This post is part of a series on Getting the Most Out of Mass: tips to best dispose yourself to receive graces available during Mass (this will be specifically about Sunday Mass, but some of these ideas will also apply to daily Mass). We're in the section on preparing yourself before Mass.
Usually, every Catholic Church around the world will be hearing the same set of scripture passages and particular prayers assigned to that day’s Mass (Catholics have Mass every day, but Sunday is the main day for Mass). Each day has its own particular celebration(s) with specific Bible readings and specific prayers that are used throughout the entire Catholic Church on that day.
If you are able, familiarize yourself with these texts (especially the Bible readings) prior to Mass.
You can find these readings and prayers in a Catholic Missal or any of a number of Catholic periodicals, websites, apps, etc.
On Sundays, there will be three main scripture readings (two on weekdays) and a Psalm. Normally the first reading is from the Old Testament, then there is the Psalm, then the second reading is from the New Testament (but not from the Gospels), and always a Gospel reading (a direct account of Jesus’ life from either Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) to finish.
Benefits of Reading Scripture
The Bible (Scripture) is God’s revelation written down and the Church is constantly trying to steep us in that revelation (getting us to absorb it through daily life): Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, Bible study, scriptural Rosaries, other prayers, documents, etc.
The Church forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures.cf CCC 1331
The more we learn and absorb the truths in the Bible, the better we can come to know God, the better we can live the Christian life, and the better we will be at helping others to love God and live His life.
“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”St. Jerome, Commentariorum in Isaiam libri xviii prol.:PL 24,17B
Universal Set of Readings
Reading the same Bible readings together is a sign of our global unity as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Reading the same readings together both expresses our oneness as the single Church that Jesus founded and expresses the “Catholicity” (universality) of the Church–it’s the same everywhere around the world.2
In a way, it’s like we’re a part of the world’s largest Bible study. Every week, about a billion of us get together, read that week’s readings, and get taught more about them. Some of us even gather every day to do the daily study.
Pray the readings
Pray through the readings using Lectio Divina—a Catholic form of prayerful meditations on Scripture. For help on how to do this, see Dr. Tim Gray’s Praying Scripture for a Change.
Figure Out the Day’s Theme
Often, there is a theme between the readings and prayers of the day (particularly on Sundays). Usually, there is a more direct correlation between the Old Testament reading and the Gospel (often showing how the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New). Often the particular prayers of the day will highlight that theme in the readings. Try to discern if there is a theme to the day and what the Church might be trying to teach us with that theme.
Learn how to apply them to your life
It can be very helpful to use some form of guided meditations that explain the readings and how to apply them to your life. There are many Catholic meditations on the Mass readings. Some of them are better than others. Some good Catholic resources for guided meditations available today are:
- In Conversation With God by Fr. Francis Fernandez (7-volume series of books)
- Bishop Robert Barron’s Homilies via Word on Fire
- If you have access to Formed.org, you can view their Opening the Word series.
- Sunday Bible Reflections from the St. Paul Center
Learn how the readings fit in the context of the whole Bible
To get a greater understanding of how the readings for this particular Mass fit within the context of the whole Bible and God’s work in history, take a faithful Catholic Bible study.
Taking Kids Deeper:
During Saturday dinners, I read the Sunday Gospel for our family and then we discuss what it means. For a broader understanding of the faith, I also teach my children religious education (catechesis) at home. We call it “daddychesis.” It is particularly effective for fathers to lead the religious education of their children.
The website HolyHeroes.com offers free weekly videos to prepare children for Mass. They include a description of the readings and questions that kids can try to answer by being attentive at Mass. They also have many other materials for helping kids understand the Catholic faith. I normally read the In Conversation With God reflections aloud as we travel to Mass. It’s good preparation for my wife and me, but I know my children are also absorbing great ideas of the faith on a higher level through the reading and the conversation. They’re invited to give their reactions and sometimes we’re quite amazed by their understanding and their answers.
What About You?
- If you have tried pre-reading the scripture readings for Mass, how has it helped you get more out of Mass?
- Do you have any favorite tools to help you understand scripture better (either reflections on the daily/Sunday readings and/or Bible Studies to understand the big picture, etc.)?
- Do you have any stories that you would like to share about how studying scripture has changed your life?