The Eucharistic Liturgy 2

The Eucharistic Liturgy – Part 2

The Liturgy of the Word

The Liturgy that we follow Sunday by Sunday is in fulfilment of the command that Jesus gave to his disciples at the Last Supper when he took bread and wine and blessed it. When he gave it to the disciples he said ‘this is my body, this is my blood; do this in remembrance of me’.


Sunday by Sunday we obey that instruction by following a service outline that has four distinct parts:

The Gathering, the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of the Sacrament and the Sending Out, or Dismissal.


Last time we looked at the ‘Gathering’ which is the foundation on which the rest of the service is built and a preparation for all that is to follow. If we do not properly prepare ourselves in advance we will not receive all that God has to offer us in the ministry of the word and in the receiving of the sacrament.


The Ministry or Liturgy of the Word, follows immediately after the ‘Gathering.’ If you look in your service books you’ll see it announced in purple capital letters on the right hand of the page.


The previous section of the service finished with the saying of the ‘collect’. The communion service was originally said in Latin and I understand that the Latin word collecta means gathering. The collect is a weekly prayer that gathers together the themes contained in that Sunday’s scripture readings and prepares our minds to receive what the scriptures that follow have to say to us.


The ministry of the Word is subdivided into four parts: a) the reading of the Scripture, is followed by

b) the Sermon. Then comes  c) the Creed and finally d) the Intercessions.


The Scripture reading section is also subdivided into four parts. Except for the weeks that follow directly after Easter, the first two readings come from the Old Testament section of the Bible. This is to emphasise the link between Israel and Jesus – the Messiah who came to fulfil not to abolish the law. The OT lesson usually harmonises with the Gospel passage in order to make that link clear.


The second passage from the OT is the responsorial psalm and its purpose is to reflect the theme of the lesson in prayer and praise. Then readings from the Christian Scriptures follow: first the Epistle and then the Gospel.  Although the epistles initially addressed the situations that existed in the infant church of long ago their themes are universal and motivate Christians of all ages to contemplate the mystery of Christ.


The word Alleluia means ‘Praise God’ and we acclaim him in this way prior to the reading of the Gospel passage which is the climax of this section of the service. We stand for this part of the service because when the Gospel is proclaimed Christ is made known to the people. We stand to salute the resurrection and to witness to Christ’s presence amongst us.


The scriptures were written by people who lived many years ago in a world that was different in lots of ways to the world in which we now live. Sometimes scripture passages are easy to understand but often their meaning and relevance to us is not so obvious. The purpose of the sermon is to show their relevance and to reveal their meaning and the good news that they contain to our contemporary situation.  


From earliest times sermons have played an important role in the life of the church. It is through the preaching of Peter and Paul and the other Apostles that the first converts were won for Christ. God still speaks to us through the proclamation of the Gospel.


When I am preparing a sermon I rarely know what I am going to say. When we wrote essays at school we were taught to make a plan and follow it. The same kind of direction was given during ordination training about preparing sermons – it doesn’t work for me. I sit down, read the scripture passages, say a prayer and start to write. When I begin I am never quite sure where I am going to end up – I open my mind to God and write what he puts into my mind. The more open to God that I am, the better the sermon that is produced. I think it is the same for those who listen to sermons. The more open to God you are the clearer the instruction that you receive.


 When I was a young – in pre Radio Caroline days, the only place to listed to pop music was on Radio Luxemburg. The radio would drift out of tune and there would be lots of atmospheric noise – holding the aerial in your hand improved the signal and increased the volume. To keep a good signal needed lots of care and attention. It is different today with ‘presets’ and digital radios, all we need do is press a button. We have got used to that kind of ease and convenience.


But tuning into God hasn’t changed – that isn’t instantaneous.  If we are to receive what he has to say to us we need to be tuned in, we need to have prepared ourselves. Although that calls for some effort on our part it need not always be time consuming; how long it takes will depend on our disposition at the time. When we are tuned in and focused we are more able to receive what God wants to give us.


It’s not unusual for someone to say to me as they leave church that the sermon today was for them -just what they had needed. They might then go on to say what in particularly they had found so helpful.

Sometimes they go on to thank me for something that I had not said!  Clearly they had been tuned into God who had used something that I had said as a trigger to lead them into a chain of thought that directly addressed their particular situation.


Having received through hearing the scripture proclaimed we stand to say the Creed, the third part of the Ministry of the Word. In the creed we proclaim our shared understanding of the faith as we seek to understand God more deeply.


The Ministry or Liturgy of the Word concludes with the prayers of intercession. These prayers direct our faith, that has been stimulated by prayer and listening to God’s word to specific situations at home and abroad. They take us outside ourselves to seek God’s help for others.


How much we get out of the Liturgy of the Word, depends in part on how prepared we are to receive it. Cyril Barrett used to like to read through the Sunday lessons in advance to help him get more out of this part of the service and it was at his request that the following Sunday’s lessons were first put onto the notice sheet. I don’t know if you use them in the way that he did, but I know that those who do will find it helpful.