Master of Theological Studies Candidate,
University of Notre Dame
Previous posts in this series:
“Waking Up the Echoes”: Notre Dame, Liturgical Formation, and the New Evangelization
“Waking Up the Echoes”: Liturgical Formation from the Outside Looking In
“Waking Up the Echoes”: Liturgical Formation, Penance, and Self-Giving Love
“But above all, it’s the Gospels that occupy my mind when I’m at prayer; my poor soul has so many needs, and yet this is the one thing needful.
I’m always finding fresh lights there, hidden and enthralling meanings.”
—St. Therese of Lisieux
As a child, I usually thought of the Liturgy of the Word as the interminably long span of time where I could take a brief nap—only to be unceremoniously awoken by the psalm or the Alleluia. I’ll even confess to closing my eyes during the readings once in a while as a college student, especially at a late night dorm Mass in the midst of midterms week. There’s just something about the meaning of this part of the liturgy that has always eluded me, until I took the plunge and started taking Scripture courses in earnest as a graduate student and serving as a sacristan for daily Mass. Immersing myself in this study and service, it was like a veil had been gently lifted from my eyes. While the Eucharist is rightly the source and summit of the Christian life, we truly come to know this in the depths of our souls through listening to the proclamation of the Word at Mass. Our active reception of Scripture undoubtedly forms us liturgically, for reasons I elaborate on below.
Vatican II’s “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation,” Dei Verbum, declares that Sacred Scripture is “the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit” (DV, §9). When we listen to the Old Testament readings, the psalms, the epistles, and the Gospels at Mass, we hear God himself speaking directly to us, transmitted through divinely inspired but human hands. Rather than agonizing in private prayer at what we perceive to be God’s unyielding silence and longing to receive some sign that He has indeed heard our cries, we could engage in a more direct encounter with God just by taking the time to concentrate on the revelation of salvation history proclaimed for us during the Liturgy of the Word. Yearning for an intensely personal experience of Jesus? Then open your ears! For as St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “Sacred Scripture is the heart of Christ,” anticipated throughout the Old Testament and fully revealed in the New. Centuries later, in addressing the topic of biblical faith, the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that, “in the pierced heart of the Crucified, God’s own heart is opened up—here we see who God is and what he is like” (Spirit of the Liturgy, 48). This idea that Scripture is the heart of Christ allows us to engage in a deeper encounter of His self-giving love, much like the way the Eucharist inexplicably draws us towards the altar each Sunday. Thus, our familiar excuse that “Catholics don’t read the Bible” crumbles, since it gravely undermines our relationship with the God who reveals Himself through the very texts we jokingly rebuff.
I was struck into a moment of profound silence after looking up what the Catechism had to say about scripture, and it also quotes Dei Verbum: “The Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord’s Body. She never ceases to present to the faithful the bread of life, taken from the one table of God’s Word and Christ’s Body” (DV, §21). Readers, I don’t know about you, but I was never once taught this in Sunday school! If I had been, then I probably would have cracked open my Bible much, much sooner, and forced myself to pay attention during the longer readings at Mass. In addition to cultivating a devotion to the Eucharist and a penitential character, it looks like the veneration of Scripture is going to be an essential component of our liturgical formation as well; for Scripture reveals the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ, and His heart. By listening intensely to the Scriptures at Mass and finally taking ownership of our biblical tradition, we come to participate more fully in the life of the Church.
Sacred Scripture in the liturgy and life of the Church is an issue that Dei Verbum treats at length. One of the most transformative statements in the entire document reads: “For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life” (DV, §21). The Church is even referred to as the “bride of the incarnate Word” (DV, §23), opening up an entirely new perspective on the traditional notion of the Church as the bride of Christ, who is the Logos, the very Word of God.
In hearing the Scriptures read each Sunday, we are washed anew in the mysteries of our faith. Through this, God invites us to encounter him in a precious manner; our response to this invitation is the cultivation of a deep faith, in which we submit our whole beings to him. In this faith, we freely submit to the Word of God that we have heard. Chapter 3 of Ratzinger’s Spirit of the Liturgy addresses the fundamental form of liturgy—its determination by biblical faith—and agrees: “the only real gift man should give to God is himself” (Spirit of the Liturgy, 35). At the same time that God offers himself to us through our reading of Scripture, we return the favor by responding with a faith characterized by complete and utter self-gift.
Yet, the “great gesture of embrace emanating from the Crucified has not yet reached its goal” (Spirit of the Liturgy, 50). Rather, it has only begun. We remain pilgrims on the journey, at turns stumbling under the weight of sin and being uplifted by God’s grace. The Word proclaimed in the liturgy is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path as we ascend ever closer to the altar of God.
 St. Thomas Aquinas, Expos. in Ps 21,11; cf. Ps 22:15.