Explanation of the Mass - Liturgy of the Word


Through a series of informational articles, we will try to explain terms, prayers, and actions that happen at Mass and why they happen.  You will learn about the prayers the priest prays silently during Mass, as well as the people’s parts.  References to GIRM in italics refer to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the book from which rites related to the Mass are codified.  We hope this information will help to make your participation in Mass more meaningful and understandable.

GIRM 55.  The main part of the Liturgy of the Word is made up of the readings from Sacred Scripture together with the chants occurring between them.  As for the Homily, the Profession of Faith, and the Universal Prayer, they develop and conclude it.  For in the readings, as explained by the Homily, God speaks to his people, opening up to them the mystery of redemption and salvation, and offering spiritual nourishment; and Christ himself is present through his word in the midst of the faithful.  By silence and by singing, the people make this divine word their own, and affirm their adherence to it by means of the Profession of Faith; finally, having been nourished by the divine word, the people pour out their petitions by means of the Universal Prayer for the needs of the whole Church and for the salvation of the whole world.

Everyone is seated for the first two readings and responsorial psalm.  Why do we proclaim the Word of God at Mass?  Every family has its story — how your parents met or how you grew up in a particular neighborhood or the influence of your ancestors on your family life.  When we gather for the Mass, we hear our story — God’s story of His love for us — through Sacred Scripture.  We tell these stories whenever we gather for the Mass because these scriptures reinforce what we believe, to Whom we belong, and our relationship with others and with God.

GIRM 56.  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 hinders recollection is clearly to be avoided.  In the course of it, brief periods of silence are also appropriate, accommodated to the assembled congregation; by means of these, under the action of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God may be grasped by the heart and a response through prayer may be prepared.  It may be appropriate to observe such periods of silence, for example, before the Liturgy of the Word itself begins, after the First and Second Reading, and lastly at the conclusion of the Homily.

There’s a difference between hearing and listening.  The structure of the Liturgy of the Word lends itself not just to hearing the Word of God, but to listening.  To listen, we need an active, engaged mind that is focused on the Word of God, and we need time to process what we have heard for meaning.  For this reason, it’s important to make good use of the silences in between the readings.  Many people today are scared of silence.  We aren’t sure what we’ll hear when we’re quiet enough to let the Holy Spirit speak.  If we take time throughout the Liturgy of the Word to reflect, we are more open to that Word as we listen to the Gospel and the homily.

GIRM 57.  In the readings, the table of God’s Word is spread before the faithful, and the treasures of the Bible are opened to them.  Hence, it is preferable that the arrangement of the biblical readings be maintained, for by them the unity of both Testaments and of salvation history is brought out.  Nor is it lawful to replace the readings and Responsorial Psalm, which contain the Word of God, with other, non-biblical texts.