Gospel Reading for Monday 31st May

Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Luke 1:39-56

Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’
And Mary said:

‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my spirit exults in God my saviour;
because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.
Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed,
for the Almighty has done great things for me.
Holy is his name,
and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.
He has shown the power of his arm,
he has routed the proud of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.
He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy
– according to the promise he made to our ancestors –
of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back home.

Acknowledgements

Translation of Scriptures: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman  &  Todd, Ltd and Doubleday, a division of  Random House, Inc.

Photograph: (c) 2020, Allen Morris. Ely Cathedral. Mary of the Magnificat

Gospel Reading for Sunday 30th May

Matthew 28:16-20

The eleven disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them.

When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated. Jesus came up and spoke to them.

He said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.’

Acknowledgements

Translation of Scriptures: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman  &  Todd, Ltd and Doubleday, a division of  Random House, Inc.

Photograph: (c) 2016, Allen Morris. Stained Glass. St Nicholas chapel, Kings Lynn

The Art of Celebration VIII: The Liturgy of the Word

The restorative, formative power of Scripture has been recognised from the Church’s beginning.

At the beginning the Church had, in writing, the scriptures of the Jewish people only – but from and in these she learnt to know Christ and to witness to Christ.

This is made most evident in St Luke’s account of the disciples meeting with the risen Lord during their long and at first sad walk to Emmaus.

It is evident too in the addresses given by the likes of Peter and Stephen in Acts of the Apostles, (cf Acts 3 and Acts 7.)

Even during the time of the composition of the New Testament certain apostolic writings were being recognised as Scripture, (cf 2 Peter 3.15-16). And by 2nd Century it seems that the Bible, as the Church knows it now, was at least well on the way to formation. Justin Martyr, c150AD, notes that at the beginning of Sunday Liturgy

the records of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as time allows

And that pattern endures to today – renewed and restored in the wake of Vatican II

What is the Liturgy of the Word about? It is most evidently a ritual in which scripture is read aloud to the congregation. But we need to be mindful that this reading is only a means to an end: the word is read so that people might hear it and take it to heart, and indeed be changed, renewed, by it.

So when we consider the Liturgy of the Word from the perspective of people’s participation in it, to the fore needs to be how what is done helps people to listen, and take it to heart.

There follows below some paragraphs from the introduction to the Missal. I have highlighted phrases which emphasise what the performance of the rite is expected to achieve.

B) The Liturgy of the Word

55.       The main part of the Liturgy of the Word is made up of the readings from Sacred Scripture together with the chants occurring between them. As for the Homily, the Profession of Faith and the Universal Prayer, they develop and conclude it. For in the readings, as explained by the Homily, God speaks to his people, opening up to them the mystery of redemption and salvation, and offering spiritual nourishment; and Christ himself is present through his word in the midst of the faithful. By silence and by singing, the people make this divine word their own, and affirm their adherence to it by means of the Profession of Faith; finally, having been nourished by the divine word, the people pour out their petitions by means of the Universal Prayer for the needs of the whole Church and for the salvation of the whole world.

Silence

56.       The Liturgy of the Word is to be celebrated in such a way as to favour meditation, and so any kind of haste such as hinders recollection is clearly to be avoided. In the course of it, brief periods of silence are also appropriate, accommodated to the assembled congregation; by means of these, under the action of the Holy Spirit, the word of God may be grasped by the heart and a response through prayer may be prepared. It may be appropriate to observe such periods of silence, for example, before the Liturgy of the word itself begins, after the First and Second Reading, and lastly at the conclusion of the Homily.

General Instruction of the Roman Missal

The congregation is invited to listen, and the listening that the celebration of the Liturgy is intended to foster is much more than dutiful listening. It is more fundamentally about personal response to, engagement with, the living Christ who is present through his word in the midst of the people.

So to the fore in our evaluation of the appropriateness, worthiness, of any celebration of the Liturgy of the Word must be not only evaluation of the quality of the proclamation, but also of the way in which the performance of the ritual allows time and space for response to, engagement with, the living Christ.

The Missal clearly considers the provision of silence as important to enable quality listening and response. Yet significant silence is invariably in short supply, if not indeed virtually absent. And in consequence we experience the Liturgy of the Word as being much more about things being read, than it is about things being pondered on, let alone responded to – by the congregation as a whole and within the liturgical action

Why is this? In part it may be an unhelpful hangover from the way the Tridentine Mass came to be celebrated – i.e. with the Liturgy celebrated in a language most often congregation did not understand, with hand missals regularly discouraged by the Church, and the congregation encouraged to its own private and often aliturgical devotions rather than participating in the Mass more regularly.

It may also be that many in the congregation are lacking confidence in praying with Scripture, and – in any case, may not many of them have got used to thinking that, after all if there is anything in these words  the priest will explain to us what he thinks we need to know in the sermon? (Sorry, ‘homily’.)

There may well be other explanations also. But when the focus is more singly on listening that listening and responding, how far we are from the vision of renewal that came from Vatican Council II and that is well provided for in the Missal’s General Intruction.

In the Eucharistic Prayer bread and wine is transformed into Christ’s Body and Blood for a hungry people. In the Liturgy of the Word it is intended that that hungry people itself be transformed through its being fed with the word so we might learn to long to become more and more like the Word, healed to become more like him, strengthened to be more like him – and more ready to take up our share in his work in the world.

– – – –

It is likely that when (if?) we begin to work to make silence a more secure and constitutive feature of the Liturgy of the Word we will need a strategy to help the congregation as a whole to use the silence with profit. We will need too a strategy of confidence-building that all members of the congregation will be ready to fruitfully consider the scripture and prayerfully respond to it.  And we will need perseverance too, to sustain the process of change until these things can become second nature to ministers and (other) congregants…

Until we do this it is sadly the case that this Liturgy of the Word is somewhat empty of meaning to many our congregations, and clerical. When the opportunity for the congregation to enter into personal and particular relationship with the living Word is frustrated and compromised, the power of God’s Word, life and energy leaches from what is offered to the congregation. And this at the very time we should have benefit of these things as we prepare for our great Thanksgiving and for our sacramental Communion with the Lord.

Reflection Questions

  • What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the Liturgy of the Word?
  • Who in your parish community might be interested in exploring some of the challenges presented by what theGeneral Instruction of the Missal establishes as the Church’s expectations for the Liturgy of the Word?
  • What might prove to be challenges to bringing about change – where it is necessary?
  • What reasons can you suggest for addressing those challenges?
  • What strategies for renewal might be employed during Mass? During on-going formation for readers and musicians, and clergy? By way of continuing formation for the congregation more broadly?

A log with links to previous postings in this series is kept here.

Acknowledgements as

~ Excerpts from the English translation and chants of The Roman Missal © 2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.
Commentary: (c) 2021, Allen Morris
Photograph: (c) 2015, Allen Morris. Weekday chapel, Cathédrale de la Résurrection d’Évry.

Gospel Reading for Saturday 29th May

In Birmingham Archdiocese: Solemnity of Dedication of consecrated churches

John 4:19-24

The Samaritan woman said to Jesus, ‘I see you are a prophet, sir. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, while you say that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.’
Jesus said:

‘Believe me, woman,
the hour is coming
when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
You worship what you do not know;
we worship what we do know:
for salvation comes from the Jews.
But the hour will come
– in fact it is here already –
when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth:
that is the kind of worshipper the Father wants.
God is spirit,
and those who worship
must worship in spirit and truth.’

Acknowledgements

Translation of Scriptures: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman  &  Todd, Ltd and Doubleday, a division of  Random House, Inc.

Photograph: (c) 2007, Allen Morris. Detail of 16th C woodcut by Roland Guerard, in collection of British Museum.

Gospel Reading for Friday 28th May

Mark 11:11-26

After he had been acclaimed by the crowds, Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the Temple. He looked all round him, but as it was now late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.


Next day as they were leaving Bethany, he felt hungry. Seeing a fig tree in leaf some distance away, he went to see if he could find any fruit on it, but when he came up to it he found nothing but leaves; for it was not the season for figs. And he addressed the fig tree. ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again’ he said. And his disciples heard him say this.
So they reached Jerusalem and he went into the Temple and began driving out those who were selling and buying there; he upset the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those who were selling pigeons. Nor would he allow anyone to carry anything through the Temple. And he taught them and said, ‘Does not scripture say: My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples? But you have turned it into a robbers’ den.’ This came to the ears of the chief priests and the scribes, and they tried to find some way of doing away with him; they were afraid of him because the people were carried away by his teaching. And when evening came he went out of the city.


Next morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered to the roots. Peter remembered. ‘Look, Rabbi,’ he said to Jesus, ‘the fig tree you cursed has withered away.’ Jesus answered, ‘Have faith in God. I tell you solemnly, if anyone says to this mountain, “Get up and throw yourself into the sea,” with no hesitation in his heart but believing that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. I tell you therefore: everything you ask and pray for, believe that you have it already, and it will be yours. And when you stand in prayer, forgive whatever you have against anybody, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your failings too. But if you do not forgive, your Father in heaven will not forgive your failings either.’

Acknowledgements

Translation of Scriptures: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman  &  Todd, Ltd and Doubleday, a division of  Random House, Inc.

Photograph: (c) 2017, Allen Morris. Stained glass, Hereford Cathedral

Gospel Reading for Thursday 27th May

Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest.

Mark 14:22-25

As they were eating he took some bread, and when he had said the blessing he broke it and gave it to them. ‘Take it,’ he said ‘this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had returned thanks he gave it to them, and all drank from it, and he said to them, ‘This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many. I tell you solemnly, I shall not drink any more wine until the day I drink the new wine in the kingdom of God.’

Acknowledgements

Translation of Scriptures: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman  &  Todd, Ltd and Doubleday, a division of  Random House, Inc.

Photograph: (c) 2015, Allen Morris. Detail of iconostasis, St Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Mosow.

Gospel Reading for Wednesday 26th May

Mark 10:32-45

The disciples were on the road, going up to Jerusalem; Jesus was walking on ahead of them; they were in a daze, and those who followed were apprehensive. Once more taking the Twelve aside he began to tell them what was going to happen to him: ‘Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the pagans, who will mock him and spit at him and scourge him and put him to death; and after three days he will rise again.’

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached him. ‘Master,’ they said to him ‘we want you to do us a favour.’ He said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.’ ‘You do not know what you are asking’ Jesus said to them. ‘Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised?’ They replied, ‘We can.’ Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I must drink you shall drink, and with the baptism with which I must be baptised you shall be baptised, but as for seats at my right hand or my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted.’

When the other ten heard this they began to feel indignant with James and John, so Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

Acknowledgements

Translation of Scriptures: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman  &  Todd, Ltd and Doubleday, a division of  Random House, Inc.

Photograph: (c) 2020, Allen Morris. Stained glass, St Mary’s church, Kington, Hereford.

Gospel Reading for Tuesday 25th May

Mark 10:28-31

At that time Peter began to tell Jesus, ‘What about us? We have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you solemnly, there is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, father, children or land for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not be repaid a hundred times over, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and land – not without persecutions – now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life.

‘Many who are first will be last, and the last first.’

Acknowledgements

Translation of Scriptures: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman  &  Todd, Ltd and Doubleday, a division of  Random House, Inc.

Photograph: (c) 2020, Allen Morris. Stained Glass, Ely Cathedral.

Gospel Reading for Monday 24th May

Mark 10:17-27

Jesus was setting out on a journey when a man ran up, knelt before him and put this question to him, ‘Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You must not kill; You must not commit adultery; You must not steal; You must not bring false witness; You must not defraud; Honour your father and mother.’ And he said to him, ‘Master, I have kept all these from my earliest days.’ Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and he said, ‘There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.

Jesus looked round and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were astounded by these words, but Jesus insisted, ‘My children,’ he said to them ‘how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were more astonished than ever. ‘In that case’ they said to one another ‘who can be saved?’ Jesus gazed at them. ‘For men’ he said ‘it is impossible, but not for God: because everything is possible for God.’

Acknowledgements

Translation of Scriptures: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman  &  Todd, Ltd and Doubleday, a division of  Random House, Inc.

Photograph: (c) 2021, Allen Morris. Gold solidus bearing image of Christ, from reign of Justinian II, In collection of Barber Institute, University of Birmingham.

Gospel Reading for Sunday 23rd May

John 20:19-23

In the evening of the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.

‘As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’

After saying this he breathed on them and said:

‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’

Acknowledgements

Translation of Scriptures: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman  &  Todd, Ltd and Doubleday, a division of  Random House, Inc.

Photograph: (c) 2018, Allen Morris. Syrian Church of St Mark’s, Jerusalem. (Home of St Mark and alternative site of the Upper Room ). St Peter in Vincula, Hampton Lacy, Warwickshire.