By Father Roch Kereszty
Special to The Texas Catholic
After the hymn “Glory to God in the Highest,” the priest recites the opening prayer. On a specific feast this prayer sets the tone for the feast and indicates the reason for the celebration. On Sundays of Ordinary Time it does not typically relate to the readings, but expresses an important intention of the church. Since most of these prayers come from the ancient Roman liturgy, they tend to be concise, precise and condensed. The new translation is quite literal but can be too complex and hard to follow if the celebrant does not read it slowly and with the correct emphasis.
The Liturgy of the Word follows, consisting of two readings on weekdays, three on Sundays. The last reading is always from one of the Gospels. The account of the “Two Disciples Going to Emmaus” in Luke 24:1-32 can help us to understand the purpose of the Liturgy of the Word and its intrinsic link with the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
The risen Lord joined the two disciples distressed by the recent events as they were going to Emmaus. He explained to them all that referred to him in the Scriptures. Then he entered the house with them, broke the bread, and suddenly their eyes were opened so that they recognized him in the breaking of the bread. Here we see the intimate connection between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The disciples did not recognize Jesus until their faith was rekindled. As they said when returning to Jerusalem, “Were not our hearts burning within us as he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures for us” (24:32)? Thus, the purpose of the Liturgy of the Word is to awaken and nourish our faith so that, while listening to the word of Christ, our desire to meet him in person is enkindled.
Another consideration taken from daily life may be of further help. Calling your friend on the phone is not the same as seeing him or her face to face. And seeing a friend face to face is less intimate than having a meal with them. But here the human comparison must stop: only the God-man, the son of God made flesh, can offer himself as food and drink for us, and thus provide for us the most intimate way of personal communion.
So far we have seen how listening to the Word of God prepares us for the personal presence of Christ and intimate communion with him. The Word of God, however, has another function as well: it helps us understand what happens in our reception of the Eucharist. It is in Holy Communion that the words of Scripture actualize their almighty, divine power. It is there that they bring about what they mean. Consider, for instance, the words of Jesus: “Your sins are forgiven,” or “Get up, take up your mat and go,” “I want you to be cured,” “Come to me all who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest,” “He who loves me will keep my word and my father will love him and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” What Jesus did on the physical level in his earthly life, he does now on the spiritual level in every Holy Communion. If their faith is real, the paralyzed get up and walk;the lepers are healed; the weary are refreshed, and Christ’s presence in us is intensified.
On the one hand, then, listening to the Scriptures enkindles our faith to desire and recognize Jesus in the Eucharist; on the other, the words of Scripture unfold their almighty power in our lives when we receive Jesus in Holy Communion.