About these reflections

These weekday reflections are not meant to be actual material for preaching. Rather they intend to give some background to the daily readings to help both the homilist and the faithful have a sense of continuity as we go through the readings each day.
About these reflections
The arrangement of the Scripture readings
Towards a better understanding
Our purpose
The Liturgy of the Word
Role of the Reader

It is possible for each day to be taken by itself and, in a sense, we do have to realise that there are always people in a weekly congregation who do not come every day or only occasionally. But in many parishes there is a regular number of people who are there every day. I believe it is helpful to walk with them through the different books as they are read each day. And, hopefully, there will be others, who cannot get to daily Mass, who will want to visit this site every day. See it as an introductory course to the Bible as well as a source of personal prayer.

The arrangement of the Scripture readings

In the Sunday readings, during the three-year cycle – A, B and C – we read the gospel according to Matthew in Year A, Mark in Year B and Luke in Year C. John’s gospel is scattered through the seasonal feasts of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter and especially during the Sundays of the Easter season. The First Reading (except during the Easter season) is normally taken from the Old Testament and the theme of the reading normally has some relationship to the Gospel. The Second Reading is taken from letters in the New Testament. The letters are read through continuously. For example, parts of the Letter to the Romans will be read in sequence on a number of Sundays and then on the following number of Sundays the readings will be from, say, the Letter to the Ephesians. Usually, there is no direct link between the Second Reading and the other two.

Weekdays follow a different pattern and there is a two-year cycle, Cycle I and II. In each cycle, we read through the whole of the gospels. (The Infancy and Resurrection narratives are kept for the Christmas and Easter seasons respectively.) Mark, Matthew and Luke follow one another in that order. Readings from John’s gospel are scattered through the ‘non-Ordinary’ weeks of the liturgical year, especially during the Easter season. The First Reading is taken from either the Old or the New Testament in a two-year cycle. Old and New Testament books tend to alternate and not in the order in which they appear in the Bible. Generally too, during the ‘Ordinary’ weeks there is no intended connection between the First Reading and the Gospel. The two sets of readings run parallel to and largely independent of each other. However, during the seasons of Advent, Lent and Easter there is normally a link between the First Reading and the Gospel.

Weaknesses in the arrangement
If there is a weakness in the present arrangement of the Scripture readings it is in the Sunday readings. On the Sundays during the year, the gospels are pretty well covered and they are read in sequence. The New Testament letters are also covered and read in some sequence but the Old Testament loses out. As I said, the Old Testament text is usually chosen with a theme which correlates with that of the Gospel reading. But this means that the Old Testament texts are picked at random and out of context. A person going regularly to Sunday Mass and listening carefully to the readings would not get much understanding of the content and structure of the Old Testament. And it is not surprising that many Catholics (unlike many Protestants) have a very poor acquaintance with the Old Testament beyond some well-known stories, especially those featured in movie epics like ‘The Ten Commandments’.

With the weekday readings the situation is rather different. A person going to daily Mass will hear sections of Old Testament books read in sequence over the two-year cycle. However, we have to realise that, in spite of the many readings, we still only dip into what is there. Only selected passages can be chosen and, after one’s appetite is whetted, it is for each one to read the whole text of the book being read.

And, unfortunately, even when the celebrant does give a reflection at Mass, the First Reading, and especially the Old Testament, tends to get put aside. (Don’t say it too loud but some of us priests are not too familiar with the Old Testament either!) In fact, because the two weekday readings are not related, most celebrants concentrate on the Gospel reading which is more familiar to most people and rated more important.

Towards a better understanding

The purpose of these reflections, then, is to suggest a way by which all the weekday readings get a little more attention and help both Mass goers and those who use these notes for personal reflection to have a better understanding of the whole Bible. The two-year cycle will be spread over three years. In the first year, the reflections will focus on the Gospel readings. In the second and third years, they will focus on the First Readings of the two-year cycle. These readings will come sometimes from an Old Testament book and sometimes from a New Testament letter as the liturgical calendar decides.

I feel strongly that, all things being equal, no Mass should ever be celebrated without some kind of reflection, however brief, on the readings of the day. I always experience a certain sadness when I see a priest turn away after reading the Gospel without saying anything. It is probably true also that, among those celebrants who do say something, they are inclined to speak only about the Gospel. And, part of the reason for that, we might have to confess, is that we are not as familiar with the other New and Old Testament readings as we might be.

Our purpose

Part of the purpose of this service is to help celebrants be able to say something about the first reading and the Gospel, though not necessarily in the same homily. Weekday homilies normally should be fairly brief! Because the two readings are often on very different subjects, it can be somewhat forced to squeeze both of them into one short reflection.

I have found that people can be very appreciative of being given a “thought for their day”. In the long term, where one is celebrating Mass for the same community every day, a better picture of the whole Bible can begin to emerge if all of the readings are given an ‘airing’. It is a small step towards drawing Catholics into a better appreciation and a greater familiarity with the Bible from the Book of Genesis to Revelation. It should lead in time to creating an appetite for a deeper understanding by attending Scripture courses or forming Bible-sharing groups.

The Liturgy of the Word

I am a strong believer in the importance of the Liturgy of the Word as a genuine source of nourishment for our people. But the Word of God does, like the eucharistic bread, need to be broken open so that those, who are very often not very familiar with large portions of the Scripture, can be fed.

Some parishes have developed the excellent custom where people bring along their own Bibles and read from that. While it is, in a sense, better to listen to rather than read the readings, using one’s own Bible helps one to become familiar with its “geography”. I am frequently amazed at how many otherwise well-informed Catholics are totally lost when a Bible is put into their hands.

I have said in another context that, if we had to make a choice between having either the Liturgy of the Word or the Liturgy of the Eucharist but not both, there would be a strong argument for choosing the Liturgy of the Word. Effective participation in the Liturgy of the Eucharist depends very much on who Christ is for us. As St Jerome is supposed to have said many centuries ago, ignorance of the Scripture is ignorance of Christ. And, if I have only a very imperfect understanding of who Christ is, what happens when I go to receive him in Communion?

Unfortunately, we often tend to rush through the readings, drop any thought of a homily, so that we can get to the “real” part of the Mass, the Consecration and the Communion and the Real Presence of Christ. But we ought to realise there is also a real presence of the Lord in the Scriptures. At the end of each reading we say: “The Word of the Lord.” It is not the reader we have been listening to but it is the Lord himself who is speaking to us.

Role of the Reader

Which raises another issue – the importance of the Reader being able effectively to communicate, to proclaim the Word. So often the nearest available person is called on to read and, though well-intentioned, is often difficult to hear. We tend to be very tolerant of low standards in this part of the liturgy. But the Scripture Reader is a ministry and a minister should be chosen for his/her aptitude and ability to proclaim effectively the Word of God.

As St Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome a long time ago:

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed?
And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard?
And how can they hear without someone to preach?
And how can people preach until they are sent?
As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news.”
– Romans 10:13-15.

Let us then pay greater attention to God’s Word, listen carefully to what it says, try to understand its meaning in the context of our present lives and then to share our experience of the Good News with those we meet.

Finally, let me emphasise that I am in no way a Scripture scholar. My only aim is to whet your appetite to have a deeper understanding of the Word of God, to go to the original sources and also to consult the many commentaries which are available. And, better still, to join or set up a group which will study the Word of God together with the help of the many guides which are available.

Frank Doyle SJ

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