The Dialogue of Love: Preparing Your Heart for the Liturgy of the Word
COMMENTARY: The heart-to-heart dialogue of the Liturgy of the Word prepares us to be united to Christ in Holy Communion.
At every Mass, God is coming to speak to us — really — through the inspired words of Scripture.
And it’s a very personal word. We see this exemplified at Mount Sinai, where God came to speak to the people of Israel. Did you know that before the Ten Commandments were ever tablets of stone, God spoke the Ten Commandments to the Israelites?
And what’s fascinating is the language God used in those famous “Thou Shall Nots.” When God said, “Thou shall not kill. … Thou shall not steal …,” he was not saying “You all shall not kill. … You all shall not steal …” as if he were making a general announcement to a large group of people. Rather, God was using the singular personal pronoun: “You shall not kill. … You shall not steal.” He was speaking personally to each Israelite that day. It was as if each individual heard God speaking directly to him the words of the covenant.
That’s what happens when we hear the word of God in the liturgy. It’s not just some generic word being proclaimed to a large group of people at church.
God desires to speak to you personally. He knows what you’re going through right now. He knows what you need. And he wants to touch your life with his word at every Mass.
Will you be ready to hear it?
Jesus Speaks to Us
Many Catholics get excited to receive Jesus in Holy Communion. But not as many express their ardor for listening to Jesus through the Scriptures in the liturgy. But that same Jesus — the Word made flesh — who comes to us sacramentally in the Eucharist wants to speak us in the Scriptures, the word of God inspired.
Think of the Liturgy of the Word as the dialogue of two people in love. God loves us so much he seeks us out and speaks to us through his inspired words in Scripture. He longs for our attention, for us to listen to him. He thirsts for our love. We, in turn, should lovingly desire to hear our Beloved speak to us, to listen attentively, to know his heart in the Liturgy of the Word. This heart-to-heart dialogue of the Liturgy of the Word prepares us to be united to Christ in Holy Communion.
The Lector: Loaning God His Voice
Consider the role of the lector. Have you ever been selected to read the Scriptures at Mass? If so, you have had one of the most honored functions any layperson can have in the liturgy. The lector is not simply a public reader of the Bible, reciting readings from texts written a long time ago. No, the lector is reading God’s inspired words! That’s what the word “inspiration” means: “God breathed.” God breathes forth his divine word through the words of men. So, even though the New Testament Scriptures were written 2,000 years ago (and the Old Testament writings much longer ago than that), because they are inspired words, they can travel through time and touch each individual differently, personally today.
That’s why some people are touched by one part of the readings while other people are encouraged by another. Two people can hear the exact same word in a reading and be moved in different ways: One person in your family might be comforted and encouraged, while another person might be challenged to repent.
Indeed, God wants to speak to each individual personally in the liturgy.
At Mass, therefore, the Lord uses the lector as the instrument through whom he proclaims his word to the people. Think of the lector as lending God his human voice so that God’s words can be spoken to us at Mass. Indeed, that’s what the lector is doing — loaning God his or her voice — so that the divine words of Scripture can touch the hearts of the people present that day. What an amazing honor and privilege it is to read the word of God! And what a blessing it is for us to hear it (see Revelation 1:3; Driscoll, What Happens at Mass, 40).
To hear the word of God is a serious matter. We can’t just walk into church and expect to be able to hear God’s word adequately. We must prepare our hearts to be more in tune with our divine Bridegroom. Think about what the people of Israel did at Mount Sinai before they could hear God speak to them: They prepared themselves for three days before God spoke to them the words of the covenant. What do you do to prepare?
The good news is that the Mass itself has a built-in way to prepare us for this holy encounter with God’s word. This formal preparation is called the Introductory Rites, which consists of the opening series of prayers known as Sign of the Cross, the Confiteor, the Kyrie and the Gloria. These opening prayers are all about getting ready — getting our hearts and minds ready to welcome God’s word. Having marked ourselves with the Sign of the Cross, confessed our unworthiness to be in God’s presence, asked for his mercy and sung his praises, we now sit down to listen carefully to what God wants to speak to us through his own inspired words in the Scriptures.
As the Second Vatican Council teaches, “In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them” (Dei Verbum, 21, as quoted in Catechism of the Catholic Church, 104).
How to Prepare for the Liturgy of the Word
Here are a few additional things we can do to prepare for the Liturgy of the Word.
- Read the readings before Mass: You can go online or use a resource like Magnificat to review the readings sometime before you go to Mass. (Editor’s Note: See the Register’s “User’s Guide to Sunday” reflections here.) Or you can show up early for Mass and read the readings in the missal at your pew before Mass starts.
- Use the Mass readings for your daily prayer: Even more than just reviewing the readings, you can take time to pray with them. You can read a few lines of the readings, pause, quietly reflect on the words, put yourself into the biblical scene or ask God what he might be wanting to say to you in these words. By taking time to pray through the Scripture readings from Mass, we are tilling the soil of our hearts, already allowing God’s word to speak to us and preparing our souls to encounter him in the liturgy.
- Listen to the readings on the way to Mass: I like doing this with the children in the car. I’ll have one of the kids read the Gospel reading, and then we talk about it for a bit on the way to our parish. This is better than filling our heads with music, sports or some podcast. We can use the drive time to fill our minds with the readings we will hear at Mass.
- Read along during the Liturgy of the Word: For those of us who get easily distracted at Mass, we can pull out the missal in our pew and read along with the Mass readings. This can help us stay focused and attentive to God’s word.
These tips can help us allow God’s word not only to be heard but written on our hearts at every Mass.
This column is based on theologian Edward Sri’s newly revised book and small-group study A Biblical Walk Through the Mass (Ascension Press). It is the second part of a three-part series. Read Part I here.