The Gospel of the Lord! Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!
The Liturgy of the Word reaches its climax with the reading of the Gospel. We know the Gospel is special because we do a number of unusual things at this time:
- Standing. During the rest of the readings we remained seated. We stand for the Gospel, just as we would stand if an important person entered the room.
- Alleluia. The word is Hebrew and means “Praise to God.” It was used in temple worship and appears on the lips of the angels when they sing God’s praises in heaven in the book of Revelation.
- Prayer of Purification. Before reading the Gospel, the priest prays this prayer silently: “Almighty God, cleanse my heart and my lips that I may worthily proclaim your gospel.” He is asking to be purified so that Jesus might speak through him.
- Procession. The Gospel book is treated with reverence and dignity.
- Sign of the Cross. The priest and people sign themselves on their forehead, lips, and heart with the sign of the cross. They are asking that their thoughts, words, and actions may follow what we are about to hear in the Gospel.
- Incense. If incense is being used for a particularly solemn Mass, the Gospel book is incensed as a sign of the presence of Jesus.
- Kissing. Following the reading of the Gospel, the priest or deacon kisses the spot he has just read. This reverence is offered out of love for Jesus Christ.
What does all this mean? It means that we are not just rehashing old history of Jesus. We don’t just hear about Jesus calling for repentance; we hear with our own ears: “Repent and believe in the Gospel!” We don’t just recite an old parable about buried treasure; we hear a parable addressed to us. Jesus promised, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Mt 18:20). It is Jesus Himself who speaks to us through the Gospel and calls us to repentance, conversion, and a deeper friendship with Him.
Practice what you Preach
Following the reading of the Gospel, the priest (or deacon) offers a brief explanation of the readings. When a man is ordained a Deacon, he is given these instructions: Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach. In other words, the ordained minister is supposed to “chew” on God’s word by putting it into practice in his own life. He then offers the people the results of his prayer and experience. What does this Gospel look like in action? Where have we seen these words come true in our town? This is the job of the homily. Jesus says today, “Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” A good homily will take the “old” Gospel and bring it to life by showing us that it really works. It is like putting on a pair of “Gospel glasses” and seeing the world as Jesus saw it. Then, we turn those glasses and look at ourselves. Depending on how we are living, that can be either comforting or shocking.
Sometimes a homily comes out a little half-baked, or you start to wonder where your priest is going with it. You don’t just have to wait for the priest to do the reflection for you. In fact, every Christian should be “chewing” on the word of God and experience it in your own life. We are all called to Believe what we read, Teach what we believe, and Practice what we teach. (24 Jul 2011)