After the greeting, the priest invites the assembly to perform the Penitential Rite. We understand its meaning if we are aware of the presence of sin in our Christian life and feel the need of a continuous and progressive conversion.
We experience the presence of sin in our life. Although we try to live in communion with the Lord, we are victims of the bad passions present in us that often prevails over our good will. There is in us an inner struggle: … I am a creature of flesh and blood sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand my own behavior; I do not act as I mean to, but I do things that I hate (Rom 7,14-15). We may betray our heavenly Father by acting against his love and will; we may reveal a lack of love towards our brothers and sisters by revealing a heart full of pride and of hatred.
But John affirms us also that the Father in heaven is always ready to forgive, whenever we repent (see the parable of the lost – prodigal – son and the dutiful son, Lk 15,11-32).
The need of being reconciled with our heavenly Father and with our brothers and sisters, should be continually present in us (we call this attitude contrition). But there are particular moments in which the Church invites us to revive it in our hearts; first, when we are given the absolution of our sins through the sacrament of penance; second, at the beginning of the Eucharist. In order to take part more conveniently in the Sacred Mysteries, and in order to open our mind to the message of his Word, we need to be purified by humbly acknowledging our failures and by asking the Lord for pardon and strength (= prayer of the Church).
The Penitential Rite is followed, on Sundays (except during Lent) and Feasts days, by the saying or the singing of Gloria in excelsis Deo (= Glory to God in the highest), an ancient Church hymn. Then the Priest says: Let us pray and observes a brief silence so that the people may realize that they are in God’s presence and may call to mind their petitions (Missal). The priest then says (or sings) the "Opening prayer". It is called Collect because it gathers together all the requests of the assembly and presents them to the Father, through Christ in the Holy Spirit. In ancient times it was so called because it was said at the end of a procession from a secondary church to the main church and the Priest was collecting all the people and their intentions in this prayer. The Collects of the Latin Rite are a excellent model of clarity either as content or as its formal expression.
Since the ancient times the Collect concludes the introductory part of the Eucharist.
In the past, God wanted to speak to men; but in order to be understood by men, He had to use a human language; just as the Son of God had to take a human nature like ours in order to become man. The Scripture is altogether different from any other, and its difference consists exactly in this: that God himself is the main author! and as such it deserves the same adoration which we reserve for God. It is made up of many books; but it is still one book only, because many writers, who contributed towards writing it, were all under the inspiration of the one and same Spirit. Thus, when we hear
the Scripture, we welcome it not (as) the word of any human being, but God’s word (1 Thes 2,13). The second Vatican Council affirms: The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerated the Body of Christ, and she never ceases, particularly in the sacred liturgy, to partake of the bread of life (Jesus), and to offer it to the faithful from the one table of the word of God and the Body of Christ (DV, 21).
In the Latin Rite the Liturgy of the Word is composed of: a first reading from the Old Testament, a Responsorial Psalm, a second reading from the writings of the Apostles, song of Alleluia with its special verse taken from the Bible, and the Gospel. On weekdays we have only one reading (from the Old Testament or from the New Testament), Alleluia with its verse and the Gospel.
Out of reverence for the Word of God, all these readings have to be proclaimed using the Lectionary and not the sheets which are distributed in the church. More than that, we have to follow the reader and to understand from him/her the reading, and not to follow the sheets. These are distributed for our personal meditation if we would like, after the Mass, to go back to the readings we heard during the celebration of the Eucharist.
Also, the Lectionary has to be kept with respect and reverence and not to be thrown, as I see sometimes in our churches, to a corner of the altar until it will be removed again and put in another corner.
Finally, the pulpit from which the Word of God is proclaimed is fixed in our three churches. It is important that it be fixed because it is the place from which the eternal Word of God is announced.
Every Sunday, and also in the Solemnities (Annunciation, Transfiguration, Assumption, Christmas, Saint Peter and Paul, etc.), the first reading, taken from the Old Testament, is linked with the Gospel of the day. Indeed, the persons, the events and the teachings of the Old Testament are like a preparation to the New Testament; they are like a prophecy which has been fulfilled in the person and teaching of Jesus and in his Church.
For example, the Old Testament speaks about the Pascal Lamb, whose flesh was eaten by the Israelites during the last supper in Egypt (Ex chapter 12), but that lamb was the image of the true Lamb, Jesus Christ, whose body we eat and whose blood we drink at our Eucharistic celebration.
Another example: when crossing the desert, the people were fed with a special food, called Manna which God was providing for them every day (Ex chapter 16). That manna was also the symbol of that Food which the Lord provides for us today in our journey towards heaven, the promised land! Indeed, St. Augustine says: The New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is unveiled by the New".
The first reading is followed by the Responsorial Psalm, so called because it is like our "response" or answer to God who has entered into a dialogue with us.
The second reading is taken from the writings of the Apostles. Besides the four Gospels, the New Testament contains the Apostolic writings: the Acts of the Apostles, the 13 letters of St. Paul, the letter to the Hebrews, the 7 letters written by other Apostles, called "Catholic Letters", and the Book of Revelation. These writings are inspired by God and are, therefore, an indispensable part of the Holy Scripture. Their message is centered on the person of the Lord; they formulate more precisely his authentic teaching; they preach the saving power of Christ’s divine work; they explain to the faithful the greatness of their calling and the demands of their Christian vocation; they encourage them in their trials; they foretell Christ’s second coming and our glorious resurrection at the end of times.
The Church unfolds to us the great mysteries of Christ through the various seasons that constitute the liturgical year. The major seasons are:
1) Advent (4 weeks) and Christmas Time
2) Lent (from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday, followed by the Pascal Triduum) and Easter Time (from Easter Sunday to the Sunday of Pentecost)
The other season is called: Ordinary Time of the year (from Sunday after the Sunday of Pentecost till the last Sunday before Advent: 34 weeks).
Alleluia with its verse is a joyful preparation for the listening of the Gospel. Normally this verse is linked either with the Gospel of the day or with the Liturgical Time.
Alleluia is omitted during the Advent Time in order to give more importance and stress to the Alleluia sung by the angels in the night of Christmas, as reported in the Gospel of that Solemnity. Instead, it is omitted during the Lent Time as a sign of penance. But in both cases, only the word Alleluia is omitted, not its verse, which is always proclaimed or sung.
The proclamation of the Gospel always stands as the climax of the Liturgy of the Word. Even the Book of the Gospels – which reminds the assembly of the presence of the Lord who speaks to his people – should be nicely decorated and shown a great respect. Reverence to the proclamation of the Gospel is shown by the fact that a special minister (priest or deacon) is appointed to proclaim it. He prepares himself by a special prayer and when the celebrant is the Bishop, he asks a blessing from him.
The faithful, who were seated during the first and second reading, stand up and show their reverence to the Book of the Gospels by singing a solemn acclamation, the Alleluia that I have just mentioned. At the pulpit the minister greets the people, and announces the reading while making the sign of the cross with his thumb on the Book, on his forehead, mouth and breast, to symbolize the need for a Christian to think, speak and live as Jesus Christ does. He next incenses the Book; then proclaims the Gospel with a clear and audible voice; in fact the proclamation differs from a mere reading. At the end of the proclamation, he kisses the book, and raises it so that the people may revere it. Then he proclaims or sings: This is the Gospel of the Lord! and the people answer with enthusiasm: Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!
The word Gospel is the translation of the Greek word Evangelium and it means Good News. The "good news" is about the person of Jesus; about the words he said and the actions he did; above all, about the last events of his life, his passion, death and resurrection. We believe that this is a good news for us, because it reveals that our Father in heaven has loved men to the point of sending his beloved Son; and in this Son, men, who were lost in sin and death, have found their salvation.
2. Reflect upon some persons of the Old Testament: Abraham, Joseph the "Egyptian", Moses, Joshua, Samson, David, Samuel, Job, Tobit, Jeremiah, Amos, Ezekiel, Daniel … Why do they symbolize Christ?
3. In order to become familiar with the letters of the Apostles try to find out:
4. The last command of the Lord is this: "Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Gospel to all creation (Mk 16,15). The reason of this command is this: "For of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved" (Acts 4,12). Does this command convey you a special message?