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January 10, 2008 Edition

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Word to Life
• Understanding the Mass -- The Word: Essential nourishment for the soul
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Answering God's call to help others

Word to Life 

Jeff Hensley 

Just before the Holy Spirit descends on Cornelius and his household (in the Scripture that follows the Acts reading for this week), Peter asks if they know "about Jesus of Nazareth beginning in Galilee with the baptism that John preached, of the way God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good works . . ."

Pretty exciting stuff, this proclamation of the person of Jesus and the power that flows from this living connection to God.

Though all of us are not called to pursue all of the ministries Jesus exercised, we "are" all called to help him in his role, as Isaiah puts it, to be "a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement" in one small way or another.

January 13, 2008
Baptism of the Lord
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Psalm 29:1-4, 3, 9-10
Acts 10:34-38
Matthew 3:13-17

My friend who is an authority on immigration law helps others do this quite literally. When the lawyers he was allied with failed to keep certain matters of immigration law from being decided by judges not schooled in that field, it fell to him to write a handbook to help inform them of the appropriate laws. His efforts could literally be used to bring prisoners from confinement.

A friend who is a writer went to Haiti to write about the horrible conditions in the slums of Port-au-Prince. She later followed up with mission visits as part of her own parish's efforts to help Haitians make a decent living. They worked hand in hand with local Catholics in the poor but faith- and generosity-rich Haitian countryside.

My wife Susan has made a career in education, at first working with poor inner-city children, helping them raise their reading scores while providing a "home" for them in the school environment. For more than 15 years, she has worked with immigrant children from every continent, providing for their transition into regular studies while providing that same home base of security and acceptance in her classroom.

For reflection:

• Is there some small way God is calling you to be a light for others, to call out prisoners from darkness?

• Are you called to the support of others who engage in more active ministries?

A friend who is a doctor has served the poor with the healing arts. Most recently, he and his wife have run a Christian-based hospice where people's faith is respected and encouraged as they and their families prepare for their return to the giver of all good gifts, the one of whom David in the psalm for today says, "Give to the Lord the glory due his name."

There's power in baptism, and it all began with Jesus submitting to John the Baptizer.

This column is offered in cooperation with the North Texas Catholic of Fort Worth, Texas.

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The Word: Essential nourishment
for the soul

Editor's note: This is the third in a seven-part series on the Mass. (Read part one and part two.)

photo of Fr. Tom Margevicius

the Mass 

Fr. Tom Margevicius 

Of the articles I am writing for this series on the Mass, I am really excited about this one: the Liturgy of the Word.

For too long, we have assumed, "Protestants get the Bible, Catholics get the sacraments."


One is not more Catholic than the other; both are essential for the celebration of the Eucharist.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist "are so closely interconnected that they form but one single act of worship."

The Word proclaims what the sacrament enacts: it's the same Christ, really present. The Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy taught that Christ is present in multiple ways in the liturgy: in the people assembled, in the Word proclaimed, in the ordained minister, in the other sacraments, and especially in the Sacred Species.

Teachings of the popes

Three years ago, the world's Catholic bishops held a synod discussing the Eucharist. Pope John Paul II followed up with the wonderful document Ecclesia de Eucharistia, resulting in resurging interest in the importance of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.

That's great, but we need to go further.

Pope Benedict XVI has instructed the bishops that when their next synod meets in October 2008, the topic will be the Word of God.

I predict the Holy Father will follow up with his own document on the Word of God. (You heard it here first.) The bishops already have their "homework" assignment: you can read it on the Vatican Web page (www.vatican.va) if you search for "synod," "word," and "lineamenta," which is Latin for "outline."

Reverencing the Word

Maybe you know someone who left the Catholic Church because they found another church where they "get fed," meaning they hear the word preached better.

Of course, the irony is they can't get fed any better than in our Eucharist. But we should take their departure seriously: a fuller celebration of the word of God will only enhance participation in the Eucharist.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church directs: "The Liturgy of the Word is an integral part of sacramental celebrations. To nourish the faith of believers, the signs which accompany the Word of God should be emphasized: the book of the Word (a Lectionary or a Book of the Gospels), its veneration (procession, incense, candles), the place of its proclamation (lectern or ambo), its audible and intelligible reading, the minister's homily which extends its proclamation, and the responses of the assembly (acclamations, meditation psalms, litanies, and profession of faith)."

Notice how we offer the Word what we usually associate with the Sacred Species: incense, gilded books, even processions.

The General Introduction to the Lectionary goes so far as to say, "The Church has honored the Word of God and the eucharistic mystery with the same reverence, although not with the same worship, and has always and everywhere insisted upon and sanctioned such honor."

To honor the Word of God, let the ambo be a fixed, dignified place that parallels the altar itself, since there is "one table of the Word and the Eucharist." Don't proclaim the Word from disposable booklets for the same reason wine should not be consecrated in a throwaway cup. Let there be adequate lighting and amplification.

Readers and preachers

Regarding preparation, Pope Benedict writes, "I ask that the Liturgy of the Word always be carefully prepared and celebrated. Consequently I urge that every effort be made to ensure that the liturgical proclamation of the Word of God is entrusted to well-prepared readers."

Just as we appreciate silence after receiving Communion, include silence after the Word so it can resonate in our hearts.

Finally, encourage priests and deacons when preaching homilies. Not a single preacher I know thinks it's easy.

Pope Benedict is straightforward on this issue: "The quality of homilies needs to be improved. The homily is 'part of the liturgical action' and is meant to foster a deeper understanding of the word of God, so that it can bear fruit in the lives of the faithful. Hence ordained ministers must 'prepare the homily carefully, based on an adequate knowledge of Sacred Scripture.' Generic and abstract homilies should be avoided.

"In particular," he said, "I ask these ministers to preach in such a way that the homily closely relates the proclamation of the Word of God to the sacramental celebration and the life of the community, so that the Word of God truly becomes the Church's vital nourishment and support."

That intersection of three terms - word, sacrament, and community - all come together in a beautiful way in the part of the liturgy we'll examine next week: the preparation of the gifts.

Fr. Tom Margevicius is instructor of liturgical theology at St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul.

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This week's readings

Week of January 13 - 19, 2008

Sunday, January 13, 2008
The Baptism of the Lord
Reading I: Is 42:1-4, 6-7
Reading II: Acts 10:34-38
Gospel: Mt 3:13-17

Monday, January 14, 2008
Reading I: 1 Sm 1:1-8
Gospel: Mk 1:14-20

Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Reading I: 1 Sm 1:9-20
Gospel: Mk 1:21-28

Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Reading I: 1 Sm 3:1-10, 19-20
Gospel: Mk 1:29-39

Thursday, January 17, 2008
Memorial of Saint Anthony, abbot
Reading I: 1 Sm 4:1-11
Gospel: Mk 1:40-45

Friday, January 18, 2008
Reading I: 1 Sm 8:4-7, 10-22a
Gospel: Mk 2:1-12

Saturday, January 19, 2008
Reading I: 1 Sm 9:1-4, 17-19; 10:1
Gospel: Mk 2:13-17

Pope's Prayer Intentions

January General Intention

Christian Unity. That the Church work for full visible unity that better manifests a community of love which reflects the Blessed Trinity.

January Mission Intention

Church in Africa. That the Church in Africa, preparing for a special Synod, may be an instrument of reconciliation and justice.

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