Explanation of the Mass - Liturgy of the Word, Part 2


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 58.  In the celebration of the Mass with the people, the readings are always read from the ambo.

The Word of God is always proclaimed from the ambo, a raised podium with a flat or slanted top.  Ambo comes from a Greek word meaning “to ascend.”  The ambo should only be used for either the proclamation of the Word of God or for its explanation in the homily.  

GIRM 59.  The function of proclaiming the readings is by tradition not presidential but ministerial.  Therefore the readings are to be read by a reader, but the Gospel by the Deacon or, in his absence, by another Priest.  If, however, a Deacon or another Priest is not present, the Priest Celebrant himself should read the Gospel, and moreover, if no other suitable reader is present, the Priest Celebrant should also proclaim the other readings as well.  After each reading, whoever reads it pronounces the acclamation, and by means of the reply the assembled people give honor to the Word of God that they have received in faith and with gratitude.

The readings at Mass are proclaimed by a lector or reader.  While many people use these words interchangeably, they are different!  Lectors are men and women, appointed by the pastor and approved by the bishop to serve for a period of time, while a reader is a man instituted by the bishop to serve for life.  In most dioceses, you will see an instituted reader only when a man is preparing for the sacrament of Holy Orders.

Weekend Masses always have three readings:  Old Testament (except during the Easter season), New Testament, Gospel.  Daily Masses have just two readings:  Old Testament and Gospel.

The First Reading is traditionally taken from the Old Testament, except during the Easter season when the first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles.  The first reading highlights the Gospel in one of many ways:

+ To show how a prophecy in the Old Testament is fulfilled through Jesus Christ in the Gospel
+ To make a contrast between events and personalities in the Old Testament and the Gospel
+ To make the meaning of the Gospel more clear through giving “the rest of the story”

The First Reading is an example of how an old practice of the church was restored during the Second Vatican Council.  The early church fathers preached quite often on the Old Testament, and the Old Testament was regularly proclaimed at Mass during the early centuries of the church.  Before long, however, the Old Testament reading was dropped from most Sunday Masses, and before Vatican II the Old Testament comprised only 0.1% of the readings used at Mass.  This does not mean, however, that the Old Testament was forgotten in the liturgy!  Many of the epistles in the New Testament, and even the Gospels quote the Old Testament extensively. With the revision of the Order of Mass in 1969, the Old Testament reading was restored to the Liturgy of the Word.

When we hear the Old Testament proclaimed at Mass, we should never look at it as a solitary unit.  The Old Testament points us towards Christ in the Gospel, and Jesus Christ in the Gospel helps us to fully understand the Old Testament.  When you come to Mass, listen for the connection — some weeks will have a more explicit connection than others!

At the end of the first and second readings, the lector says, “The Word of the Lord.”  This should fill us with joy because we have just heard the actual words of God given to the Jewish people (Old Testament) and early Christians (New Testament) through the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  In the early church, when a bishop would preside at a Mass, one of the younger clerics would read the Epistle, starting where he left off the previous week.  When the bishop had heard enough of the Epistle, he would exclaim “Deo Gratias!” (Thanks be to God!).  When we, too, reach the end of the reading, our response should be an equally joy-filled “Thanks be to God!”

There is then a short period of silence to reflect on what has been proclaimed, so as to better understand the reading.  Use this time to participate more fully in the Liturgy of the Word by contemplating on how Jesus is speaking to you through the message that was just proclaimed!