Explanation of the Mass - Liturgy of the Word (Part 3)


 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 61. After the First Reading follows the Responsorial Psalm, which is an integral part of the Liturgy of the Word and which has great liturgical and pastoral importance, since it fosters meditation on the Word of God.

The Responsorial Psalm, taken from the Greek meaning “song,” is supposed to be sung, usually taken from one of the 150 Psalms in the Old Testament.  These are ancient prayers that Jesus himself said, priests and deacons pray them daily, and they are usually related to the theme of the first reading.  The Responsorial Psalm is proclaimed from the ambo because it is taken from Old Testament Scripture.  From the time of the Jews, Psalms were a regular part of worship.  The early Christians continued this practice of singing psalms in their worship, although now we have a clearer understanding of how the psalms spoke to Jesus.  In the middle ages, the psalms were shortened to just a couple of verses.

The Second Reading is traditionally taken from the New Testament, from one of Paul’s 13 letters or the 9 other books at the end of the New Testament.  It is a semi-continuous reading, so it does not always tie in with the first reading or the Gospel.  The Letters in the New Testament were written to the early church by St. Paul and the Apostles.  These letters offered support, encouragement, correction, and guidance to a young church finding its way in a society that did not support them.  We, too, need the direction of the Apostles, guided by the Holy Spirit, as we make our way through a culture that doesn’t always support us in living our faith. 

GIRM 62. After the reading that immediately precedes the Gospel, the Alleluia or another chant laid down by the rubrics is sung, as the liturgical time requires.  An acclamation of this kind constitutes a rite or act in itself, by which the gathering of the faithful welcomes and greets the Lord who is about to speak to them in the Gospel and profess their faith by means of the chant.  It is sung by everybody, standing, and is led by the choir or a cantor, being repeated as the case requires.  The verse, on the other hand, is sung either by the choir or by a cantor.

a)  The Alleluia is sung in every time of year other than Lent.  The verses are taken from the Lectionary or the Graduale.

b)  During Lent, instead of the Alleluia, the Verse before the Gospel as given in the Lectionary is sung. It is also possible to sing another Psalm or Tract, as found in the Graduale.

The ordinary Gospel Acclamation – Alleluia – is the Greek form of Hebrew “Hallelujah” meaning “Praise the Lord.”  We stand as we prepare to hear the Gospel by singing praise to Him.  The Alleluia is not used during Lent when we are repentant and more subdued; it is replaced by a more solemn “Praise to You Lord Jesus Christ” or a similar acclamation.