General Audience Catechesis – 31 January

general audience

Having return from his apostolic journey to South America and then ‘reporting’ on that trip during last week’s General Audience, Pope Francis returns to his current catechetical series on matters liturgical…


Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

We continue today with the catecheses on the Mass. After having reflected on the rites of introduction of the Mass, we now consider the Liturgy of the Word, which is a constitutive part because, in fact, we gather to listen to what God has done and still intends to do for us. It’s an experience that happens “directly” and not by having heard, because “when Sacred Scripture is read in Church, God Himself speaks to His people and Christ, present in the Word, proclaims the Gospel” (Ordinamento Generale del Messale Romano, 29; Cf. Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7; 33). And how often, while the Word of God is read, one comments: “Look at him . . . , look at her . . . , look at the hat she is wearing: It’s ridiculous . . . “And they begin to make comments. Isn’t that true? Should comments be made while the Word of God is being read?  [They respond: “No!]. No, because if you gossip with people you don’t listen to the Word of God. When the Word of God is read in the Bible  — the First Reading, the Second, the Responsorial Psalm and the Gospel – we must listen, open our heart, because it’s God Himself who is speaking to us,  and we must not think of other things or talk about other things. Understood? . . . I will explain to you what happens in this Liturgy of the Word.

The pages of the Bible cease to be a writing to become living word pronounced by God. It’s God that, through the person that reads, speaks to us and questions us, who listen with faith. The Spirit “who has spoken through the prophets” (Creed) and has inspired the sacred authors, acts so that “that the Word of God truly operates in hearts what He makes resound in ears” (Lectionary, Introd., 9). However, to listen to the Word of God it’s necessary to have an open heart to receive the word in the heart. God speaks and we listen to Him, to then put into practice what we have heard. It’s very important to listen. Sometimes, perhaps, we don’t understand well because there are some Readings that are a bit difficult. However, God speaks the same to us in another way. [It’s necessary to be] in silence and to listen to the Word of God. Don’t forget this. At Mass, when the Readings begin, we listen to the Word of God.

We need to listen to Him! It is, in fact, a question of life, as the incisive expression well reminds that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4) — the life that the Word of God gives us. In this connection, we speak of the Liturgy of the Word as the “table” that the Lord prepares to feed our spiritual life. That of the Liturgy is an abundant table, which draws widely from the treasures of the Bible (Cf. SC , 51) be it of the Old or of the New Testament, because in them the Church proclaims the one and the same mystery of Christ (Cf. Lectionary, Introd., 5). We think of the richness of the biblical Readings offered by three Sunday cycles that, in the light of the Synoptic Gospels, accompany us in the course of the Liturgical Year: a great richness. I wish to recall here the importance of the Responsorial Psalm, whose function is to foster meditation on all that was heard in the Reading that preceded it. It’s good that the Psalm is enhanced with the song, at least in the refrain (Cf. OGMR, 61; Lectionary, Introd., 19-22).

The liturgical proclamation of the same Readings, with the songs deduced from Sacred Scripture, expresses and fosters ecclesial communion, accompanying the path of each and all. One understands, therefore, why subjective choices, such as the omission of Readings or their substitution with non-biblical texts, are prohibited. I’ve heard that some, if there is news, read the newspaper, because it’s the news of the day. No! The Word of God is the Word of God! We can read the newspaper later, but there, the Word of God is read. It’s the Lord who speaks to us. To substitute that Word with other things, impoverishes and compromises the dialogue between God and His people in prayer. On the contrary, [required is] the dignity of the pulpit and the use of the Lectionary,[1] the availability of good readers and psalmists. However, it’s necessary to find good readers! – those that are able to read, not those that read [mangling the words] and nothing is understood. It’s so – good readers . They must prepare themselves and try before the Mass to read well. And this creates a receptive atmosphere of silence [2].

We know that the Lord’s word is an indispensable aid not to get lost, as the Psalmist well recognizes that, addressing the Lord, confesses: “Thy word is a lamp for my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). How can we face our earthly pilgrimage, with its toils and trials, without being regularly fed and illumined by the Word of God that resounds in the Liturgy?

It’s certainly not enough to listen with the ears, without receiving in the heart the seed of the divine Word, enabling it to bear fruit. Let us remember the parable of the sower and the different results according to the different types of soil (Cf. Mark 4:14-20). The action of the Spirit, which renders the response effective, is in need of hearts that allow themselves to be worked and cultivated, so that what is heard at Mass passes in daily life, in keeping with the Apostle James’ admonition: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). The Word of God makes a path within us. We hear it with the ears and it passes to the heart. It doesn’t stay in the ears; it must go to the heart, and from the heart it passes to the hands, to good works. This is the course that the Word of God follows: from the ears to the heart to the hands. Let us learn these things. Thank you!

[1] Criteria and ordering of the Readings of the Mass in the Roman Rite are described in the Introduction to the Lectionary.

[2] “The Liturgy of the Word must be celebrated in a way to foster meditation. Therefore, all forms of haste that impede recollection must be avoided. Opportune in it also are brief moments of silence, adapted to the gathered assembly, through which, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God is heard in the heart and the response is prepared with prayer” (OGMR, 56).

© Libreria Editrice Vatican

Translation from the Italian by Virginia M. Forrester, © ZENIT, www.zenit.org

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Article by Andrew Doohan

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