeguard it in the heart. We are now ready to listen to the Gospel.
All: And also with you.
Priest: A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew/Mark/Luke/John.
All: Glory to you, O Lord.
The Gospel is proclaimed by the Deacon or the Priest. When the reading of the Gospel is finished, the assembly responds with the acclamation in spoken or sung mode.
Priest: This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All: Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
The homily, an integral part of the Liturgy of the Word, is a continuation of God's saving message, which nourishes faith and conversion. It is more than just a sermon or talk about how we are to live or what we are to believe. It is a proclamation of God's saving deeds in Christ. Just as a large piece of bread is broken to feed individual persons, the Word of God must be broken open so it can be received and digested by the Assembly.
Everybody sits for the Homily.
The Nicene Creed
And now, as we stand together to proclaim our faith through the Creed, we are responding "Yes" to the message of God's Word. The oldest faith statement in the Church is called the Apostle's Creed. With its roots in the first centuries of the Church, it was highly prized as a summary of all Christian teaching. Catechumens had to memorize it and recite it privately to the Bishop before being baptized. It was considered too secret and special to be committed to paper.
The Creed we use in the Liturgy today is called the Nicene-Constantinople Creed because these two early Ecumenical Church Councils developed it. It is also called the "ecumenical creed" since it forms a part of the liturgy of other Christian denominations. The Creed, therefore, is a confession of faith that unites us with the Church throughout the world.
We bow at the words "By the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man" because the Incarnation is the most sacred moment of all creation.
All: We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The Prayer of the Faithful
Through the Prayer of the Faithful, we pray that our assembly really comes to resemble the Body of Christ - a body at peace: providing shelter for the homeless, healing for the sick and food for the hungry. We know from reading Saint Paul's letters that this custom of offering general intercessions existed in the earliest Christian Communities.
Today, the Prayer of the Faithful is a prayer of petition, remembering our universal concerns, namely for the Church, for the world leaders and public authorities, for the poor and the oppressed, for the local community and parish; and for particular celebrations and special intentions.
Next: The Liturgy of the Eucharist