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 the Liturgy of the Word.
The reader approaches the ambo, announces: “A reading from the book of…,” and continues to proclaim the prescribed reading while the congregation listens. After finishing the Bible passage, the reader briefly pauses and then says: “The Word of the Lord.”
The congregation responds: “Thanks be to God!”1
After the First Reading, there may optionally be a pause for silent reflection.
The first reading is ordered so that it often correlates to the Gospel reading in some way. The 1st reading is from any book other than the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) or Psalms. It is often an Old Testament Reading (especially on Sunday).
The readings are on a prescribed schedule that rotates through a 3-year cycle on Sundays (a 2-year cycle on weekdays).
The Bible (scripture) is the Word of God written in the words of men. St. Jerome famously said, “ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.” The Church wants us to be very familiar with scripture. She steeps us in the Word of God every chance She gets: the readings, many of the words and actions of the Mass, prayers outside of Mass, Bible studies, etc.
Why are the readings prescribed?
The readings at Mass are like the world’s largest Bible study — every Catholic around the world is hearing these same words. Often, the readings progressively work through books/parts of the Bible.
Prescribing the readings provides multiple opportunities:
- Assures that we hear more of the Bible
- Allows the whole world to read the same readings each day (“Catholic” means “according to the whole”)
- Allows for devotional books to be created ahead of time for those who wish to read/pray along (and/or ahead of time)–these also allow the readers to practice ahead of time and allow for others to make reflection books/talks that help us to get even more out of the readings.
- Refer back to Pre-Read the Scripture Readings for Mass for some examples.
In the readings, the table of God’s Word is spread before the faithful, and the treasures of the Bible are opened to them. Hence, it is preferable that the arrangement of the biblical readings be maintained, for by them the unity of both Testaments and of salvation history is brought out. Nor is it lawful to replace the readings and Responsorial Psalm, which contain the Word of God, with other, non-biblical texts.General Instruction of the Roman Missal 57
Why Silent Reflection Time?
See my explanation here.
While the reading is being proclaimed, imagine yourself in the scene. If it’s a narrative, imagine yourself in the action. If it’s a speech or a letter, imagine you are present as the human author proclaimed those words to a crowd.
Since the first reading is generally from the Old Testament, consider how this reading points you forward to Jesus. The New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New. Try to see how God was foreshadowing what He would come and do. If you read the readings ahead of time, you might have already picked up on something because the first reading is so often a foreshadowing of the Gospel.
Consider that hundreds (or even thousands) of years passed between when God inspired these words to be written and when God came to us and fulfilled those words. Try to see how God was showing himself to be true and all-knowing by predicting what He would eventually do and how the Old Testament sets the stage to prove that Jesus is God. See God’s providence in fully revealing Himself in the person of Jesus as the thread that links all of Scripture together.
This will be greatly enhanced if you have been able to take part in a Catholic Bible study to get guidance on how to properly understand scripture and if you have been able to read these readings ahead of time. (Again, see my suggestions on studying the readings before Mass.)
The Bible is not a dead book. God speaks to each of us today through scripture. Pay attention to what God is saying to you. Is He calling you to do something good or refrain from doing something evil?
Cultivate a Sense of Awe
God inspired men to write the words of the Bible. He established a Church and gave Her the authority to determine which books were actually inspired. He preserved that Church through many dark times (within and without) to continually provide people of all times with (among other things) the words of Sacred Scripture. Consider: “Who am I to be sitting in a church of the One True God, listening to His very Word written in the words of men? It’s only by His grace that I sit here, able to listen to His Scriptures. How can I treat this time with the reverence it deserves?”
- Lectionary – the book from which the Bible passages are read. The readings are on a three-year cycle (A, B, and C) on Sundays and a two-year cycle (1 and 2) on weekdays (which includes Saturdays before evening). There is a separate lectionary that is based on the Sanctoral Cycle (saint days on the calendar).
- Reader or Lector – “The function of proclaiming the readings is by tradition not presidential but ministerial. Therefore the readings are to be read by a reader, but the Gospel by the Deacon or, in his absence, by another Priest.”2 It is preferred that the reader is someone who has been installed as a “lector” by the bishop, but in the absence of lectors, other people may be appointed to read. Today, few people receive the minor order of lector (it is usually reserved as a step in the preparation for men who are intending to become deacons and then perhaps priests, but may be used more broadly), so most readers you see at Mass are not installed lectors. However, many times they are colloquially called “lectors” because I believe the proper term is “deputed lay readers” and that’s just clunky and so little used that people have blurred the distinction.
- Ambo – the place from which the Scripture readings are proclaimed.
- Old Testament – the part of the Bible that was written before Jesus. This section of the Bible is all a preparation for Jesus.
What About You?
- What do you do to participate more fully in the First Reading at Mass?
- How has participating more fully in the First Reading helped dispose you to receive more graces at Mass?
- Do you have any stories to share about participating more fully in the First Reading?
- “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15)
- General Instruction of the Roman Missal 59
Photo credit: St. Patrick’s Seminary and University