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Deacon-structing the Mass | Part 5: The Readings

Deacon Pedro

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Deacon reading Gospel
Salt + Light
According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), the Mass is the centre of the whole of Christian life. This is why for the last four weeks, we’ve been deacon-structing it. So far we’ve looked at the Introductory Rites. This is everything that happens before the First Reading. Last week we began looking at the Liturgy of the Word, that is, the section of the Mass with the Scripture readings.
Last week we learned that Christ is made present in the Word Proclaimed. We feast on the Word and at the altar of the Word just as much as we feast on the Eucharist. In fact, I once visited a parish where the Book of the Gospels, after the opening procession, was placed on the left side of the Sanctuary, directly opposite of the Tabernacle, which was on the right side of the Sanctuary, showing how each represented two equal parts of the Liturgy. I am not sure about the appropriateness of that action (most parishes will place the Book of the Gospels on the altar after the procession, until it is used for the reading), but I thought it was a meaningful one.


Two weeks ago I briefly mentioned silence in the context of the Collect (opening prayer). Silence also has a place in the Liturgy of the Word.
It is more than appropriate to have a significant period of silence before the Liturgy of the Word itself begins (that is, after the Collect while everyone sits down), after each Reading and the Gospel, and at the conclusion of the homily. This establishes a rhythm of speech, silence, and song (that I mentioned last time) in which fruitful meditation on the Word is made possible and nurtured.
The General Instruction says that by means of adequate silence, under the action of the Holy Spirit, the “Word of God may be grasped by the heart and a response through prayer may be prepared.” (GIRM 56)

First and Second Readings

Last week we also learned a little bit about how the Lectionary, that is, the book with the readings, is organized. Today I will remind you that on Sundays and Feast days, the First Reading is always from the Old Testament, except during the Easter Season when it is taken from the Acts of the Apostles (on some special Feasts or Solemnities it can also come from the Book of Revelation).
The Second Reading is always a New Testament reading that is not from the Gospels. Usually it is from one of the Epistles. During the Easter season it is taken from the Book of Revelation. During Lent and Advent they are selected to highlight an aspect of the theme of the season.
On weekdays, there is no Second Reading. The First (and only) Reading can be from the Old or New Testament but never from one of the Gospels.
Remember that the First Reading always has a connection to the Gospel reading. The Second Reading may not have an explicit connection, but these were the actual letters that were read in those first liturgies 2000 years ago. They offer great advice, and we should listen to them as we would listen to a wise grandfather.
The First and Second Readings should be read slowly, but not too slowly, with an adequate pause before the reader concludes with: “The Word of the Lord” (Verbum Domini. See 1 Peter 1:25). Everyone responds: “Thanks be to God” (Deo gratias. See 2 Corinthians 9:15). In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul, tells them that “for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly, that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe” (1 Thes 2:13).

We are thankful to receive the Word of God!

[Not sure if it’s true, but I found an explanation that said that in the early Church when a bishop would preside at Mass, one of the younger clerics would read from the epistles picking up where they had left off the week before. When the bishop had heard enough he would say, “Deo gratias, indicating that it was time to stop, thanking God for the Word shared that day. Perhaps that is the origin of this response?]

The Responsorial Psalm

After the First Reading we sing the Responsorial Psalm, which is a response to that reading. The General Instruction sees the singing of the psalm refrain as an important means by which the heart might respond to the word it hears in the proclamation and grasps in the silence. Therefore, the GIRM goes to great measures to ensure that the psalm’s refrain be sung by everyone (it must be congregational). Even if the verses must be spoken (that is, when there is no one to proclaim them in song), we are urged to sing the refrain. Seasonal refrains are provided to ease the burden of learning a new refrain for each celebration.
When singing the psalms, the goal is for the text of the psalm to come through as clearly as possible. The musical setting of the psalm should help the psalmist convey the tone and meaning of the psalm to the congregation, remembering that the music will help us understand the meaning at a deeper level. This is why chant, if not well done, may not be the best option. I am a big fan of liturgical musicians doing their own psalm settings, but this can only be done if people know what they are doing and do it well.
At the same time, if it’s a psalm of praise, a sombre tune will not do; neither will a peppy melody work if the psalm is “have mercy on me, Lord, for I have sinned”! There are many wonderful music resources out there; don’t settle for what’s easy. (If you don't know where to go to find great liturgical music, ask me.)
The Psalm is taken from the Old Testament Book of Psalms. Psalms have been a regular part of worship from the times of the Jews in the Old Testament. The first Christians were mostly Jewish, and so they continued this practice of singing psalms but with a clearer understanding of how those psalms pointed to Jesus Christ. Psalms continue to be the bulk of the Church’s Liturgy of Hours prayed daily by Religious men and women all over the world.

The Acclamation before the Gospel

After the Second Reading we stand because we are about to welcome the Lord who is about to speak to us in the Gospel. The acclamation that is sung before the Gospel constitutes a rite in itself. By this acclamation we profess our faith in the presence of the Risen Lord by means of our singing. It must be sung by everyone. It must be a song of praise and joy. Alleluia means “praise God.
Deacon and altar servers processing with the Book of the Gospels
While we sing the acclamation, incense may be prepared. As the acclamation continues, the Book of the Gospels is elevated and carried to the ambo by the deacon or priest who will proclaim the text; it may be surrounded by candles and incense as the solemnity of the occasion dictates.
If there is a deacon, the deacon proclaims the Gospel. During the acclamation, he asks for a blessing. The Presider offers it: “May the Lord be in your heart and on your lips as you proclaim his Gospel worthily and well.”
The acclamation must be sung. The GIRM says that if it’s not sung, it should be omitted. “It is sung by all while standing and is led by the choir or a cantor, being repeated if this is appropriate. The verse, however, is sung either by the choir or by the cantor” (GIRM 62).
It is an Alleluia every time of year other than Lent, for which other suitable acclamations are provided in the lectionary. On rare occasions when a Sequence is assigned (for example on Easter and Pentecost), the Sequence is sung before the Alleluia.

The Gospel Reading

The General Instruction calls the proclamation of the Gospel “the highpoint of the Liturgy of the Word” (GIRM 60).
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 honour: 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 acclamations 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.” (GIRM 60)
Everyone who is able stands to listen regardless of the length of the Scripture passage.
Come back next week as we conclude the Liturgy of the Word.
[Most of the information used in these blog posts comes from the text of a video made by Salt + Light Television in partnership with the National Liturgy Office of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2011, to help explain the latest changes to the language of the English Roman Missal, titled, THE CELEBRATION OF EUCHARIST for the Twenty-First Century. The project was headed by Fr. Bill Burke, and the text of that video was written by Canadian liturgist Margaret Bick, both of whom I owe a great deal of thanks for the vast knowledge they shared with us.]
(Image credit: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: [email protected]

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