How can families get to better know our Lord Jesus Christ, his word and our Catholic faith in general? A convenient, ready-made way is to read and discuss the Church’s daily Mass readings, whether at the dinner table or some other useful time.
Participating in daily Mass may not be practical for all or any family members, but that doesn’t preclude everyone from benefiting from each day’s Mass readings.
To know and love someone better, you have to spend time with that person. Husbands and wives understand this as married couples and also in devoting their lives to their children.
The same goes for our relationship with Jesus, which includes spending time reading and reflecting on the biblical word, of which he, as God, is the primary author. That is why St. Jerome could famously say, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” (Catechism, 133).
Because Jesus is our divine Savior, this is an ignorance we can ill afford, especially in our modern culture. The Bible is basically about God’s plan of salvation for mankind. Thus, everything in the Old Testament, properly understood, points toward Jesus, and the New Testament proclaims him in full, the Incarnate Word who came to redeem us from sin and offer us eternal salvation.
The Church’s Sunday and weekday readings reflect the Christocentric nature of Scripture and salvation history, highlighting the four Gospels that are the principal witness for Jesus’ life and teaching (Vatican II, Dei Verbum, 18).
During the three-year cycle of readings for obligatory Sunday Masses, the faithful will hear almost 58% of the four Gospels, 41% of the whole New Testament and 4% of the expansive Old Testament. When the two-year cycle of daily readings is included, those figures climb to 13.5% of the Old Testament, 71.5% of the New Testament and almost 90% of the Gospels, according to statistics at Catholic-Resources.org.
The Church’s liturgical year is also properly centered on Christ, as the daily Mass readings remind us. We begin the year anticipating the celebration of Our Lord’s birth in Advent, experience the joy of the Christmas season, progress through Ordinary Time for a short while, and then proceed through Lent, emulating Jesus’ 40 days in the desert as we prepare for the somberness of Holy Week and the joy of Easter. Catholics tend to do Lent better than Easter, for many too often reduce Easter to a one-day event instead of an especially joyous octave and a 50-day season of celebration. We continue on through Ordinary Time, a time spanning 34 weeks that concludes the liturgical year in November, with readings increasingly focused on the Last Things, and the Solemnity of Christ the King fittingly culminating the Liturgical Year, as reigning with Our Lord in heaven is our ultimate goal.
The best way to learn is to teach, and parents can inform their young ones about the great events of Jesus’ life, including his unforgettable parables, with resources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church, with its helpful scriptural and subject indexes, and the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament. When children get older, they can help lead family discussions, as they increasingly move from a faith they have received from Mom and Dad to one in which they take full ownership. Even if they don’t have their own Sunday or weekday missal, older children can access the readings online at the U.S. bishops’ website (USCCB.org). They’ll also receive inspiration along the way, learning about the pantheon of saints on the Church’s general calendar.
The Church also provides guidance in the selection of her Sunday readings, helping us to see better how Old Testament passages are connected with Our Lord’s ministry in the Gospel. For example, this summer, during Year B, we’ll see how the Eucharist is prefigured in the readings of the 17th through 21st Sundays of Ordinary Time, including the Father’s provision of manna for the Israelites in the desert (Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15) and Elisha’s miraculous multiplication of a small number of loaves and a sack of grain (2 Kings 4:42-44). These and other readings will be paired with Gospel readings from John 6, in which Jesus first multiplies five loaves and two fish to feed 5,000 men, and then proclaims his body and blood, the Eucharist, as “the bread of life.”
While some Christians argue that Jesus meant his words figuratively regarding the consumption of his flesh and blood, their view cannot be reconciled with the actual text. The ancient Jews understood Jesus as speaking literally: Jesus affirmed their understanding, and then many Jews walked away because they couldn’t accept Jesus’ “hard saying.” In short, a merely figurative teaching wouldn’t have led so many to leave, nor would they have called it “a hard saying.”
Tom Nash is a theology advisor at EWTN and the author of Worthy Is the Lamb: The Biblical Roots of the Mass (Ignatius Press).