Experiencing the Mass: The Liturgy of the Word
Tuesday, January 24, 2023
by Fr. David M. Knight
View readings for today:
Dear Readers: Since the Church is presently engaged in a Eucharistic Revival, we thought it would be helpful to post excerpts from his booklet called Experiencing the Mass, for the next few weeks. (This is not a sales pitch. However, the booklet is available for order on this website for $5 per copy if you would like have a copy.)
“By their singing....” This explains why the Responsorial Psalm is an important moment for facilitating the “mysticism of encounter.” Its purpose is not just to provide a break between the readings! It is “an integral part of the Liturgy of the Word and holds great liturgical and pastoral importance, because it fosters meditation on the word of God.... It is preferable that the Responsorial Psalm be sung.... If the Psalm cannot be sung, then it should be recited in such a way that it is particularly suited to fostering meditation on the word of God.”
The Responsorial Psalm is intended to set the tone for the whole of the Liturgy of the Word, to evoke an atmosphere that communicates the tone, mood and quality of the day’s proclamation…. It is a way in which the people take the word of the Lord for the day, make it their own, and proclaim it prayerfully.
If we consciously make the Responsorial Psalm our prayerful response to God who has spoken to us in the reading, singing it to him intentionally, as if we were standing face-to-face (which we are!), it will make us more aware of encountering him, the living God, as his words are read to us. “By their silence and singing the people make God’s word their own.”
The Gospel and sequels
Special solemnity surrounds the reading of the Gospel. We stand — not because the Gospel is more the word of God than the other readings, but because so many of its words are the words of Jesus himself. We stand in recognition of Jesus who is present and proclaiming his own words in and through the lector. For the same reason we sing the “Alleluia” acclamation, which “constitutes a rite or act in itself, by which the assembly of the faithful welcomes and greets the Lord who is about to speak to us in the Gospel and professes its faith by means of the chant.” We are rejoicing in Jesus present among us. As the Council declared, “In the liturgy God speaks to his people, Christ is still proclaiming his Gospel.” The same Jesus who “went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom” is doing it here and now for us. Encounter with him is a mystical experience.
The reading of the Gospel is the high point of the Liturgy of the Word. The Liturgy itself teaches that great reverence is to be shown to it by setting it off from the other readings with special marks of honor; whether on the part of the minister appointed to proclaim it, who prepares himself by a blessing or prayer; or on the part of the faithful, who stand as they listen to it being read and through their acclamation acknowledge and confess Christ present and speaking to them; or by the very marks of reverence that are given to the Book of the Gospels.
The homily after the Gospel is a presidential function. It “should ordinarily be given by the priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating priest or occasionally... to the deacon.” To show how seriously the liturgy takes the observance of defined roles, the Instruction continues: “In particular cases and for a just cause, the homily may even be given by a Bishop....” 
The “purpose of the Profession of Faith, or Creed, is that the whole gathered people may respond to the word of God proclaimed in the readings and explained in the homily, and call to mind and confess the great mysteries of faith... before these mysteries are celebrated in the Eucharist.”
The Profession of Faith can be a mystical experience, if we are aware of the mystery in what we are professing. And of the mystery experienced in the fact we can profess it. No one can believe the truths we profess in the Creed except by the divine gift of faith, the gift of sharing in God’s own knowing act. The gift of knowing what only God can know and as only God can know it. To recite the Profession of Faith with awareness of this is to experience enlightenment by the Holy Spirit.
If we pay attention to the words as we say them, reciting the Profession of Faith will be for us a mystical experience of the enlightening presence of God in us, empowering us to know and believe the words we pronounce.
The Prayer of the Faithful should make us proud to be Catholics. The Church turns outwards in love and concern for others. The Missal calls it the “the Universal Prayer” or “Prayer of the Faithful.” The words to notice are “universal” and “of the faithful.”
By the word “universal” the Church is trying to get us beyond shortsighted concern for our own wellbeing and that of our limited circle of family and friends. Such concern is good, of course. It is just not the inspiration of the “Universal Prayer,” in which “petitions are offered for the holy Church, for civil authorities, for those weighed down by various needs, for all men and women, and for the salvation of the whole world.” Our focus is worldwide. We pray for “the holy Church” and “civil authorities,” because both are engaged in fostering the common good. We “associate ourselves in prayer with those who are particularly called to serve others... [in] affirmation of our own solidarity in suffering and service with the whole of the human race.”
This is not the time or place to pray for our individual intentions, to ask for special graces to meet particular challenges we are facing in our life. Petitions that begin with, “That we may....” are good petitions in themselves, but they are missing the point unless they conclude with something like “...come to the aid of all those afflicted by....” The Universal Prayer is not a prayer in which this particular congregation, or the Church as a whole, prays for its own needs, although in the Instruction prayer “for the local community” is not excluded. It is a prayer that turns outwards in love and concern for the whole human race. It is a “catholic” prayer that makes one proud to be a Catholic.
It is also called the prayer “of the faithful” because it is a prayer in which “the people,... exercising the office of their baptismal priesthood, offer prayers to God for the salvation of all.” It is:
the prayer through which the laity especially express their ministry of prayer for the needs of the human race. Participation in this prayer was seen as a special privilege of the baptized.... Catechumens [only] joined in this prayer at the Easter Vigil when they were baptized and shared in the Eucharist for the first time.
This explains why the Instruction “purposely does not list the ordained priest as one of those whom it is desirable to have lead the prayer. It indicates a definite preference for having the deacon lead the petitions....”
Since the prayer is supposed to be an expression of concern for the needs of the human race, it is highly desirable that the minister who announces these intentions be a person who has obvious ministry to human need — a deacon, a sister who cares for the sick, a layperson who has such a ministry visible to the community.
The Prayer of the Faithful is, first and foremost, intended to be a manifestation of the people’s ministry. If the ordained priest declares the intentions, the prayer becomes experienced as one more celebrant’s prayer to which the people only assent. Conversely, if one who has a concrete and known ministry to the needy stands before the congregation to lead them in prayer for the helpless of the world, the prayer cannot help but have a new urgency and sense of reality.
We should note that in the Prayer of the Faithful, “it is the people who do the actual praying.” The rest — “the presider’s introduction, the statements of intentions — are not prayers at all. They are invitations to pray.”
The Introductory Rites of the Mass are a mystical experience of new identity through the relationship with God that we announce and celebrate.
The Liturgy of the Word is a mystical experience of encounter with God and enlightenment through the proclamation of his word.
Does that, or does that not, make the Mass exciting?
Questions for discussion
How can I guarantee I will never be bored at Mass?
What mystical experiences should we be having during the Liturgy of the Word?
What can we do during the Liturgy of the Word to be conscious of these mystical experiences?
Key Points: What can I say now about:
The Responsorial Psalm
The reading of the Gospel?
The Profession of Faith?
The Prayer of the Faithful?
GIRM, 2002, no. 61, and Keifer, op. cit. p. 123. General Instruction on the Roman Missal, 2002, no. 62; Vatican II On the Sacred Liturgy, no. 33. Matthew: 4:21; 9:35. GIRM, 2002, no. 60. General Instruction on the Roman Missal, 2002, no. 66. Ibid, no. 67. Matthew 11:27; Romans 8:15-16; Galatians 4:6; 1Corinthians 12:3.  For these (slightly edited) quotes and other ideas above, see Keifer, op. cit. pp.127-131. See also GIRM no. 69.
Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry