Praying the Mass: The Liturgy
of the Word
The easiest prayer in the world is the kind of prayer we do during the Liturgy of the Word: we
simply listen to God speak to us. It's like sitting in the sun. When the word of God is spoken at liturgy, God is speaking to us "live." We're not listening to
something God once said. We're not being taught a lesson. The living God is speaking
"live" to us here and now. For sure, God will say a special word to each of us at every Mass. It may be a word of
comfort . . or a nudge or a new way of seeing things . . but for sure, God speaks a tailor-made word to
us. All we need to do is open ourselves up to take inLiturgy_word the readings. How do we do that? For starters, by really listening!
Besides the three readings, we receive a fourth helping of Scripture in the responsorial psalm. The
cantor sings the Word of God upon us, and we respond by singing part of it as a refrain, over and
over, like sipping vintage wine. For example: The Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid? Try saying
that to yourself (or humming it) two or three times right now. Savor it. Let it sink in.
The Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid."
From the Little Book Committee of the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan.
Lectionary in Sunday and Daily Worship
The reading of Scripture
was always an important part of worship. When the first Christians
gathered to "break bread," they kept the Jewish synagogue
custom of "breaking the word" as well. In these readings, God
speaks a message of redemption and salvation. Even before the
Church had the written Gospel accounts, they shared letters written by
early Christian missionaries (Col. 4:16; 2 Pet. 3:15-16), along with the
instruction by the Apostles (Acts 20:7). Eventually, the Christian
story was written down and read to the assembly.
Jesus Christ is present
among the faithful through his word. The Church says, "it is
he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the
Church" (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #7). A profound
relationship exists between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of
the Eucharist. "The Church has always venerated the divine
Scriptures as she venerates the Body of the Lord, in so far as she never
ceases, particularly in the sacred liturgy to partake of the bread of
life and to offer it to the faithful from one table of the Word of God
and the Body of Christ" (Divine Revelation, #21).
Since the Second Vatican
Council, the Church has radically reformed the Liturgy of the Word,
going back to the earliest tradition of three readings on Sundays and
- First Reading from the
Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), chosen to harmonize with the
Gospel message indicating the unity and continuity of both
(Note: The Psalm is a response to God's Word and should be sung when
- Second Reading from a
non Gospel New Testament. Depending on the season, the reading
is taken from a letter (Epistle), from the Acts of the Apostles or
the Book of Revelation. Although these readings are not consciously
integrated with the Gospel reading, they speak of our concrete
experience of living out the Gospel message.
- Third Reading from a
Gospel, the stories in which we meet Jesus, the heart of our faith.
For Sundays and other special days throughout the church year, there are
three sets of readings assigned for the day. These readings are assigned
to Liturgical Years A, B, and C. In Year A the Gospel of Matthew is
read. In Year B the Gospel of Mark is read, and in Year C the Gospel of
Luke is read. The Gospel of John focuses on the risen life of Christ, so
it is read primarily during the Lent/Easter season and secondarily
during the Advent/Christmas season.
For weekdays in ordinary time and other special days throughout the
church year, there are two sets of readings for the day. These readings
are assigned to Liturgical Cycles I and II. Odd years are assigned Cycle
I, and even years are assigned Cycle II. There are special readings for
the feasts of our Lord and his mother Mary, for important feasts of the
saints, and for special needs and occasions.
The liturgical year
encompasses the rites, celebrations, and feasts that take place during
the Church year and are highlighted in the Scripture readings and
prayers of the Mass. Throughout the Church year, various aspects of
Jesus' life, death and resurrection unfold. The liturgical year begins
with Advent, followed by Christmas Time, Ordinary Time (from Baptism of
the Lord until Ash Wednesday), Lent, Easter Time, and Ordinary Time
(resuming after Pentecost until the first Sunday of Advent).
Seasons of the Church Year
The seasons of the Church
year revolve around the principal events in the life of Christ: his
birth and his death. Through the cycle of feasts and seasons, the
Church recalls the story of salvation. Through the readings, the
Church offers us an opportunity to journey with Christ in our daily
lives. Each of the great feasts of the Liturgical year - Christmas
and Easter, has a preparatory period and a follow-up season:
I. The Christmas Cycle
The liturgical year begins
with Evening Prayer I of the First Sunday of Advent. The season of
Advent continues through the four Sundays of Advent and ends at
Advent, therefore, is first of all a time of preparation for Christmas.
Even though Christ was actually born over 2000 years ago, during Advent
we prepare our hearts to “receive” Jesus into the world each year as a
light to the nations, at a time when our calendar is reaching its
darkest period. Advent is also a time of looking forward to Christ’s
Second Coming in the last days.
Lectionary for Mass, which cycles through three liturgical years (A, B,
and C), changes to a new year at Advent. In Cycle A
we read the Gospel of Matthew. In Cycle B we read the Gospel of Mark. In
Cycle C we read the gospel of Luke.
The liturgical color for Advent is violet, a deep bluish red (often
mistakenly called “purple”) symbolizing mourning and penance.
The third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday,
which takes its name from the first word
in Latin of the Introit, the entrance antiphon at Mass. The
Introit for Gaudete Sunday, in both the Traditional Latin Mass and the
Novus Ordo, is taken from Philippians 4:4: "Gaudete in Domino semper"
("Rejoice in the Lord always", now read only in Year C).
On Gaudete Sunday, however, rose-colored vestments may be used for this
joyful day. Hence the one rose-colored candle among the other three
violet candles of the Advent wreath.
The four weeks of Advent
remind us of the three-fold comings of Christ:
The birth of
Jesus, which fulfilled the expectation of the Messiah
The re-birth of
Jesus in our own lives
The awaiting of
the second advent, or final coming of Christ
Kay's Book Season
of Emmanuel provides the reader with daily
commentaries on the gospel from the First Sunday of Advent through
the Feast of Epiphany. For details see
B. Follow-up Season:
No one knows the actual
date on which the Child Jesus was born. The date on which the Church
observes his birth has more symbolic value than anything, coming five
days (five being the number of the physical senses) after the winter
solstice. During this
time we deepen our faith in the mystery of the incarnation, the Son of
God made flesh,
who came to dwell among us as the light of the
human race, just after the darkest point of the solar year. Christmas is
a holy day second only to Easter in the Roman calendar.
The Octave of Christmas
(octave means eight; hence the octave of Christmas lasts for
eight days) begins with Christmas day and ends after the Solemnity of
Mary, Mother of God.
The liturgical color of
the season of Christmas is white, symbolizing purity and joy.
liturgical calendar focuses on the next immediate Sunday, counting off
days before and after it: Epiphany. Epiphany commemorates the
recognition of Jesus as the Son of God by the three Wise Men (and by
extension, by all nations). The season of Christmas ends on the Monday
after the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, which signifies the
purification of the world, through Christ himself.
II. Ordinary ONE
Two periods in the Roman
calendar are called Ordinary Time.
bulk of these Sundays extend from the close of the Easter season to the
end of the Liturgical Year, several of these Sundays occur between the
end of the Christmas season, and the beginning of the Lenten Season.
One “begins on
Monday after the Sunday following January 6
and continues until Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.
begins on Monday after Pentecost and ends before Evening Prayer of the
First Sunday of Advent.
does not mean "common." Ordinary comes from the word
"ordinal," which means "numbered."
Ordinary Time is not a "feast season." It refers to those Sundays of the
Liturgical Year that are outside the seasons of Advent/Christmas,
during Ordinary Time on which no solemnities, feasts, or memorials of
saints fall are called ferial days. The
liturgical color of Ordinary Time is green, symbolizing life and hope.
III. The Easter Cycle
A. Preparatory period:
The liturgical season
of Lent lasts for 40 weekdays in remembrance of the 40 days and nights
that Christ spent fasting in the desert, tempted by Satan
for his ministry,
and the forty years
the Israelites spent on their desert journey to the promised land.
The beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday, is dependent on the date of
Easter. (Counting Ash Wednesday as number one, and skipping all Sundays,
you will end up on Holy Saturday as number 40.)
Lent is a
time of penance, so that the faithful may share in the joys of Easter
Sunday with purity of heart. The three traditional forms of penance,
and almsgiving, “express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and
to others” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1434). For those
adults preparing for Baptism at the Easter Vigil, Lent focuses on
inner and outer scrutiny. For the baptized, Lent calls us to contemplate
wrought for our sake by Christ’s passion; and it admonishes us to
contemplate the effort we put into accepting that redemption. In our
Baptism, this redemption was planted in us when we promised to
renounce sin and Satan and to live a
chaste, holy life
in devout service to Christ. Our
on our fulfilling those promises.
not only a time of penance. It is a time of
joy in anticipation of the resurrection of Christ. Lent begins on Ash
Wednesday and continues for six weeks.
- During Lent those who
are being prepared for baptism enter their final preparation. (The
Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults - the R.C.I.A.).
- Lent is a time of
reflection for all the faithful on their spiritual needs. It
is a time to practice the three-fold discipline: prayer, fasting
- Holy Week calls to
mind the events in which Christ's blood was poured out for our
- Lent draws to a close
with the celebration of the Triduum:
Because of the austerity of Lent, Alleluia is not said in
prayer or sung in liturgy. The
not sung at Mass during Lent except for the few feasts and
solemnities which may occur then. During Lent, “the altar is not to
be decorated with flowers, and the use of musical instruments is
allowed only to support the singing.”
liturgical color of Lent is violet, just as for Advent. Rose-colored
vestments, however, may be used on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, called
Laetare Sunday from the first words of that day’s
Mass, Laetare Jerusalem (“Rejoice, O Jerusalem”).
Book A CLOSER WALK WITH JESUS provides the reader with daily
commentaries on the gospel from Ash Wednesday
through Holy week. For details see
B. Follow Up Season:
Easter, Ascension and Pentecost
season of Easter begins at the Easter Vigil. But before that,
the week previous to Easter is called Holy Week; it begins with
Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday). On Passion Sunday the Church
celebrates Christ’s riding into Jerusalem on a road strewn with cloaks
and leafy branches (Mark 11:8; cf. Matthew 21:8, Luke 19:36, John
12:13), as he set about to accomplish his paschal mystery. The week
culminates with the Triduum (a Latin word for a three-day
period) that includes Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter itself.
Trduum begins with the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on
Holy Thursday. The next day, Good Friday, is the most somber day of
the liturgical year, for it commemorates Christ buried in his tomb.
The tabernacle is empty, the altar is bare, statues of saints are
removed from the church (or veiled), and the holy water fonts are
dry—and no Mass is celebrated. The Good Friday liturgy begins with the
proclamation of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to
John, it continues with the veneration of the Cross, and it concludes
with a simple Communion service with the Eucharist reserved from Holy
Triduum intensifies at Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, a liturgy
that begins in total darkness until the Gloria returns with a
thunderous roar of bells and Alleluias. Christ is risen!
is such a special time that it continues not just for the eight days
of the octave of Easter (all celebrated as solemnities of the Lord),
but for 50 days (including Sundays and counting Easter Sunday itself)
of the season of Easter. The season of Easter comes to a close, and
Ordinary Time returns, on the Monday after Pentecost Sunday (from the
Greek pentekoste, fiftieth day) on which we celebrate the
descent of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-13).
liturgical color of the season of Easter is white, symbolizing purity
and joy. Red, the color of passion, is used on Passion (Palm) Sunday
and Good Friday. Red, symbolizing fire, is also used on Pentecost
IV Ordinary TWO
Once again, the Church
returns to Ordinary Time. Ordinary Two is the longest season in the Church calendar.
Ordinary Time reflects the rhythm and tempo of our lives. The
season helps us to meditate on the mighty works of God through
Jesus Christ and the sending of the Spirit. It is a time to grow in
our faith in response to God's invitation to follow Christ.
The crowning of the year of
faith is the feast of Christ the King, the proclamation of Jesus Christ
as the glorious King of all the world, through whom all things are
redeemed. As the year closes, we look forward to Christ's coming again
in glory to reign as Lord forever. With the Church throughout the ages
we pray: "Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!" (Rv 22:20).
COMMEMORATIONS AND SOLEMNITIES
These are days
which the Church has set aside as having special meaning. There are
several types of celebrations. Some are events in the life of Christ.
Some are days dedicated to a particular saint. There are three types of
feast days. Optional Feasts are not universally celebrated. Holy Days of
Obligation are days on which Catholics are required to attend Mass. All
other celebrations are celebrated, but Catholics are not obligated to
The Roman Catholic Lectionary Website
compiled by Fr. Felix Just,
This website has comprehensive tables of the scripture readings from several Latin and English editions of the Roman Catholic Lectionary for Mass, so that you can easily obtain an overview of all the readings used in a particular liturgical season (Advent, Christmas, etc.) and/or in a particular year of Ordinary Time (Sundays in Years A, B, C; Weekdays in Years I & II). There are also many cross-references and some comparative analyses so that you can more easily see the differences between various editions of the Lectionary.
little calendar lets you know the readings, vestment colors, liturgical
seasons and years and even rosary mysteries for any given day far into the
future. Need to know what day of the week the Feast of the Assumption
falls on in 2014? Not only will the calendar tell you it's a Friday, it
will also give you the gospel reading for the day (Luke 1:39-56). A
helpful planning tool for those who need to know Catholic calendar. Cut and past into your browser: