Kieran Fenn fms
Radical transformation is available for those who are open to the word. ‘You were created through the word, but now through the word you must be recreated,’ (Augustine). The defining aspect of the Church is that she is a community that hears and proclaims the word of God. For the Church as the home of that word,
‘Sacred Scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. From it are taken the readings which are explained in the homily and the psalms that are sung. From Scripture the petitions, prayers and liturgical hymns receive their inspiration and substance. From Scripture the liturgical actions and signs draw their meaning’
Sacrosanctum Concilium 24
Christ himself is present in his word since it is he who speaks when scripture is read in Church; the Holy Spirit accompanies the word and makes it effective in the hearts of the faithful. The exhortation is made to pastors to see that all the faithful learn to savour the deep meaning of the word as it unfolds in the liturgy, revealing the fundamental mysteries of our faith. The liturgy of the word is a decisive element in the celebration of each one of the sacraments of the Church, but the faithful are not always aware of this connection. It is the task of priests and deacons to explain the unity between word and sacrament in the ministry of the Church.
There are many scriptural texts that call pastors to responsibility for the word of God. The prophets, eg Hosea, ‘My people perish for a famine of hearing the word of God’. Jesus’ own words, ‘You give them something to eat.’ And the cry of the Ethiopian eunuch, ‘How can I understand with no one to show me?’
The Word of God and the Eucharist #54
The presence of Jesus, first with his words and then with the act of breaking bread, made it possible for the disciples to recognise him (Lk 24). Scripture itself points us towards an appreciation of an unbreakable bond with the Eucharist. Word and Eucharist are so deeply bound together that we cannot understand one without the other. For this reason the Church has honoured the word of God and the Eucharistic mystery with the same reverence (my emphasis).
The synod went on to develop the theme of the sacramentality of the word which can be understood by analogy with the real presence of Christ, as St Jerome says:
For me, the gospel is the body of Christ and when he says “whoever does not eat my flesh and drink my blood”, words also understood of the Eucharist, Christ’s body and blood are really the word of scripture, God’s teaching. If a crumb falls to the ground (Eucharist) we are troubled. Yet when we are listening to the word of God and God’s word and Christ’s flesh and blood are being poured into our ears yet we pay no heed, what great peril should we not feel?
How often we speak of ‘real presence’ for the Eucharist and how little we appreciate ‘real presence’ in the scriptures! How important it is to be fed from the two tables at Mass, Word and Eucharist! The challenge is there for those who preside at the two tables and those who enter into the ministries. Benedict XVI says it bluntly for all of us – ‘There is need for adequate training of those who read and, given the importance of the word of God, the quality of homilies needs to be improved’
Sacramentum Caritas #46. Verbum Domini #59.
The lectionary #57–59
The unity and interconnectedness of Old and New Testament readings is stressed. The ecumenical nature of the lectionary should not be overlooked. Adequate biblical, technical and liturgical formation of the readers at liturgical celebrations is emphasised; they are to understand the readings in context and perceive by light of faith the central point of the revealed message. The homily is to bring to life the scriptural message, helping the faithful to realise that God’s word is present and at work in their daily life. Close and constant contact with the sacred text is vital for the preacher, who should prepare for the homily by meditation and prayer.
Augustine puts it so well: ‘He is undoubtedly barren who preaches outwardly the word of God without hearing it inwardly.’ Homilists reveal their spiritual depths whenever they preach. ‘The bible is not a book that we read; it reads us,’ (De Chazal). What depth is there in merely repeating back to a congregation the words already read? What preparation has been done for the liturgy of the Word if repetition is all that people are fed on? How have the scriptures touched the life of the homilist? Where is the context that readers in their ministry are called to know? Where is the application to life? How true the first lesson of being a teacher applies: ‘One cannot give what one has not got.’ How great the responsibility is on the homilist!
The word and sacraments #61-65
Beyond its role in the Eucharist, the word also has an important place. It is a word of reconciliation and calls to personal conversion. In the Anointing of the Sick it brings consolation, support and healing. The Liturgy of the Hours is encouraged as a privileged form of hearing the word of God.
Pastors are encouraged to promote dedicating time to the celebration of the word to prepare for the Sunday Eucharist, to help the faithful delve deeply into the riches of the lectionary, to pray and meditate on the scriptures, especially in the significant liturgical seasons.