I am writing a commentary on the Mass each Thursday on this blog. After six posts on the Entrance Rite, which takes all of five-ten minutes in a normal parish Mass, we have now reached the Liturgy of the Word.
This of course is one of the two principle parts of the Mass, the other obviously being the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Before diving into the specifics of it, then, it is necessary to discuss the general meaning of this liturgy, and of the Word in our lives. It is not only in the Mass that the proclamation of the Word precedes the celebration of the sacrament—this is how every rite of the Church proceeds.
This highlights a central fact of the Christian religion. We are not exactly ‘People of the Book’, as is sometimes said. In our Catholic understanding of things, there is more to it than that. We are, however, intensely and profoundly, People of the Word. People of the Revealed Truth.
This means that we do not get to make up reality. Reality—truth—is received, first. The basic structure of all our liturgy—hear the Word, celebrate the reality—is the structure of all Christian life.
We hear the Word so as to live the Mystery. The structure, meaning, purpose, origin, goal of reality is first shown to us in the revealed Word of God who is Jesus Christ, and then we live this reality out in the life of love and mercy, service and prayer.
This is so utterly of the essence. And yet it is precisely here that many of us go wrong on a regular basis. We know (most of the readers of this blog, anyhow) that this is exactly where secular modernity is flagrantly wrong. Just for example, making up new definitions of man, woman, marriage every day.
Or, as we have all seen these past week, deciding that the unborn human being is nothing but a clump of cells, but then turning around to sell at a tidy profit human livers, hearts, brains from those ‘cells’ for medical research. Then efforts to discuss that grisly fact put us back into ‘it’s just a clump of cells’ territory again. That sort of thing—reality is what I say it is, and can change and change again at a moment’s notice for my convenience. Post-modernity in a nutshell.
But we who profess Christianity need to be very careful about our own minds and hearts in this, too. There is a video making the rounds in MH right now—I can’t seem to track it down on YouTube right now, but will post it on the blog when I do. It is interviews with the families of the recent 20 Coptic men killed in Libya for being Christians. All of the wives, parents, siblings of these young men are unanimous in this video in expressing forgiveness, compassion, and a prayer for conversion of heart for the Islamist murderers of their beloved husbands, sons, brothers. And a resolute willingness to suffer the same fate, if Jesus Christ asked it of them, too.
It is a powerful video, especially since all of these people seem to be fairly poor, ordinary folks. But that’s what people look like when they have received the Word of God into their lives at a deep level. Here in North America we are far too prone to profess Christianity but then live out of the prevailing ideologies or political allegiances or the fads of the day.
We are far too prone to say, in much less extreme circumstances than those Copts, “Well, I’m a Catholic, but… you can’t expect me to love my enemies, can you?" Well, Jesus does expect us to do that very thing. His Word is crystal clear on the point, in fact. “I’m a Catholic, but we have to go along with the world—you don’t expect me to be ridiculed, mocked, maybe even fined or jailed for expressing unpopular truth, do you?” Again, Jesus’ Word is very clear on that point, and a true People of the Word would not even ask that question.
And care for the poor—too many of us subscribe either to the shibboleths of the left where the answer to poverty is one more bloated government program run by anonymous bureaucrats and funded by anonymous tax dollars, or the shibboleths of the right where it’s the poor’s own damn fault for being poor, and I worked hard for my money so I’m keeping it, so there. Personal charity, personal involvement, personal generosity to the point where it hurts, where it entails some sacrifice, a lower standard of living, say? Whoever heard of that? Again, a People of the Word would know Who has not only heard of that, but commanded it of us.
Well, we need to be ‘worded’ and ‘re-worded’ continually, then. This is the true role of praying with Scripture in our lives, a role I have highlighted in my book Idol Thoughts, that we need to continually plant the Word into our minds and hearts like seed in soil, like yeast in bread, live salve into a wound. Work it in, allow the Word to heal us, grow in us, reshape us into the image of Christ.